Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Return of the Living Dead: Where Are They Now?

Almost all of them were at the fabulous New Beverly last night!! And I almost missed it!!

I got lucky. I knew the film was screening that night (yesterday) and tonight. The plans were set for tonight, but the theater is on my way home. Why not stop on a whim and ask if anyone from the film came to the screening? Such things are known to happen unexpectedly.

Holy crap did I hit the jackpot. The usherette said there was the director (Dan O'Bannon!!!) and "a lot" of the cast and she wasn't kidding. I took my seat right about halfway through and when the lights came up I couldn't believe the lineup. There probably hasn't been as massive a gather of this film's cast and crew, ever!

Here they are as they sat onstage, from stage right to left:

Special Effects Man Tony Gardner!

Seen here playing himself in Seed of Chucky, Tony Gardner came "straight out of kindergarden" (-James Karen) as a last-minute replacement to create the half-dog and half-corpse zombies in a matter of weeks! He shared a story about tense dealings with one of the film's British producers who hated his guts - which only motivated him to blow everyone away on no budget and no time.

I kind of wanted to ask him about the half-corpse female zombie's speaking scene, and if they'd considered her lack of LIPS to be a consideration in the ability to form words...but hey. I never noticed it until people started annoying me with their clever observation. A puppet with articulate lips is tough.

Director-Writer Dan O'Bannon!

The man!! Seemingly well recovered from recent health problems, sporting his usual Kentucky fried beard and in good spirits. There was some new information to be heard, despite Dan's self-admittedly waning memory of the production.

Like the original ending! Glimpsed here in this YouTube upload of the assembly/rough cut...

I'd only seen this recently (tip o' the hat to "CTM1978") and O'Bannon clarified that the final "rebirth" ending which recycles earlier shots from the film AND montages dialogue from previous scenes during the credits was in fact the producers doing.

My best guess for the change, besides gratuitous producer fuckery, is that it actually kind of puts a more whimsical spin on the story's apocalyptic ending. That, or O'Bannon's setup for a sequel wasn't obvious enough, and they felt they should actually show corpses coming out of the ground again...the same corpse.

The long-rumoured guide to screenwriting is 80-90% complete, but has been suspended since there are no takers in the publishing world...idiots, this guy wrote fucking Alien. You don't think a screenwriting book "from the writer of Alien and Total Recall" would sell? Return has one of the greatest screenplayers ever written for a horror movie. Sad that this book's future isn't more solid.

Finally, a Q + A question from the audience confirmed something I'd long suspected - Matthew Clifford's music score (which does not include the main "Trioxin Theme" written by Francis Haines,) were written separately from the film as a series of cues and inserted creatively by the film's sound editor. As O'Bannon noted, he did a perfect job. You'd never know!

He left immediately afterwards but I was able to tell him ROTLD changed my life, and he just laughed...

Production Designer Bill Stout!

A way cool dude who participated with O'Bannon on the mini-docs and commentary track of the original MGM DVD release, as well as the new one. Stout's credits include Conan the Barbarian, from which he culled an anecdote about the nature of dealing with producers: director John Milius asked him one day to storyboard a sequence in which during the raid of a village, a pillager on horseback would grab a baby, impale it on his spear and then rip it off.

"My god!" sez Stout. "Dino De Laurentiis (producer) will never let us get away with that!"

"Right" sez Milius. "He'll order it be removed, and will feel he's contributed to the project."

This is exactly what John Kricfalusi said Spumco used to do when dealing with Nickelodeon vis-a-vis Ren & Stimpy! Apparently it works!

O'Bannon took a moment to note that nearly everything in the film is artificial, an amazing fact when looking at all the little intricate details of the mortuary where much of the action takes place - damned if that set doesn't come off as the real thing.

With some prompting from O'Bannon, Stout recalled the creation of the graveyard set resulted from the fact there wasn't a SINGLE GRAVEYARD in LA that contained forestation and/or big gravestones. That very Southern style is what they needed, so they made do in an unused, sandy vineyard. Boy, did they. You have to see for yourself how special these sets are.

They're all the more amazing for the fact the three main locations of the film - graveyard, mortuary and medical supply warehouse - are all located right beside each other in the story. In actuality, only the exterior and interior of the warehouse even existed prior to filming.

James Karen - "Frank"!

