Monday, June 27, 2011

Have You Ever Been Haunted?

Lots of folks have been scared by a horror film.  That’s easy.  It’s a given.  But have you ever been haunted by a horror film?  Had it lurk in your mind for years like an insidious ghost?  I did.  And this is my story. 

            When I was young, I watched a lot of television.  We all did.  But there was one viewing I never shared with anyone; my weekly dose of horror films.  Being on television, they were no doubt edited, but I was too young to know and too young to not find the result fascinating regardless.  Sometimes they were classics with Vincent Price; other times they were bottom-of-the-barrel scrapings.  But I ate them up—often not knowing the difference. 

            One film struck me as totally unique.  It had no stars that I knew, it seemed to be dubbed and fairly low-budget…and yet it was stylish and darkly humorous and went from a tale of murder to a Poe-like ghost story of a man haunted by either his own madness or an actual, vengeful spirit.  And it had an awesome last minute twist.  To top it off, it had an even later twist:  the realization that this film about a ghost seemed to simply vanish.  True, I had forgotten the title, but no matter how I described the film to family, friends, or fellow aficionados—no one had any idea what I was talking about.  It was as if the film had never existed! 

            Perhaps it was I who was the mad man.  Perhaps the lunatic in the movie was just a manifestation of my own loss of sanity.  Had I dreamt the film up?  And if I had, why could I remember it in such detail?  The images were embedded in my mind:  this incredible scene where the man is questioned by a police detective as the blood of the man’s latest kill threatens to drip on the detective’s head; the deceased’s ghost appearing to tell her killer that if he didn’t want to see her, she would oblige…but that everyone else would still see her; and the mad, dizzying waltzes amidst corpse-white, faceless mannequins. 

            I searched on the internet, but came up with nothing.  I posted in forums and everywhere I could think.  I kept asking people about this demon haunting me.  It went on for years.  Finally, someone suggested a title that seemed to have nothing to do with the ghost story I recalled.  But I looked it up and, sure enough, it was the very movie that I had seen long ago.  Reading a synopsis, I realized I had separated the film’s two plots into two separate movies in my memory.  The ghost story that had thrilled me was interwoven, often with dark humor, into a psycho-slasher story—cleverly satisfying those who dig blood and body counts as well as those who favor cerebral terrors and suspense. 

            If you haven’t already guessed, the film is Mario Bava’s “Red Sign of Madness” which somehow became translated in the English version as “Hatchet For A Honeymoon”.  (Nice alliteration, but the murder weapon is a cleaver.   Go figure.)  If horror is your bag and you haven’t seen this film, I highly suggest you do.  It’s a surreal mix of slash and panache, humor and horror, tradition and invention.  For a rather nice, in-depth review (though with a few spoilers), check out:  Or, just go rent or buy it.  It's worth several viewings.             

And so my story ends.  My ghost was real.  I hope you can find it one day.  And I hope it haunts you. 

Big time.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bad Boys



          Friend and fellow actor Bill Oberst, Jr. (above, center) is pretty well-known in the horror community: he’s been in over fifty films and most of them have been horror films showcasing him as a pretty scary dude. In those movies, he comes across as the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to find in a dark alley; but to meet him in person, you’d discover he’s among the nicest, sweetest guys around. You may recall me mentioning Domiziano Arcangeli (above, left) in an earlier blog: he’s another name in the horror genre whose terrifying on-screen presence is truly surreal juxtaposed with his gentle, soft-spoken off-screen demeanor. And then I look at my body of work and see a trend appearing: that I often get cast as villains...just like these other guys. And I’m as nice as can be. Honest. I really don’t eat babies. Except on Sundays. 
          Of course, all actors can play many different kinds of roles. I’ve played a wide variety. But clearly, one of my emerging niches is the Nice Guys Who Play Bad Boys gang. Now, it’s terrific fun to get to play a really nasty bastard. My character in Freudian Eyebrow is a sadistic borderline sociopath, my role in Beat Bernie is a selfish, cruel prima donna and my bunny-eared baddy in The Immoral Dr. Dicqer is a spiteful, splenetic megalomaniac. Heck, even my jailer in Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf is a complete jerk. And I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. I just hope people don’t start seeing me on the street and then run, screaming. Any more than they already do. 

