Friday, February 18, 2011

Worth Mentioning - The Find of the Century

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

This week, Cody loves the bad while Jay talks of Southern stories.

In 1991, Ohio-based filmmaker J.R. Bookwalter and his company Tempe/Suburban Tempe teamed with Cinema Home Video to produce a series of movies, shot on Super-VHS for the VHS market. Cinema Home Video would give Tempe titles for movies they needed made in time for set release dates and provide financing. The idea was for each movie to have a $2500 budget, but as some went over that limit it would eat into the budget for the next movie, leaving some with budgets as low as $1250, while looming release dates necessitated that some be filmed on shooting schedules as short as one weekend. This partnership led to Tempe churning out six movies in the seven month period of August '91 - March 1992.

As you might expect, some of these movies didn't turn out so well. The executive producer at Cinema Home Video deemed them unwatchable, and Bookwalter dubbed them "the six pack". Six movies, and you need a six pack of beer to get through each one.

Bookwalter later managed to buy the rights to the movies and re-released them on DVD as part of the Bad Movie Police series. The Bad Movie Police releases add comedic segments in front of the films where, in a sort of parody of Charlie's Angels, Ariauna Albright and Lilith Stabs star as the titular cops as they hunt down bad filmmakers and lock them up for their film offenses. Lance Randas (Bookwalter's pseudonym) is considered public enemy #1, the worst cine-terrorist of them all.

The Bad Movie Police list the top 10 crimes against cinematic entertainment committed by the movie, then the movies play out in their entirety as evidence. In order of their BMP release, the movies are -


Cinema Home Video paid $500 for stock footage from the 1979 film Planet of the Dinosaurs, then set Tempe to the task of building a new movie around it. In Galaxy of the Dinosaurs, a team of space explorers are preparing to make a lunch stop on Earth when an act of sabotage lands them on the prehistoric planet Gergon. Wacky misadventures ensue as the team encounters dinosaurs and a caveman in a button-down shirt.

Galaxy is one of the bunch shot for $1250 ($50 of which went to lead actor James Black), in 3 1/2 days. They shot on February 16th and 22-24, 1992, so this article is coincidentally going up in the middle of its 19th anniversary.

There a lot of problems with Galaxy of the Dinosaurs, but they all add to the fun. Planet of the Dinosaurs' 35mm footage of a rocky desert landscape doesn't mix so well with Galaxy's Super-VHS footage shot in a muddy Ohio woods in late winter. Best of all, random sticks picked up by the characters somehow become expertly crafted spears when thrown into the stock footage. It's completely ridiculous, but very entertaining and totally watchable, and at a 63 minute running time it doesn't wear out its welcome.


Directed by Lance Randas's fiancee Yolanda Squatpump (a.k.a. Bookwalter's producing partner Scott Plummer), Chickboxer is about nerdy high schooler Kathy, who narrates her story from a wicker chair. Kathy is the #1 fan of the #1 television show Chickboxer. Inspired by her favorite TV character, Kathy signs up for karate lessons in an extremely blown out gymnasium and rents Linnea Quigley's Horror Workout. This coincides with a couple knuckleheaded and knuckle-cracking local criminals elevating their activities from robbing an awesome video store (wood paneling, wood shelves, hundreds of plastic cased VHS tapes, it's beautiful) to planning to replace the mayor and take over the town. Of course, it's up to Kathy to stop them.

It's a strange story to craft out of the title and it doesn't really work, but the movie is still fun to watch. It's only 61 minutes long, including an opening title sequence that plays out over a pair of pink Converse being laced and tied. This takes more than 4 minutes, and the sequence is replayed under the end credits, so there's about 52 minutes of movie in between. In addition to the story of Kathy that was shot in Ohio, the Cinema Home Video executive producer also directed sequences in California with Michelle Bauer as the actress who plays TV's Chickboxer. The movie ends with Bauer in a totally random softcore sex scene, during which you can hear the California producer giving directions.


Humanoids tells the true story of scientist Frederica O. Ray, who has made the find of the century - an Atlantean creature washed ashore on Lake Erie after it made its way from the ocean to the Great Lakes. The creature awakens and escapes, crossing paths with local high schooler/wannabe filmmaker Ken Adams and his girlfriend Julie as they're shooting a documentary on the history of Lake Tempe.

Ken is instantly likeable, as he's played by James L. Edwards, calls George Romero a filmmaking genius, and wears an Evil Dead II hat and a Gremlins 2 shirt. When we're introduced to Julie, she's rejecting his advances and quickly follows that up by dissing Night of the Living Dead and Knightriders. Why this isn't a break-up scene with Ken kicking her to the curb, I don't know.

Humanoids from Atlantis is really the most troubled of the bunch. It was shot in one weekend and was another with a $1250 budget, the actors getting paid with Taco Bell and movie posters. Weather conditions - you can't make a movie about an aquatic creature in a snowy Ohio March - and a tight release date schedule led to the script being discarded during filming, as you can tell as things get very odd toward the end. Clocking in at 47 minutes total, there isn't much to Humanoids and it's the special features on the Bad Movie Police release that really make it worth watching. If you want to find out what was really meant to happen, the original script is included as a DVD-ROM extra.