The mic passed to the mellifluous James Karen next, he of many many many film and TV credits over the years. Well dressed and booming with theatricality, Karen had a jibe for every slow moment during the night and showed a ton of love for the film's following and everyone he worked with...not sure what else to say! Unfortunately he left right away after the Q+A.

Brian Peck - "Scuz"!

Introducing himself as the ROTLD cast member who never gets recognized, Peck does indeed look nothing like Scuz the punk. He is however one of ROTLD's most ardent cult supporters, having participated in the last DVD and helping assemble reunions for various horror-cons. Outside the theater he was good enough to chat with me about my favorite Scuz moment, in which he pulls a switchblade on Clu Gulager...except it WASN'T a switchblade! It was a stiletto knife, in which the blade shoots straight up rather than swinging out... O'Bannon was adament about this with the prop department! God, the attention to detail!!

Peck noted during Q+A that he still has his Scuz costume, thanks to James Karen advising him to get away with as much prop and costumage as possible, and that were he to wear those threads today, they would resemble a tank top. He also kept some gravestones and the "Weird Tales" comic book Scuz reads in the backseat of Suicide's car.

Beverly Randolph - "Tina"!

Another longtime supporter of the ROTLD fandom on DVD and at conventions. Ms. Randolph's voice IS Tina's - cute and squeaky clean high pitched squeaks - and she's barely aged a day. Her grandmother and son were actually in attendance and she had to cover their eyes during the scary bits. She also squeak-freaked out when the language got salty and left mid-Q + A due to her parking valet. Oh well. Her nugget of the evening was prior to filming, she had gone on a date with her co-star and fictive boyfriend, at O'Bannon's request, despite the inability of O'Bannon or that co-star to remember and corroborate the unorthodox rehearsal method.

And that co-star was of course:

Thom Matthews - "Freddie"!

(on the left)

Pretty much looks like an older, buffer (according to IMDB he has a black belt and owns a construction company) version of our favorite unlucky stockroom clerk. I'm sad to say, there seemed something a bit distant about him. No real content during the Q + A, but he seemed happy to talk to fans a bit afterwards, most of whom seemed to enjoy him more from his starring role Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives....Were I still a shameless nerd asshole I'd have asked him about Alien From LA....good thing I've acquired shame.

O'Bannon commented that he was always best on the first take, and so was excused from the weeks' rehearsals prior to filming! You can tell in the film; there's something undeniably spontaneous about Freddie's wild-eyed panic.

Jewel Shepard - "Casey!"

Like Beverly Randolph, Jewel also looks great. Unfortunately she can't remember "anything" because she was "high the entire time." She also ditched the Q + A early...ah, well.

You can see her naked at

Don Calfa - "Ernie"!

Despite not having much to say during Q + A, I caught him on the walk out of the theater to ask my own burning question; whether or not he'd known of his character's Nazi connection. Apparently he was informed during filming and actually did some research, hence not only the sliver of German he lets slip during one scene but his actual gun-drawing stance. Now that's craft.

You can see him naked at NO! You can see his ROTLD love! Including his ideas for a Return of the Living Dead comic book sequel!!

There was Kenny Myers, another FX man, didn't say anything...which brings me to:

Clu Gulager - "Burt"!

The man of the hour at the New Beverly, Clu has actually been host of his own Clu Gulager film festival this week. He's got a big pomp, an Air Force jacket and a lot of good cheer. Being a well-respected artisan of acting, he shared a couple of particularly insightful points about ROTLD.

When he first read O'Bannon's script, he realized this was not going to be just any old horror movie.

After finishing the film, he knew two things were for certain in this world: O'Bannon is a talent on the level of Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks, and The Return of the Living Dead is a masterpiece.

He claims he has only been in two masterpieces, ever - this and The Last Picture Show. How's that for praise?

See you there tonight...

1 comment:

Andrew Wickliffe said...

Don Calfa was, of course, in Weekend at Bernie's as well... in a good physically comic performance in a movie I no longer can get through (I haven't tried in a while).

O'Bannon's book on screenwriting would be awesome, especially given the controversy over "Blue Thunder" (didn't Badham hijack it--the re-writer is uncredited) and I think there's some over "Alien" too. And I'd love to know what he thought of "Alien vs. Predator," since Anderson supposedly just inserted unused material from "Alien" in places...