          But I’m honored to be in such awesome company as Oberst and Arcangeli. And I’ll be happy to keep playing guys that people love to hate. Just remember: sociopaths, killers and other evildoers need love, too. Just keep clear of the blood; it gets sticky.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Deviation: Taking a Bite of the Apple


            I used to be a New York junkie:  trekking to the Big Apple every year to see as many shows as possible in a finite amount of time.  Given the disadvantage of living in Los Angeles (one of many), I had let several years go by between trips and, though I had survived the withdrawal symptoms, I was itching to get back.  As an actor, it seems both prudent and necessary to keep abreast of the New York theater scene and—as such—I had some serious catching up to do.   

            So I went and did a Broadway blitzkrieg.  Here are my takeaways: 

Sister Act:  Two powerhouse leads (Patina Miller & Victoria Clark), an energetic cast and increasingly splashy sets and costumes, turn a better-than-average show into a knock-out, crowd-pleasing winner. 

The Book of Mormon:  The raunchiest lyrics and most irreverent book on Broadway have made this the “must-see” musical of the season.  But it’s really just a loving throw-back to the style of simpler, old-fashioned musicals.  A witty and peppy, spoof-filled score (ala “Avenue Q”, no surprise) and a winning cast make this potty-mouthed musical a naughty little treat.   It was the only Broadway show I saw that isn’t based on a movie, a television show or a comic book; that originality is, in my mind, is the most laudatory element of all. 

Mary Poppins:  The sets and magic tricks are as jaw-dropping as money can buy, but Disney messed with the movie’s magic, leaving this Mary to only fly in fits and starts.  The familiar songs work, but the new ones are forgettable.  “Brimstone & Treacle”, sold by a scene-stealing evil Nanny Andrews (Ruth Gottschall), is the exception.   But for a Disney-hungry throng, even a less than “practically perfect” Mary is clearly enough.  

My Big Gay Italian Wedding:  A tiny, Off-Broadway event which delivers everything you could want from such a venue and such a titled show:  a hammy castful of whackos are thrown into a hysterical (if slightly over-long) farce revolving around a gay, Italian boy marrying his Polish lover.  Oy, vey, Maria! 

The Addams Family:  The strangest family, their house and “pets” are all brought lovingly to life with Bebe Neuwirth and Rachel Potter outstanding as Morticia and Wednesday (although Zachary James’ underused Lurch is also spot-on).   Unfortunately, the book and score are merely serviceable, making the visit less satisfying than one—living or dead—would hope.    

Billy Elliot:  Based on the powerhouse film, the Lee Hall/Elton John musical manages to mine the right story elements to allow for a completely satisfying retelling.  Fortunately, the direction and cast back that up with innovation and energy in abundance, pushing the show into the realm of the amazing.  Whereas Mary Poppins flounders, Billy Elliot flies. 

Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark:  Julie Taymor’s visionary touch makes the graphic novel world literally come to life—on stage and in (and over) the audience.  The sets, costumes and acrobatics are inspired, impressive and thrilling; the cast gives their all through every moment. But the book, lyrics and music are largely banal. T.V.Carpio makes the mythical Arachne's haunting musical moments shine, but the rest of the cast all too often seems to be screaming to be heard over the din of the orchestra—as though someone thought volume would make up for unimaginative lyrics and a pedestrian rock score.  Still, the crowd cheers the hero flying over their heads; perhaps that is enough for the lowest common denominator.   Works for Mary Poppins. 

            So there you go.   My two cents only, mind you.  I say you should never listen to anyone you don’t know well; that the criticism of someone whose opinions are not ones you agree with on a regular basis will most likely bear no relation to the opinions you will form on your own.  And those are the only ones that count.   

In the end, only you can know what you like.  And you’ll never know for certain unless you go.   Over all, there's great stuff happening on the Great White Way.  So do go.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I Was a Green Screen Demon

Me admiring a portrait of my unrequited love.


Who says sorcery and gynecology don’t mix? In the bizarre world of The Immoral Dr. Dicqer, they do….and bawdy repartee and anthropomorphic madness ensue... 

