Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD

Bill Philputt, 2011
Starring: Jules Brenner, Don Calfa, James Dalesandro, Clu Gulagar, James Karen

“The events portrayed in this film are all true. The names are real names of real people and real organizations.”

I am probably the worst person to write a review of anything Return of the Living Dead related because I have no ability whatsoever to be objective. I grew up watching and loving the first three films with the original still remaining among my favorite films of all time. As far as I’m concerned, it’s high time someone made a documentary about this wonderful punk-rock zombie comedy that has since become a cult classic.

And what a documentary it is. Clocking in at well over two hours with all the special features, it is chock full of interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, photos, art and answers to any question you could possibly have about Return of the Living Dead. There are interviews with all of the surviving cast and several of the crew members. Actor Brian Peck (Scuz), who kept himself involved with the Return franchise over the years, narrates. Actress Beverly Randolph (Tina) co-hosts some of the special features with Peck and also acts as the documentary’s executive producer.

Obviously it’s appealing to any Return fan, but even if you have a passing interest in horror or want to learn more about how films are made, More Brains will be of interest. Despite its long running time, it flies by and was clearly a labor of love from every person involved. The amount of information packed in is a little mind-blowing and at times feels a little unorganized with everyone clamoring to give their opinions, but this usually feels more like a strength than a weakness.

I am generally uninterested in special features, but these are actually very enjoyable. There are featurettes about the making of Return 2 and Return 3, a filming locations featurette, a music video, deleted scenes and, the icing on the cake, director/writer Dan O’Bannon’s final interview. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I cried, but I definitely teared up at the end. Even though he could apparently be a bastard on the set, he was a great man and made many wonderful contributions to the horror genre. He will be missed.

More Brains is available on DVD from Michael Perez Entertainment and was created by the same team responsible for Never Sleep Again, the Nightmare on Elm Street documentary.

I also had the good fortune to talk with Return of the Living Dead actress and More Brains executive producer Beverly Randolph, who answered a few questions about her experience with the film and the documentary.

Satanic Pandemonium: How did you come to be involved in the documentary as an executive producer?

Beverly Randolph: I had started a previous documentary on The Return of the Living Dead with a co-star but had a difference on how it was to be edited. Michael Perez thought it might be nice to have Thommy Hutson of horror documentary fame have a go at it. We all agreed and proceeded with More Brains. Clearly the right choice!

SP: What was it like to be submerged in the Return of the Living Dead world again after so many years?

Randolph: It was great fun! Everyone was in communication again after such a long time. I have been in touch with quite a few crew members and a lot of cast members already but to expand beyond that was pure joy to me. The cast already keeps together by doing signings and appearances all around the country. We truly are like a big family. I must say too, that it was like going to therapy! Getting all of the bad stuff out and finally telling what really happened. It felt good.

SP: One of my favorite things about More Brains is how enthusiastic and heartfelt everyone seems when they talk about their experiences on the Return set. What impact did it have on your life?

Randolph: It made me want to run from show business! I now know that what happened to me was not "the norm." At that time it scared me quite a bit. The impact on me now has made me want to jump back in to the film business with both feet. Going to all the conventions and appearances are so rewarding. The people we meet are the nicest fans/friends. It makes you feel so fortunate.

SP: I feel like any question I could ask about your work on Return of the Living Dead has already been answered in the very thorough documentary, but is there anything you’d like to say about it?

Randolph: Without crying this time... I would again like to thank all the wonderful fans. Without their warmth and kindness, our ride would have been over a long time ago.

In addition to Beverly Randolph’s kind words, I managed to squeeze in a second, more behind-the-scenes interview. My love for horror and sci-fi is apparently genetic. My uncle, Drew Deighan, was lucky enough to be cast as Ambulance Driver #1 in Return of the Living Dead, which you can learn about in More Brains. I was lucky enough to be able to ask him a few questions about the experience.

SP: I wanted to interview you because you're my uncle and you're awesome, but also because I always think it's interesting to get perspectives on filmmaking from some of the fringe cast/crew members. Namely people who got a bird's eye view of the situation. Were you involved in any other parts of the production than just Ambulance Driver #1?

Deighan: Short answer, yes. Longer answer: I was originally hired to be a "stand in" which is an actual job where you stand around, watch what the real actors are doing during the blocking of the scene and then when they all go away to eat jelly beans, snort coke or shoot craps, you move to those spots (marks) for the Director of Photography who then lights the scene accordingly. As a result, I was on the film for the entire shoot, every day, all day and saw EVERYTHING. I know where all the bodies are buried -- figuratively, literally, and politically. I was also one of the zombies that first come up out of the ground after it starts to rain and it's my hand that's the first hand you see coming up out of the ground. Essentially I was the "utility infielder" for the whole shoot and would up doing quite a few things, some of which I don't like to talk about because of how it scarred me psychologically.

