Friday, August 7, 2009
We are the Sprocket Holes vol. 100
END OF THE FAMILY LINE
by Graham Rae
Obsession is a beautiful, myopic, driving, dangerous taskmaster. It can create works of art or cause murder. In a diluted form, it also inspired this story about a work of art about murder. What am I talking about? Well, to find out, you’re just going to have to creepy-crawl backwards in time with me, indistinct faded memories growing clearer in color and force and focus as we find ourselves back around the...
Christmas of 1989. I am 20 years old, and on my first visit to the US. A friend, Justin Stanley, and myself are staying for a couple of days at the Orange County, Los Angeles abode of writer Chas Balun. As some of you may know, Balun is the (in)famous editor of legendary Deep Red magazine, a journal about horror films, and which was the first ever venue to print something I had written.
Chas shows us (at that point) hard-to-see oddities like “Deranged”, the early 1970s splatter flickershow based on Ed Gein’s grisly exploits starring Roberts “Home Alone” Blossom as the motherlover cannibal. Being young gorehounds at that time, we lap this stuff up. But amidst all the sanguinary spillage chaos, he shows us a triptych of wild, violent, hedonistic, nihilistic 16mm underground efforts from “this really hip young kid” Jim VanBebber that wipe us out.
These include the gritty, trippy splatter/martial arts/biker/drugs feature “Deadbeat at Dawn;” the vile, insane, cannibal murderer short “Roadkill: The Last Days of John Martin”...and a trailer for an unvarnished, no-holds-barred feature about Charles Manson and his extended young murderous acidhead brood, “Charlie’s Family.”
Brief history lesson: the Manson Family were a group of American loser loner kids who fell under the Svengali-like bloodshot gaze of ex-con Charles Manson at the end of the '60s. Manson was once sold by his mother as a baby for a pitcher of beer; didn’t exactly come from the most stable of backgrounds. So he gathered his impressionable young wannabe-free-and-spiritual hippie acolytes and took them onto an isolated California commune called the Spahn Ranch, where he fed them full of acid, fucked them physically and psychologically and then sent them out into the world to do his crazed bidding.
The apex of all this psychotropic screamadelica insanity came when the Family went out and committed several murders for Manson, notably the slaughter of pregnant Sharon Tate, the actor wife of Roman Polanski. The Family and Manson were all jailed for this in 1970 and remain in jail until this day. The film trailer we see in 1989 is a teaser for the soon-to-be released end product (the film, that is, as opposed to the incarcerated cons), we are told. Little do we (or indeed the director) know how long that tease will turn out to be.
Anyway. Flashfastforward a few years until 1992. Myself and my ex-best friend Dave meet the director whose stuff we have come to love after repeated viewings on a poorly-copied videotape (Quotes from “Roadkill” like “Reality! Whadyou know about reality?” becoming part of our daily vocabulary) over the previous couple of years. Jim is at the Nothing Shocking horror film festival in Northampton, England. He is there as the Guest of Honor to show “Deadbeat at Dawn” and jabberjaw with the audience. Dave and myself immediately waylay him and buy him loads of pints of Beck’s, finding him to be an interesting, intense, animated conversationalist. By the time Jim is meant to address the audience all he can say, swaying unsteadily onstage in front of them, is “Are you guys as drunk as I am?” before trying a karate kick (for some reason) and falling flat on his back.
End of Q&A.
The next year, inspired by his rabidly riotous reception at Nothing Shocking, Jim makes the excellent 16mm short “My Sweet Satan”. This violent, nihilistic (yes, you may be starting to detect a thread here) film is based on the notorious Ricky Kasso US metalhead murder/suicide case from 1983...and is absolutely excellent. Meeting the director again down in London at a showing of the film at the now-sadly-deceased grindhouse Scala Cinema that year, I ask how “Charlie’s Family” is getting on. Coming along, I’m told, coming along, won’t be long now.