The BMP series wrapped up with a double feature of Zombie Cop and Maximum Impact, where the only extra is commentary on each. There aren't even new BMP segments on these, but at least we end up (including the non-BMP Kingdom of the Vampire) with all of the movies from the Tempe/Cinema Home Video era on DVD.


Zombie Cop is the story of Detective Robert Gill, who's lured into a trap by serial killer/drug dealer/Voodoo practitioner Doctor Death. Gill had killed Death's brother during a drug bust, so Death pays him back by killing him and cursing him to walk the earth as a decaying corpse. Teaming with his living partner, Detective Stevens, Zombie Cop has to track down Doctor Death, seeking revenge and hoping to be able to reverse the curse.

It's kind of a no-budget hybrid of Darkman and RoboCop, and an entertaining 61 minutes.


Also an entertainingly short and sweet 61 minutes, Maximum Impact was shot around the same (Christmas)time as Chickboxer and is about small town insurance salesman Jerry Handley, who heads to the big city for an insurance conference, during which he runs afoul of some mob types. The bad guys (who have meetings in the same awesomely wood-paneled diner featured in Chickboxer... yes, I'm a big fan of wood paneling) rain some hell down on Jerry's life after he witnesses a snuff movie being filmed. Unfortunately for them, Jerry happens to have an armory in his basement.

The Bad Movie Police segments on Galaxy, Chickboxer, and Humanoids average out at about 10 minutes long. Then there are "making of" documentaries on each that average about 12 minutes long. Each has audio commentary. Galaxy and Chickboxer have featurettes with actor James Black. Humanoids includes a 9 minute short called The Accident. So they're packed with special features and really give you a good look into the making of all of these movies.

The movies can be bought from TempeVideo for $6.99 a piece, or you can get the Crimewave box set with all of them for just $14.99.

Yes, the movies are bad, but they're also fun to watch and have a certain charm to them. To hear the story behind them, and to think of how everybody pulled together to make these in little old Ohio, it's actually inspiring. It's a lesson to low budget filmmakers that even your missteps, when presented in the right way, can be inspiring to other filmmakers.

Tempe inspiring others can be seen in the release of the final movie of the "six pack", outside of the Bad Movie Police series:

KINGDOM OF THE VAMPIRE (1991) & (2007)

Here, J.R. Bookwalter's 1991 movie was released as a double feature with the 2007 remake by Canadian low budget filmmaker Brett Kelly.

Kingdom of the Vampire '91 was actually the first of the "six pack" to be filmed, and it seems like it's the one that got the most effort put into it. It's the most stylistic of the bunch, and you shouldn't need a six pack to get through it. This one isn't that bad, it's actually a pretty good low budget movie.

Full of stylish colored lighting and highly theatrical acting, Kingdom is like Psycho blended with George Romero's 1977 classic Martin and filtered through Dark Shadows. It's about an awkward, socially inept young man named Jeff, who's stuck dealing with his abusive, literally bloodthirsty mother and cleaning up her messes. The situation really begins to fall apart when outsiders come into the picture - the local Sheriff who's searching for some missing persons, and a nice girl who takes an interest in Jeff.

It's interesting to note that one scene of Zombie Cop was shot during the production of this movie, and Kingdom's fog and lighting leaked over into ZC for that scene.

Bookwalter wasn't entirely happy with Kingdom and had planned to remake it for a while. A script was written, but the project fell apart. In 2007, Brett Kelly inquired about the remake's status, and ended up taking the script, reworking it a bit, and making it himself.

Jeff was exceptionally whiny in the original film. He had reason to be, but it's still over-the-top. Kelly's version dials that way back, and the acting in his version is much more naturalistic overall. It's filmed and lit in a gothic style, and also plays up the "are they or are they not really vampires?" aspect much more.

Bookwalter and Kelly each provide commentaries for their versions, and it's a double feature that's definitely worth checking out.

Jay's pick:

Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring Michael Shannon, Barlow Jacobs, Douglas Ligon, and Natalie Canerday

Per IMDb: Shotgun Stories tracks a feud that erupts between two sets of half brothers following the death of their father. Set against the cotton fields and back roads of Southeast Arkansas, these brothers discover the lengths to which each will go to protect their family.

Shotgun Stories is set in Arkansas, and having been raised in the South myself, this film definitely struck a chord with me. I've never seen a film that felt so much like home before, and for the most part, Shotgun Stories could have been filmed down the street from me. A lot of films have a small Southern setting, but none of them have ever related to me as well as this one has.

Michael Shannon is absolutely pitch perfect in the role of Son Hayes, a low key and extremely damaged man,  and I am thankful that this film introduced me to him as an actor as well as Jeff Nichols as a director. I'll be following both of them much closer after having viewed this.

Interesting note: Jeff Nichol's brother is Ben Nichols of the band Lucero. I really enjoy the music of that band so I was pleasantly surprised  when I read this. Ben Nichols contributed to music to the soundtrack of Shotgun Stories.  You can check out Lucero's website at:

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