SP: Can you talk about what that process was of acting as a zombie coming up out of the grave was like?

Deighan: They had built a fake hillside from wood on location to act as the graveyard and even filled certain parts of it with "edible mud" - at least they told us it was edible but that might have just been bullshit to keep the squeamish from complaining too much. By the time they got ready to shoot that scene, (there weren't any of the cast scheduled for that night -- they were just shooting the zombies) and the art department/set decorator guys asked me if I wanted to be a zombie. Being a "hand to mouth" actor at that point, I said sure, cause it meant another day's work (I wasn't on the call sheet for stand-in work that night). When the DP, Jules Brenner, found out I was going to be there as a zombie, he also made the command decision that they'd use me to be the close up hand that first comes out of the ground as well. As far as "acting" and "process," even though I was a classically trained actor who'd attended the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, I wasn't putting a whole lot of thought into what my character motivation was ("find brains and eat them?"). Basically it was "don't F up the shot," an "let's try and do it right the first time cause it's cold, they're using fake rain and we all want to get clean and dry as quickly as possible." After it was all over and I'd emerged from the fake hill in full zombie make up and zombie costume from inside edible mud with 30 other zombies, and everyone cold, wet, tired and completely covered in mud, I looked at one of the art department girls and said, "Well, I guess I can add that to my list of things I don't ever need to do again."

SP: On a scale of one to ten, how much fun was it to get eaten by zombies?

Deighan: Zombies only rate a 4, cause after the initial excitement of finding a meal, they're kinda just plodders. Now... your werewolves? Much more style and gore. I give them an 7 easy, maybe a 8. Getting flayed and then munched on by a Balrog is probably the pinnacle of being consumed by something that's nasty. Just ask Sir Ian McKellen.

SP: Do you have a specific favorite memory of making the film?

Deighan: Yes. We had just moved indoors to shoot at a converted warehouse in Simi Valley and no more night shoots. Everyone was hoping that Dan O'Bannon would not be as big a tool inside in day time as he had been outside at night. Sadly, that was not the case and he somehow managed to be an even bigger ass. Anyway, we were shooting a scene with almost the whole cast/crew present and he was just being a full-on Richard Cranium (much more advanced form of Dick Head) and everyone wanted to kill him. Anyway, somehow I would up with a water pistol in my hand and decided to have some fun. I squirted Dan a couple of times for the cast - all of whom seemed to know that I was doing it. Never got caught, either. Stand In 1 - Dan O'Bannon 0.

SP: Everyone who grew up watching Return (as well as some of the cast members, it seems) had a major crush on Linnea Quigley. So far I've heard nothing but positive stories about people working with her in various films. Can you talk at all about what she was like on set?

Deighan: My memory was that she was very quiet and very sweet -- but as I was pretty much a nobody on the set, she had no real reason to talk with me anyway. Also, she was pretty punked out for the film and, as punk chicks were never really my type, I didn't pay much attention - at least until the night we shot the scene where "Trash" decides to get naked. Linnea had a smokin' hot body, and that night anyway, she definitely had my full attention.

SP: One of the things that makes the documentary so enjoyable is that all the cast and crew, almost thirty years later, talk about how great it was and their amazing memories of the film. Why do you think this small film, which has obviously grown over the years, was so impactful for the people who made the film?

Deighan: The people making the film were amazingly wonderful, very professional and extremely interesting and talented people who all banded together even more closely than they ordinarily might have because Dan was consumed with being such a dick most of the time. People remember making the film so fondly I think because it was a little like going to sea with Captain Ahab and we knew we all needed to pull each other through. At the time we were shooting, Hemdale (the production company) was also making another little film called "The Terminator." During the shoot, the producers (Hemdale was producing both films) thought that both could be somewhat successful but weren't sure which one would pull ahead - thus reinforcing my belief in William Goldman's statement that "no one in Hollywood knows anything." Beyond that, for me personally, even though they made some great films in a very short amount of time, Orion went bankrupt in 10 quick years and so, financially, other than SAG scale I've never seen a dime (no real residuals for the actors, cause you can't get blood from a turnip). Frankly, I had no idea that the film had become such a cult classic -- at least until Beverly Randolph called me up out of the blue a few months ago and told me that the producers wanted me to be in the documentary.

SP: You should have asked me! Finally, can you say something about what it was like to work with Dan O'Bannon? He will be missed sorely by horror fans everywhere.

Deighan: Um... you mean something nice? Seriously I think he was a marvelous writer and obviously has the writing credits to back that sentiment up. As a director, though, he floundered around and didn't really know how to express to people what he really wanted and would then very quickly became frustrated and start taking out his own inability to communicate effectively on other people by bullying and belittling them. Other than that, I'm sure he was probably a good conversationalist among people he considered his friends.

Thanks Drew and Beverly! Send more paramedics...

Originally written for Cinedelphia.

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