Onwards now to 1996. I meet up with Jim again in Los Angeles (on a trip where I will end up jokingly threatening Pete Jackson with violence at a signing he is doing for “The Frighteners” in a sci-fi bookshop; remind me to tell you about that one sometime) and, over a night of booze and Fellini soundtracks, ask him once again about the Manson epic. I am told Jim is in negotiation to get completion funds to get the thing finished, a line I will hear a few more times over the next few years. But somehow, these funds never quite seem to materialize, and the visceral, “rub the human face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror” (to quote JG Ballard) film becomes more and more mythical with every passing year, almost as much as the subject matter it portrays in unflinching, graphic, horrific close-up.
A couple of times I try and help get Jim completion funds for the film, but it never pans out. And the story of this film assumes some sort of weird significance in my own mind. I want to see the completed film, not the rough cut sent to me by cinematographer Mike King, and I wonder (as do many others in the world of underground film fandom) if I ever will. I want to be able to write about the finished film and its extremely long, hard journey to the cinemas and DVDs of the world. And I’m not even interested in horror or underground films these days; couldn’t care less.
It’s the oddest thing. Over the 14 years since I first saw the trailer for “Charlie’s Family” I would have occasional thoughts about it. I’d be, say, listening to the excellent Foetus album “Nail”, with its song “DI-1-9026” (about the maniacal Manson murders and with as-usual-excellent lines by JG Thirlwell like “The positive collects negative/so gimme your mind/free your mind”) and I will think to myself, I wonder how Jim’s getting on with his film. It actually became something I couldn’t let go of myself, for no clear reason. Obviously, however, not on a level with the director’s mental anguish at the length of fucking time the thing was taking to get to the screen.
Compounding the bizarreness was the fact that the film’s script was published in a lavish, beautifully illustrated book by Creation Books in 1998, which Jim described to me as being “the most back-asswards way to make a movie you can imagine.” True enough. Can’t be many films that have their script come out in book form years before the film ever sees the light of day, or of projector.
As you obviously will have guessed by now, this is the article about how the 16mm docudrama “Charlie’s Family” finally wound up finished after a mere 15 years. When I saw on this site that the finally-fully-fucking-finished film was being show on December 19th and 20th, 2003, in Jim’s old hometown of Dayton, Ohio (he now lives in LA), where it was filmed, I thought, well, that’s as neat a place to end this epic Technicolor trek as any, taking it back to where it all began all those years ago.
I hadn’t spoken to Jim for a couple of years before this interview because, to be perfectly honest, he can be pretty difficult to deal with and I’d fallen out with him. You may have heard stories about him, but I’m not going to go into that fucking tabloid garbage here. All I wanted to know from the man was how he got his own personal celluloid obsession done and out and about; nothing more, nothing less.
So that’s what you’re going to get. I have tremendous respect for the fact he has finally got the damned thing finished and can move on in his life. He followed his uncompromising vision right to the end of the family line. Well done, Jim. I’m sure you can hear the applause from across this side of the Atlantic. Not before fucking time too. And you of all people should know...
...If you wanna get some kicks, phone DI-1-9026.
Okay man, like I said we’re gonna go right back to the start here. How did you first get interested in Charles Manson and the Manson Family, Jim?
Well, you know, just growing up as a child of the late '60s, early '70s, I was culturally aware of it. There was the huge impact of the TV film in ’77 or ’79, whenever it came out, Helter Skelter, directed by Tom Gries and starring Steve Railsback. That was very heavy TV. There were only three networks at that time, there were no VCRs. I mean, a TV movie over two nights with big warnings, y’know, “don’t let your children see this,” it was a real taboo sugar-to-the-ant sort of thing. A lot of kids of course did watch it, their parents let them see it, so I caught up on school grounds the next day hearing about it and then the media just never let go of it. Year after year you’d get this or that interview with one of the Manson Family. The idea to do the film sort of culminated with me and Mike King when we saw Geraldo Rivera interview Charles Manson on his 1988 special called “Murder in America.” We just tripped out because he ran circles around Geraldo Rivera, whom we despised anyway. So, y’know, not that we agreed with Charlie Manson (we both chuckle), it just seemed like “why hasn’t anybody really done a good movie about this guy?”
How long did you think the film would take to make?
