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In Part One of my reminiscences of the sets I have visited during my two-decades-plus tenure as Fango editor, I took you from the sublime (David Cronenberg’s THE FLY) to the ridiculous (the forgotten EAT AND RUN). Today I look back at some of the other locations I spent time on when not happily slaving in Fango’s NYC offices.
In November 1986, then-Fango editor Dave McDonnell suggested I be the one to fly to Bangor, Maine (Stephen King country) to watch Laurel Entertainment film the belated sequel CREEPSHOW 2. Right off the bat, the movie lacked the pedigree of its predecessor. George Romero had abandoned the director’s chair, replaced by his frequent DP Michael Gornick. Original scripter King let Romero handle the writing chores this time, and he cobbled together a screenplay derived from leftovers from the previous film and other King tales. Tom Savini, who did some of his best creature work on CREEPSHOW, handed off the makeup duties on the follow-up to some of his former crew, like Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, though Savini did turn up onscreen in ugly getup (by Everett Burrell) as the film’s narrator, The Creep.
On the CREEPSHOW 2 set, I learned an important strategy: When you want the behind-the-scenes scoop on a production, hang out with the makeup boys in their trailer. Here you’ll get all the juicy gossip and the stuff the producers don’t want you to know. In the case of CREEPSHOW 2, which suffered production delays and crew firings, the FX guys, thrilled to be talking with their favorite magazine, loved spilling the beans. Being roughly the same age and sharing all the same monster obsessions, I bonded with the future KNB EFX Group titans. KNB would emerge as one of the few FX companies born in the ’80s to survive the present CGI revolution.
Anyway, sometimes you just know, while poking around a set, that the movie will wind up being a dog, and such was the case with CREEPSHOW 2. The same can’t be said about TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE, another Laurel flick I dropped by during its production, which took place in Yonkers, New York three years later. I got a good vibe from the set, and the movie itself turned out to be a fearfully fun anthology. At the time, the newly formed KNB was just spreading its wings with the DARKSIDE gig, and not only was the film loaded with cool monsters (a mummy, demonic cat and living gargoyle, the latter of which I witnessed in action), but makeup maestro Dick Smith himself served as a production consultant. The film had some wonderful talent in the cast (Deborah Harry and early turns by Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi and Julianne Moore vs. CREEP 2’s mostly unknowns who stayed that way).
Once more, a Romero protégé took the helm, this time John Harrison, who previously served as a musician, editor, screenwriter and jack of all trades for the zombie master. I enjoyed meeting Harrison on the DARKSIDE set. The guy’s a class act; when I stepped down as Fango editor last spring, he was the first guy to write and wish me luck.
Though Romero’s name was plastered all over CREEPSHOW 2 and TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE’s publicity materials, the filmmaker was nowhere in sight when I toured their locations. Luckily, I did get to meet the genre legend in 1989 on the Washington, PA set of the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake, which Romero wrote and produced. As a producer on the short-lived HORROR HALL OF FAME TV special (anyone remember that?), the company flew me to Pittsburgh to interview Romero, as his original NOTLD was being inducted as one of the scream greats of all time, and the lensing of the redux would provide good background shots for our salute segment. But this was not a happy place: Romero was pissed that his checks were not coming in from financiers Cannon Films; except for me, he refused to talk to the press to promote the movie. Meanwhile, Savini, making his feature directorial debut, found his creative vision compromised by Cannon’s nickel-and-diming.
I had a ball on the set, however. Once again, I palled around with the makeup guys (Burrell and Optic Nerve partner John Vulich), as the duo busily transformed the film’s celebrity cameos (splatterpunks John Skipp & Craig Spector, cartoonist Gahan Wilson, Deep Red fanzine writer Dennis Daniel and Film Threat editor Chris Gore) into vivid-looking flesheaters. I also hung with red-headed co-star William Butler (playing Tom), a former FX artist then transitioning into a busy career as an ’80s horror actor. We hit it off right away, as Butler quickly seduced me with his wicked sense of humor and brutal honesty. He’s a screenwriter and director now; he just wrapped GINGERDEAD MAN 3: SATURDAY NIGHT CLEAVER (heaven help us!) in LA.
I never got to cameo as a ghoul in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. That “privilege” did not happen until spring 2002 and a trip to the notorious HOUSE OF THE DEAD (pictured), which cinematic bad boy Uwe Boll helmed in very rainy and chilly Vancouver. You can read my article in FANGORIA #226 for the skinny on that one. In the meantime, here are a few more choice anecdotes from my various set excursions over the years…
BRAIN DAMAGE (1988) & BASKET CASE 2 (1990): Loved watching two indie geniuses do their thing in the Big Apple: writer/director Frank Henenlotter and FX pro Gabe Bartalos. Met FROM BEYOND’s Ted Sorel (where’s he these days?) on the BASKET 2 set.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (1989): Like you, I thought this was the craziest idea ever…until they sent Jason into space. Despite the title, the production only shot in NYC for two nights, and I took in the fun on the last evening of lensing, right in the middle of Times Square. What a thrill seeing Kane Hodder (pictured) in full costume, swinging his machete at the fabled crossroads of the world (see original Elegy chronicle in Fango #85). This being New York, hardly anyone batted an eye.
SEVERED TIES (1992): On the last of the first three FANGORIA-produced movies, I flew to Eagle River, Wisconsin and met cinema rabble-rouser Oliver Reed (TOMMY, THE DEVILS, GLADIATOR). The blustery CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF star, however, did not like having a phallic rubber arm glued to his chest by the KNB team (see Elegy in Fango #110). At one point, I fell asleep sitting in a director’s chair while inside the film’s laboratory set, only to wake up completely alone, as the cast and crew had already departed for lunch. (A year before, I dozed off on the sidelines of John McNaughton’s THE BORROWER in LA. Told you, most sets are not the most exciting places!) On SEVERED TIES, I also met talkative production assistant Mark Borchardt (pictured), who, years later, would be the subject of the 1999 documentary AMERICAN MOVIE and can be seen wearing a Fango crew shirt (bearing TIES’ original title ARMY) during an interview.
HOCUS POCUS (1993): At a really scary downtown LA Skid Row location, I dropped by to interview makeup ace Tony Gardner (DARKMAN, ARMY OF DARKNESS) for my book MEN, MAKEUP & MONSTERS. Star Bette Midler (playing a witch) flirted with me! Honest.
THE MUMMY (1999): Universal flew me to London to gawk at the cavernous studios hosting this multimillion-dollar epic (see Fango #182), and the sets were as awe-inspiring as expected. The friendly Brendan Fraser welcomed us on this megabucks junket, but his personal publicist later barred him from talking with Fango when the last MUMMY movie rolled around. Jerk.
In the last decade, outside of RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (see Fango #296 and here), I rarely head to film sets anymore. Living in NYC, you can’t help stumbling on movies underway just going to and from work (THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE shot right down the street from Fango’s Hell’s Kitchen office, and the crappy GODZILLA remake lensed outside our old Park Avenue South digs). Of course, nothing like my modest adventures compare to the jaunts veteran Fango writers like Marc Shapiro, Phil Nutman and Alan Jones have taken over the last 30 years. These pros have canvassed more sets in one month than I have in 20 years. You can follow along in both Fango’s pages and right here.
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