The crew looks like any other crew: jeans and t-shirts, boom mikes and cameras, tats and stubble. But everything else looks like a surreal acid trip. My scene partner’s eyes pierce out from white feathers; his beak could poke my eye out. The leading lady has the face of a seal pup. I sport a wig that says “Kabuki Elvis”…and huge Donnie Darko bunny ears sprout from my head. Scant, odd furniture and props sit about—all surrounded by a bright green cloth that covers the walls and floor like the Grinch threw up everywhere. 

It’s day two of shooting on the set of the strangest sci-fi/fantasy project I’ve been lucky enough to partake in. Half of everything in the film is painstakingly crafted after the fact by hand, so while shooting, we actors are miming objects and imagining our surroundings are something other than mass quantities of baby puke green. It’s a terrifically fun challenge, because no matter what you imagine, it ends up looking different on screen and you say to yourself: “Oh, that’s what I was seeing!”

In this twisted tale of one possible future in a parallel universe, I play Chauncey Esunertus, the Baron of Ten Hells Island: a rabbit-eared sorcerer who seeks revenge on the pirate-turned-gynecologist who has stolen my “lady love”. She (the seal-pupped one) has already borne a child who wears a gas mask and—even odder—bears a noticeable resemblance to no one.  I’ve enlisted Aggie (the bird man) to aid in my revenge…though he may have his own agenda. Throw in busy-body ladies who act like the mob, a nurse with ninja tendencies, a machine that’s a two way portal to other dimensions…and I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. Yes: it’s just another day in suburbia.  

Not exactly “Two and a Half Men”. But actually, I imagine Charlie Sheen would fit in, somehow. And who knows? Considering the magnitude of my character’s powers, it could happen. In fact…anything could…and anything might.   

Watch and see…

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Camp it Up

Everything’s blurry.  Oy, vey!


            I love how you can never tell exactly what those folks you’ve just auditioned for really thought of your performance.  I’ve had people howl with laughter and actually applaud…and then never call me.  And I’ve had people look like they could not have been less impressed…who later offered me jobs.  Both are always a surprise; one obviously preferable.  Unless you’re a masochist; then it could get a little muddy.

            A case in point (of the preferable kind) came when I auditioned for “Camp Virginovich”—a teen sex comedy about two high school geeks who finagle their way to Russia to a camp that guarantees they’ll lose their virginity. I was reading for Richard Cohen, the lead character’s dad—a dorky, Jewish guy not unlike Eugene Levy in the “American Pie” films.  I read the sides and I swear no one cracked a smile.  I was pretty sure it was a bust.  But I got the job, so they must have liked something.  

            As if I need reassurance, having already been cast, when we were prepping to shooting the very scene I had read in the audition, the writer pulled out his iPhone to show the DP what I’d done.  They watched the screen and broke into snickering grins.  But they didn’t show me, oddly enough, so I had to just go with my gut.  We started rolling and I did my thing. 

“Cut!” someone yelled.   

Oops, I thought.  

“Did I totally miss the boat on that?” I asked aloud. 

“No,” they managed through laughter.  “We were just cracking up and it got picked up by the sound equipment.” 

Now that’s what I call a major motivational ego boost. 

So we forged ahead.  They let me improv pretty freely, here and there, which was also cool.  So I was throwing in bits and they ate it up.  And we didn’t have to re-shoot every scene due to laughter.  Only maybe 50%. 

 But I was not the only one inducing laughter; the whole cast was tons of fun.  Lauren Benjamin, who played my wife, was such a team player; she and I stayed in character the entire day we were shooting the Hollywood tour bus scene.  We were non-stop “Bubula, look at that!  Oy, it’s so hot I’m shvitzing!  That shiksa, she should put some clothes on, no?”  It’s a wonder they didn’t throw us off the bus.  Or in front of the bus.  But everyone was in good spirits, enjoying the sun and the silly spectacle we all made; I hope it comes across in the film. 

So check out “Camp Virginovich” when you can.  It boasts yours truly in full-on dork formation…and about two dozen totally hot babes, too.  Because what teen sex comedy doesn’t need totally hot babes?  

Uh… Coming soon!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My Leading Man Was a Rat

Me and Larry Labrat.

Working with animals is one thing.  Working with imaginary animals is something else.  That second scenario exactly describes my stint on Larry Labrat, the partially animated webisode detailing the comedic misadventures of little Larry—a hapless lab rat at GloboControl.   