Well, we started it in the Fall of 1988, we just got xeroxed contracts of all their territories that were sold through Alexander Beck Enterprises for “Deadbeat at Dawn.” We were convinced that were gonna make all this money so we thought, y’know, we can at least get the whole thing in the can. And we just started running into it and we shot probably half the film in the Fall of ’88. Then we found out that Alexander Beck wasn’t quite the great sales rep that we thought and the contracts were not being honored. And horror in video and stuff was just getting glutted at that point, a lot of companies were going out of business. The whole video boom of the early 80s, our timing really sucked. So anyway, we didn’t have the money and it became a piecemeal operation of raising money over the months to get stuff processed and then showing cut footage to potential investors and raising money for more shoots. And it went on like that until 1993, actually, and in the interim I made “My Sweet Satan.” I raised the money and made that thing, basically to use as an investment tool to show to investors so that we had something slicker and more technically accomplished than “Deadbeat at Dawn,” besides the footage of “Charlie.” And “Roadkill” was all we had to show people.
Is “Charlie’s Family” the longest film that’s ever been in gestation that you’re aware of?
Yeah, I think I beat Ken Anger by five years. “Lucifer Rising” took him ten years from what I gather. I dunno, there’s, no, c’mon, I mean, you got documentaries like “27 Up” going on...hell, people are out there making films their entire lives. So that’s a bullshit thing to say. What kind of (chuckling) claim to fame is that anyway? I wanted to make the film in, fucking, three months.
Okay, listen...so tell me the story of how “Charlie’s Family” finally got completed then.
Ah well...okay. I don’t wanna name names but there was this director from Barcelona, Spain who I signed a contract with. And I moved out here on that belief, that we were going into imminent finish of “Charlie’s Family.” And that was in 1998. He consequently folded that deal. I just kept tossing the line, see who’s gonna bite. And throughout this period I’d been friends with David Gregory, who’d released “My Sweet Satan” and “Roadkill” through his label Exploited in the UK. He was trying to get “Deadbeat” through over there but it was banned (still is – can’t see any reason for it – Graham) and he ended up moving out here and working for Bill Lustig for Anchor Bay. He now works for Bill doing an incredible job making featurettes for Blue Underground’s DVDs. He always was just a great friend. Y’know, he’d come over here, we’d get drunk and talk about things and he was always asking about “Charlie’s Family.” Finally he told me one night that him and his business partner Carl Daft of Blue Underground Limited – that’s their company separate from Bill Lustig’s Blue Underground, the DVD company, were willing to give it a shot. I was skeptical, but we went for it and that was in 2000. They encountered some difficulty in trying to release “Last House on The Left” in the UK uncut and they actually went to court against the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) and the British court systems and fought a helluva good fight and, I think, changed the view of censorship in Britain at least for a long time (censorship is more liberal across here than it used to be a decade ago but there’s still a ways to go – Graham). They’re warriors. That took a year out of the completion (of “Charlie’s Family”) but then they came back and we went into the mix and conforming of the film and the blow-up and we had our premiere on August 19th at the American Cinematheque, the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, and it’s a done deal.
You must have been thrilled at that though Jim, eh?
Oh yeah, it’s just like, just great, y’know?
Were the actors in “Charlie’s Family” all local actors or friends of yours?
Some of them were friends, y’know, Like Marc Pitman gave such a great performance in “Deadbeat at Dawn."
Was that Bonecrusher?
Yeah, the Bonecrusher, he’s so powerful and people respond so well from his presence on screen. Even though he had blonde hair, which was wrong for the character, but I didn’t want to dye it anyway, so I just thought “fuck it.” He’s Tex Watson. And then just started casting for most of the girls out of the theatre department at Wright State university which is where I studied film. They’ve got a great theatre department, we got a lot of young actors there. At Dahl Roles we found people from community theatre or professional people who were doing local commercials. The newscaster, I mean Jack Wilson (Carl Day), the Geraldo character in the film, the Bill Curtis character, the guy who’s making the documentary, he was actually – and still is – a local anchor for WDTN Channel 2 in Dayton, Ohio. He’s the right guy for the part, I went and talked to him and he agreed to do it and it was beautiful. He actually showed up, I guess, this past weekend at the premiere in Dayton.
How did that go, Jim?
I guess it went smashing. I talked to Mike King on Sunday morning and Leslie Orr (Patty) showed up, Maureen Allisse who played Sadie showed up, (Marc) Pitman was the toast of the town, Nate Pennington who played Shorty was there, Paul Harper, who’s Danny in “Deadbeat,” who plays Terry Melcher’s recording technician in “Charlie’s Family” was there. So I guess it was a real good time and a good screening. I just love that they can see it on the big screen.
I must admit I’m totally stoked to be talking to you like this about this, cos I’ve thought about doing it for so fucking long.
Well it gives you faith in staying alive, ya know? Wait until we see what’s over the next mountain, it doesn’t have to be perfect right here in the valley, what’s over that next mountain? Get over that next one until you reach the sea.
Have you had any feedback from the actors on the finished film? What do they think of it?
Ummm...I guess everybody is really impressed with the way it came together. It’s a very beautiful blow-up, one of the best I’ve ever seen. The mix is fantastic, it was mixed at Chace Productions in Burbank, we’ve got a 5.1 Surround mix, it’s top-notch. And I think they were kind of flabbergasted, anyway impressed. They’ve had their issues with me, I guess, they haven’t understood how difficult it is to get something like this finished if all the money isn’t in place, but I guess all sins are forgiven now that (chuckling) the finished product is there.
There are elements in “Charlie’s Family” that Hollywood would still frown upon. Have you had any really negative reactions to the film that you know of?
Well, I’m sure there’s been, and I’m sure there’s going to be, but nobody’s told me about ‘em (laughing). You gotta understand there’s three other guys in charge of this film now (laughing) and I’m kept in the dark and that’s fine. You know, so what if somebody actually talks to me on the phone and gives me their reaction to the film...nobody’s had the guts to say “you know, I fucking hate it” or whatever...everybody that I’ve talked to likes it, so...I’m sure there’s a contingency out there, and it’ll grow, and that’s fine, whatever. Y’know, I don’t (chuckling) care what you fucking think of the film, I fucking made the thing, it’s done. It’s like, fucking...you can not like that fire hydrant over there, well, so what? It’s there, okay, there’s nothing you can fucking do about it...you can go over and piss on it, it’s still gonna be there...
(Laughing) Do you want people to go and piss on your film, Jim?
Actually I’d rather they wouldn’t, but it’s not gonna do anything though...
Have you been pleased at the reaction to the film?
Yeah, everybody seems to react strongly, and that’s really what it’s about. If you’re repelled you should be, you should be repelled in spots. I mean it depends on how you want to look at it. If you want to look at it as a film, like look at this technical accomplishment, look at it that way. If you want to look at it as what happened to these people, y’know, that’s a whole other trip. I’m just (chuckling in relief) really happy with it, what can I say? No angry VanBebber here...
Yeah, I look upon “Charlie’s Family” as the ultimate American underground film, it’s just so riotously damned good. But did you or the rest of the cast think that you would never finish the film at all?
Oh no, never, nah nah, never y’know. Never ever lost faith in “Charlie’s Family,” that’s probably been the strongest thing. I’ve probably lost faith in a helluva lot of other things that I believed in over the years, y’know, lost faith in this, that and the other thing, but “Charlie’s Family” is always...that’s the reason to wake up in the morning. I hope people appreciate it and I hope it achieves some degree of success. Just having the damned thing done so I’ve got a copy of it just tickles me pink. I needed to finish it so that I could make my next film. Everything else, videos, whatever I do, whatever jobs I take on to keep going, that’s the stuff you lose faith in, y’know (laughs). The core is just...I’ve got things, my path laid out. And as soon as it comes to fruition, lovely – now we can get on with the next thing.
How have you found moving out to Hollywood?