I play the Lead Scientist who experiments on Larry in two different episodes:  in one episode, I grow a human ear on his back to use as a replacement for a little girl whose own ear has gone AWOL; in the other episode, I and a coworker provide Larry with “Tailagra”—a new drug to help grow his somewhat small appendage.  Black humor, obviously, is the name of the game. 

  It’s a remarkably easy shoot, probably aided by the fact that the main character was animated and would be added in post.  That meant we didn’t have to wait for him to arrive, deal with wardrobe, get into make-up, wait for the coffee to kick in, etc.  He didn’t miss a mark, drop a cue, or throw a tantrum.   Even better:  he didn’t eat all the good stuff provided for munchies.  In short:  he was the perfect leading man. 

 So we all did our scenes, one after the other as smooth as could be.  I mimed lifting Larry and carrying him around, measuring his tiny tail, checking his progress, etc.   (Who knew all that mime in my younger days would ever come in handy again?) The episodes were shot in record time, Larry and his other animated buddies were added and then the webisodes were ready to be unleashed unto the world not long afterwards.

Unfortunately, the webhost found the two episodes I was in to be offensive and so the episodes had to be edited.  One—even after editing—was still rejected entirely.  I wondered who was in charge of this website?  Did they not see everything else that was on the web?  Some of what was out there made Larry Labrat look tamer than Barney.   And who did they think was their audience?  Nothing but five year old Mormons?

Eventually, director/writer/animator Sam Reed stopped fighting the Boneheads That Be and put the episodes up on his own site.  So there they are—unedited—for the world to see.   Check 'em out.  If they’re any worse than an episode of the Simpsons or Family Guy, I’ll eat my animated hat.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Little Crazy Is A Good Thing

Castle of a Madman . . . or a Genius

It started off as a thirty-second tangential comment in a movie I no longer recall: some character gave a two sentence synopsis about a crazy king who enabled Wagner’s operas and built one or more of the most famous castles in the world. I looked him up and was instantly obsessed:  Ludwig II of Bavaria was at once a beloved, triumphant, trailblazing patron of the arts and a man doomed to suffer from the machinations of those around him and the demons of his own mind.

        Imagine a sheltered, sensitive, parentally ignored boy suddenly crowned king at eighteen. He was instantly freed to allow his passion for music and architecture to take prominence in his kingdom; but he was equally shackled to the confounding politics and business of the government. So, too, his love of pomp and pageantry was at odds with his reclusive nature, his flamboyant romanticism battled his intellectual stoicism, and his only hope for true love made him damned in the eyes of his church. Needless to say, he was a cauldron of emotion that boiled every waking moment.  I couldn’t wait to tell his tale. 

Thus, the year was spent getting my mitts (and eyes) on any book, website, or footage that talked about the supposed mad king, taking reams of notes and then, slowly, devising a script that would bring all the disparate aspects of his life to the screen; his story was like Amadeus meets Restoration with a little of The King’s Speech and Fellini Satyricon to boot.  Ludwig suffered wars, traitors, physical and psychological torments and yet almost single-handedly managed to support Wagner through most of his operas, build castles that remain jaw-dropping monuments to this day, and create a treasure trove of wonders such as a secret underground grotto with colored electric lights and a man-made lake inside.

         I became reclusive, passionate and perhaps a little mad myself as I spent the next year and a half turning the facts and conjectures of Ludwig's often secretive life into a sometimes humorous, sometimes haunting story of passion and pain, vindication and vilification....and the manifold forms of madness that strike in the hearts of humanity.   When I felt it was ready, I sent the script out to several screenplay competitions to see what others thought of my labor of love.  Had I been a nail-biter, no doubt I would have gnawed my way to my knuckles.  I was thrilled (and relieved) to have “Reign of Madness” garner several nods and good criticism and I set to work rewriting it, based in part on the feedback.  I sent it out again and it has now received high praise from such esteemed competitions as the Academy’s  Nicholl Fellowships, BlueCat and Scriptapalooza. 

So what's next?  Seems clear:  all it needs now is someone to bring it to life on the screen.  Someone rebellious, passionate… 
…and perhaps a little crazy.

Any takers?

     Ludwig's shell-shaped boat on the lake in his grotto.