Hollywood is what Hollywood has become. California is a very crowded place, the studios have changed from being run by people like Robert Evans in the late '60s and early '70s into corporate committee boards, conglomerate tie-ins. I’m not sure that in the broader sense they make films as much as entertainments, a lot of big things have to translate into videogames and a theme park is even better, and if you can get action figures, okay, you know, so...it is what it is. You gotta accept it, you can’t hate it or love it or whatever, people do both...right now I’m just ambiguous, I just see it as a big machine that I want to find some niche in that will fund some of the films I want to make. That’s not un-doable; it’s just that it’s patience and finding the right people to work with, that’s really just the thing. You can take different paths.
Did you know that there’s a “Fight Club” videogame coming out? (I only mention this because we both really loved the film – Graham)
(In distaste and disinterest) Oh, really, no.
That is fucking sad, I mean that of all things I would have thought...however, like you said, ultimately you don’t let all the fucking negative shit just mire you down, you just put it aside, get on with your own projects and let other people get on with theirs.
You know, for some people on this earth, fucking...an Adam Sandler film is the greatest thing. And that’s fine, whatever, for me that’s something entirely different, whatever. I’m just actually glad that I made it out here and if I wouldn’t have “Charlie’s Family” wouldn’t be in the pristine stage it is, okay? So it’s worth it right there, and it’s worth playing the game to try and get something bigger off the ground. Hell man, y’know, everybody just relax.
You told me before that John Waters didn’t like the film, I wonder if you could explain that a bit.
(In disbelief) I said he didn’t like it? I never said that, not at all. He saw a work in progress at the 1997 Chicago Underground Film Festival...
I think you said that he didn’t agree with it, that’s right...
The only thing he nitpicked about – and that’s all it was, it was a nitpick, I think he really liked the film – was that he’s campaigning, I think still, and I think righteously, for Leslie Van Houten’s release from prison because she’s not a murderer and she’s gotten the same sentence as all of the rest of them. And really, when you look at the facts, she was goaded into stabbing the corpse of Rosemary LaBianca in the butt post-mortem and she’ll die in prison. You know, we should show some mercy.
You think she was part of the emotional tidal wave that accompanied that case, that she got sucked into it?
Yeah, they all are, I mean you can look at people who are way more heinous...I mean, John fucking Hinckley, who shot President...who shot a President, okay, President Reagan, has now been granted unaccompanied, I mean no supervision, permission to visit his parents, so he can travel alone. And (chuckling) you know the Secret Service is spending X amount watching his dumb ass. They’ve really just made a huge example out of the Manson people. Yeah, they deserve to do...I dunno, I’m not a judge, I’m not part of the judicial system, I’m just a filmmaker and I made my piece, basically, as a reaction to the media’s fascination with this case.
Yeah, that comes through.
Y’know, I gotta admit, once I got into the case I found it kind of fascinating myself, so...there you go.
Tell me a few of your main filmmaking influences.
Hmmm...well, ummm, directors, that’s what you’re looking for, director’s names that I love...okay, well: Orson Welles, Federico Fellini, Sam Raimi, Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, George Miller
, George Romero, Tobe Hooper...
Yeah, you’ve got a nice kind of mix of arthouse and grindhouse there, huh?
That’s kind of ironic given some of the content of “Charlie’s Family.” (Talking here about the murder of Polanski’s wife at the time, Sharon Tate, by the Manson Family – Graham)
Francois Truffaut...I could keep going, man! You can choose the ones you want for the fucking interview, there you go. You can underline Scorcese though, I fucking love him. Even through all of his faults and excesses, he made Hollywood work for him, y’know?
I never saw Gangs of New York.
You should, you really should. Watch it for the fucking production design, watch it for Marty’s direction, watch it for Daniel Day fucking Lewis, who is extraordinary, he’s incredible.
Talking about directors here, you’ve got a clip of “You Killed Me First” in “Charlie’s Family.” Now, you know Richard Kern, don’t you?
I can see there’s a wee bit of a Richard Kern influence in “Charlie’s Family” as well.
Oh sure. No, umm...he captured the angst of the late '70s, early '80s youth not only in New York, but I think it was across the country. The blasé disillusionment...he was extraordinary, he really put his finger on something, whether he knew it or not. He’s a really nice guy if you meet him, smart and charming, knows what the hell he’s doing and has no problem with it.
I really like “You Killed Me First,” where the mother gives the two daughters sweaters and gives the punk girl a cheaper one, “why don’t you rip it up and write fuck or anarchy on it.” And then the family gets wasted at the end.
The script for “Charlie’s Family” came out in book form many years ago. How did that come about, and were you pleased at the way it turned out?
That came about because Jack Sargeant was at the same screening at the Chicago Underground film Festival that John Waters was. And he came after me a day later and was like “I work for Creation Books and I think maybe the President would go for this and we could be up for it.” And I said “sure” and so they went for it, and I was delighted. It’s awesome to have the screenplay, which has a bunch of scenes that were shot and cut and just a couple that weren’t even shot, but were in the script. So it’s good to have that version there, which is, like, the massively more complete version. Cos, y’know, “Charlie’s Family” on film, I like 90 minute films, gotta go for that hour-and-a-half running time. But the screenplay in the book is like, fucking, two-and-a-half hours probably.
Are you going to put any of the scenes you shot and cut into the DVD release?
We’ll see. That’s up to a group committee decision. See, now it’s four guys, like I said it’s the fucking Doors, it’s all-for-one here, it’s me, Carl, David and Mike.
Obviously the DVD’s gonna be getting released in the UK...will it be getting released in America too then?
Oh yeah, sure, it’s just in what version and how, things that I don’t know yet.
Let’s see here, what else...
(Jim tries to say something in his crap Scottish accent – Yanks please note that you cannot do Scottish accents – and he fails miserably and laughs) Ever since you said I sound like a Russian stroke victim I’m not even gonna try and do a Scottish accent.
Yeah, well, you see, it’s like Scottish people all thinking we can do Sean Connery accents, but we can’t really. Okay. Has Manson or anybody connected with the Family seen the film that you know of? Would you be interested in Manson’s reaction?
Ummm...y’know...not really, to be honest. I didn’t make the fucking movie for their reaction, I made the film for myself as a reaction against the media’s barrage of fascination with this group of criminals when there are bigger problems in society. Why revisit this charismatic story from the past just cos it’s got the spicy drama elements we love in a thriller. All I can say about that is that I hope if they do see the film they’ll just try and understand that it was culled from all the sources and looked at objectively and I hope that I got some kernel of truth, I’m sure they’re gonna see nothing but distortion and crap, they’ll be like “oh this is the biggest bunch of bullshit we’ve ever seen,” probably. That probably would be the reaction, I would guess. I don’t know. You know, I’ve got real sympathy for these people after taking on their story for so long. I see a lot of beauty in what they were trying to do and I see a lot of beauty in each of the individuals, be it, y’know, Susan Atkins or Charlie Manson or Bobby Beausoleil.
What exactly is your perception of what they were trying to do?
Well, they were just artists, they were kids, it was a crazy time and everybody was doing drugs and everybody was looking for a utopia that really doesn’t exist. I mean, responsibility comes in the clear light of day and sobriety, but...what they were chasing, y’know, it was a mad era, and people with artistic capabilities and free will and lust for life. Hell, it went horribly wrong.
Yeah, it certainly did. Why do you play a part in the film? Did you want to put yourself in or couldn’t you find a better actor to do the part or...
Oh no, I just love to act and it’s something I still try and keep my chops on, try and become better at it. And I felt I had grown as an actor in “My Sweet Satan.” And of course I put myself in that film (where he played the murderous main character Ricky Kasslin – Graham) because I wanted to play that part. So when we decided to do the Manson film as a(n acting) company I scanned the characters for something I could (1) I had a vague resemblance to and (2) I felt I could play. Then I encountered Bobby Beausoleil and I was like here we go, y’know, he draws, he paints, he’s an artist, I’m not a musician but I’m a filmmaker. I had a sort of physical resemblance, not really in the face but he had brown hair, I had brown hair (we both laugh) so I said fuck, I’m going for it, ya know? And, uh...a very cocky individual, very beautiful spirit, so it was a great role to play. Step outside of yourself and, y’know, be this guy. Plus having the director in the mix I think helps the other actors relax, if he’s acting with you they don’t feel like they’re being watched under a critical eye so much. Especially if you’re standing there naked with your balls hanging out.
That’s interesting. Do you still talk to a lot of the people involved in “Charlie’s Family” like the crew, and the actors, and still talk to Mike King and all that?
Oh, well, Mike King is not just a crew member, he’s my business partner. Mercury Films (the film company that the duo, along with Marcello Games, who plays Manson in the film, formed after leaving film school – Graham) is still alive and well, but it’s just me and Mike now.
Do you think Manson or any of the Family will ever be released from prison?
I’m no fortune teller and there’s no way I could have predicted the way that the '90s turned out or the way that pop culture’s going (although, in an odd way, he predicted the violent pop culture swing many, many years ago in conversation with me when he said that if I thought that his films were violent, just wait until I saw what the next generation would come up with – Graham), so I’m a bad judge of everything, so...but, if you’re gonna ask my personal opinion, if any of the convicted Manson people are going to be released I would say Leslie Van Houten, and only her. The rest are victims of their generation and their generation’s judicial system, their own responsible actions. Leslie van Houten I think deserves to see her final years in freedom and I hope that happens.
(Talk turns to more general matters)
So how are you supporting yourself just now, Jim, are you making music videos or what are you doing?
Yeah, pretty much...just did a video for a band called Speed Buggy.
What kind of stuff is that?
Rockabilly. Yeah, they’re going on tour to Europe (chuckling) in January, actually-
Speed Buggy’s a cool name for a band.
-Yeah, they’re fucking playing, like, Croatia (we both laugh) and shit.
Spreading the good rock and roll word in the Eastern European countries, eh?
Yeah, they’ll be glad to have them, I just said “dress warm.”
Who else have you done? I know you’ve done videos for Pantera, you’ve done Superjoint Ritual...
You know a lot of these death metal rockers, speed metal types, don’t you, like Rob Zombie...
Yeah, sure, they’re all good people, beer drinkers...they’re people who appreciate stuff that’s not prepackaged, prefabricated, mass marketed.
And they obviously appreciate your work too or they wouldn’t employ you. Do you still like horror and underground films, Jim?
Of course, come on, I’m still the same, dude.
What’s the best thing you’ve seen recently then, seen anything good?
(Pause) Hmmm...(long pause)
The static buzz of silence...
Yeah, I’m just thinking of something that knocked my socks off. You know, the last film that I really had a lot of fun with was Kill Bill and that’s mainstream, which is incredible y’know. Ummm...well, see, this is mainstream too...(reflectively) that’s weird...I dunno, maybe I’m spending too much time in Hollywood.
What were you going to say?
Saw this film called Donnie Darko which kinda got looked over. I just found it on video and was like, okay, yeah, this is what it is, but it’s kinda...mildly subversive and at least it’s trying and it’s well-acted and it’s got a lot of nice direction. I quit looking for the Holy Grail
some time ago, I just look for something that’s competently directed and well acted because so much shit isn’t.
Let me just tell you something ironically funny. I just bumped into the twin brother of the last director I interviewed for Film Threat about half an hour ago in a chip shop. The film was a Scottish film called Four Eyes and the director’s brother is in the film. And I walked into the chip shop in Bainsford and there’s his brother standing. And I’m like “Is your brother Duncan Finnigan?” and he’s like “yeah, yeah,” and I’m like “'Four Eyes' was brilliant.” He was totally astounded that somebody had recognized him on the street. (Jim laughs) It’s just that that was the last guy I interviewed for Film Threat, and then meeting his brother when I’m going to be interviewing you.
The usual chaos. I understand that when you made “Roadkill” it horrified the lead actor Mark Gillespie (who plays the main character, cannibal murderer John Martin – Graham) when he saw it that he said he wouldn’t make himself available for a feature-length version. Is that correct? (In the short Gillespie has to dismember a male hitchhiker and cook a topless woman alive after waylaying them on the road after their car breaks down. He then eats them. The footage is incredibly grim and graphic – Graham)
He said that at the time. We made “Roadkill” and sent it out to a bunch of companies, probably 20 companies with an extended 100-page treatment, which is more or less a narrative version of the script. And everybody was horrified. It was too much in ’88. Now I’m going to re-approach everybody, that’s actually one of the things I’m gonna do here in 2004. And Mark has come around, and he’s ready to be John Martin. I think maybe we can actually pull it off this year, and I’m so ready to make that film right now. But yeah, at the time, back in ’88, that tape got finished and passed around Dayton, Ohio, and everybody had a copy. And poor Mark Gillespie, this theatre major from Wright State University, y’know, a nice guy who’d played King Lear and what have you, Shakespeare, goes to parties and everybody’s like (in exaggerated shocked voice) “Look, it’s the cannibal!” And yeah, he was pretty pissed off about that. (We both laugh) But he’s all good, he’s a reporter in Ohio, married, has some wonderful children. He’s a good guy, but if I wave the right amount of money under his nose he’ll be cackling and eating flesh-
Rolling in his own vomit-
-on the big screen. but this time in 35mm.
Would you like to make it as hardcore as the short?
(In disbelief) Come on, is there any other way?
I remember the first time I met you, in that theatre-cum-leisure-center in Northampton. And you were ranting on about how you wanted to have (here I mention sick, disturbing stuff that Jim told me about back in 1992 that he still wants to put in the film, if he ever gets it off the ground – Graham) and there were mothers moving their children away from us...
Yeah, but don’t put that in the interview, cos somebody’ll rip me off. (Have to say I don’t think so, Jim – the proposed material is way too grim and depressing for that – Graham) But yeah, that’s still the way things go. It’s gonna be over-the-top.
Do you honestly think you can get financing for something like that?
(Without a trace
of doubt in his voice) Oh, I know I can.
How do you know you can?
Because I have faith.
Well, can’t argue with that, it’s gotten you where you are. The envelope has been pushed a lot since “Roadkill”...even if you watch a mainstream film like “The Cell,” that Jennifer Lopez film, there’s some pretty fucking graphic stuff in that. You know what I mean?
Jennifer Lopez film?
Did you see that film, “The Cell”?
“The Cell”? Oh yeah, I saw it. Yeah, I know, one or two sequences did push the envelope.
Graphic violence seems to be a lot more kind of acceptable than it was...
Oh well, come on, look at a film like “Final Destination” or “Final Destination 2,” they’re doing stuff that I used to dream about in the '70s and they’re putting them on film. I mean, the most graphic body explosions...the kid getting hit by a pane of glass in “Final Destination 2”...
I’ve never seen either of them.
...oh my God! At least here in America it’s...I mean this thing is a whole body crush with a splat that, c’mon...I mean, I think “Kill Bill “ was sort of a harbinger of what’s coming. It’s like violence is okay, at least, y’know...violence on-screen seems to thrive during Republican regime here in the States, so...
Why do you think that is? Repression and people getting angry, or what?
Well I think, yeah, it’s reactionary.
Do you think you will make another feature then?
Do I think I will? Absolutely. 100%.
Okay, so this is my last question then. Are you still interested in Manson or would you be quite happy never to hear his name again and do you wish you’d (chuckling) never heard of him?
Oh no, no, I’m still very interested in what happens to all of them and to the case. There’s a lot of room for improvement upon my film. But he’s off my radar. I’m going for my next subject matters, y’know, I’m going after action, I’ve got an action film I wanna do, I’ve got a mafia film I wanna do. And I’ve got a film about a cannibal called John Martin I wanna do. And they’re all scripts. If you look at the Manson saga it could be a film that lasted 76 hours, it could be (chuckling) the real “Friday The 13th” through, y’know, “Part 10” but be interesting. I’d love to see some filmmaker go for it, I understand CBS is making a new TV version of “Helter Skelter,” I can’t wait to see that. So no, I’m still interested in that and, hell no, I’m not sorry that I made the film, I love my film and I actually get a kick out of watching it every time I put it in. So it’s a big happy ending. (Sardonically) A Hollywood happy ending, Graham.
More information on the release of “Charlie’s Family” can be gained from www.blue-underground.com. You can get the script from www.creationbooks.com.