Archive for Sam Raimi

Keanu Reeves Is Ortiz the Dog Boy In Alex Winter and Tom Stern’s FREAKED!

Posted in Blu-ray, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2016 by Robert Morgan

freaked

Alex Winter and Tom Stern‘s fantastically demented 1993 comedy Freaked is one of those rare films whose existence is nothing short of a miracle. It went into production as Hideous Mutant Freekz (also the title of the Parliament-Funkadelic theme tune that underscores the end credits), but the directors, who also wrote the script with Tim Burns, had the new title forced upon them by the inefficiently supportive execs at 20th Century Fox who green-lit the project thinking that Winter’s involvement was tantamount to getting the next chapter in the exciting time travelling adventures of Bill Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan. That turned out to be the least of Freaked‘s behind-the-scenes troubles.

I’m old enough to remember seeing some B-roll production footage on some E! Channel show back in the early 90’s when it was still being referred to as Hideous Mutant Freekz, but a year or so later I was in a neighborhood supermarket when I found a young adult novelization of the film that bore the replacement title. The labor of Winter and Stern’s love was granted something approximating a theatrical release, of that I am sure. Studio suits screened it for preview audiences who were under the assumption they were about to check out another dumbass comedy to please the undemanding youth market and were horrified to find out that….GASP….they had a potential cult film on their hands. That’s not exactly the kind of truth you want to face when you have $12 million invested in this peculiar business endeavor.

As the old saying goes, Freaked wasn’t released…it escaped. It wasn’t until late-1994 when I finally received the opportunity to check Freaked out for myself during an after-school viewing on HBO. I laughed my ass off then, but the best part is that the film’s oddball, offbeat humor (honed to perfection by its creators through years of making short films and their lamented MTV comedy series The Idiot Box) holds up well after more than two decades since it was unveiled for the world to see. This is in spite of the fact that Freaked is very much a product of its time, from its spazzy, in-your-face visual style to the aggressively cool and catchy soundtrack featuring Henry Rollins and Butthole Surfers. Oddly enough, Winter and Stern first conceived of Freaked as a gruesome horror film starring the Surfers. I haven’t even mentioned yet the prominent roles both Brooke Shields and Mr. T play in this big screen madhouse. Whoops, I just did.

Had Freaked been made a decade earlier, it likely would have been treated the same way by whatever studio was unfortunate enough (from their perspective) to bankroll its creation. It was destined to be unloved by all but the true freaks and geeks who once spent their weekends running through the aisles of their local video store like a human pencil line on a restaurant place mat maze looking for the latest craziest flicks from all over the world and now plan their lives around the double feature picture shows at the New Beverly Cinema.

Cable airings and video rentals and sales helped keep Freaked alive and breathing as its cult following grew. Anchor Bay Entertainment acquired the rights to the film as part of a package of 20th Century Fox titles the studio had zero interest in further exploiting and released it on DVD for the first time in the summer of 2005 in a splashy two-disc set that contained a brutally honest and hilarious directors’ commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, two of Winter and Stern’s early short features (one of which I’ll include below) and best of all, a feature-length rehearsal version of the film performed by most of the cast (Shields and T are the most notable absentees) shot on videotape with the actors wearing nothing but their street clothes.

One of the most unusual things about Freaked is the uncredited casting of the one and only Keanu Reeves as Ortiz the Dog Boy, the charming leader of the Freaks. It’s difficult to recognize the future star of The Matrix and John Wick underneath the impressive mutant make-up created by a gifted effects team that included horror/sci-fi cinema vets Tony Gardner (Army of Darkness) and Screaming Mad George (Society), but Reeves is pretty easy to spot in the rehearsal footage. Say what you will about the man’s acting abilities, but his performance as Ortiz doesn’t require the stage fur and phony dog fangs to convince. Reeves is hilarious and clearly having a blast going way over the top with a hearty laugh that Errol Flynn would admire just as soon he stopped banging his latest teenage girlfriend.

There’s a video assembly of Reeves’ highlights from the Freaked rehearsal I’ve posted below. The Anchor Bay DVD is sadly out of print and copies are currently commanding high prices on the online auction market. It was released on Blu-ray in August 2013, and though it featured upgraded picture and sound quality it was completely devoid of supplements for some fucked-up unexplained reason. Maybe one day the rights will fall into the hands of a video distributor that actually gives a shit about respecting this bizarro laugh riot of an old school horror spoof. Until then you can order that Blu-ray HERE. If you manage to track down a copy of that OOP DVD, give the rehearsal version a watch just to see both a young Reeves and John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Winter’s Bone) in action.

Here’s Winter and Stern’s 1985 short film Squeal of Death, a film noir parody starring Winter that they made during their sophomore year at New York University. It was selected to be shown on an episode of USA Network’s 80’s series Night Flight, and after being seen by both an executive at Columbia Pictures and filmmaker Sam Raimi, Winter and Stern were on their way to Tinseltown to start their careers. Read more about it HERE.

Screw it. Here’s the Freaked theatrical trailer.

Advertisements

TAKE THE….Dadgum Elephant?!: The Godawful DARKMAN Television Pilot

Posted in Crazy Shit, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, TeeVee, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2015 by Robert Morgan

darkman

When Sam Raimi came to Hollywood in the early 1980’s following the release of the original The Evil Dead, one of his dream feature film projects was a big screen version of the classic pulp magazine/radio/comic book crime fighter, the Shadow. Unfortunately for Raimi, the rights had been purchased by powerhouse producer Martin Bregman (Scarface), who would ultimately oversee the production of a Shadow film for Universal Pictures under the direction of Russell Mulcahy (Highlander) that was released in the summer of 1994 to middling reviews and box office and failed to spawn a new franchise.

After making Evil Dead II in 1986 for the legendary Dino De Laurentiis, Raimi signed on with Universal to develop a film project based on a superhero idea of his own – a tale of a scientist who develops a revolutionary formula that can repair damaged skin for only for a maximum of 99 minutes and must use that formula in a complicated revenge plot against the gangsters that destroyed his laboratory and left him burned beyond recognition and for dead. Incorporating elements of the Batman comics, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Phantom of the Opera among many other influences, Raimi teamed up with four other screenwriters – including his own brother Ivan Raimi (with whom Sam wrote Army of Darkness and Spider-Man 3) and Chuck Pfarrer (Red Planet) – to flesh out his amalgam of ideas into the story he titled Darkman.

darkman

Raimi initially cast Bill Paxton, the future star of his celebrated adaptation of A Simple Plan, in the title role of Dr. Peyton Westlake, the disfigured scientist hellbent on brutal vengeance, and a young up-and-coming actress by the name of Julie Roberts as the girlfriend he inadvertently places in harm’s way as a result of his actions. Due to scheduling conflicts the roles had to be recast hastily; Roberts went on to star in the movie that kicked her career into overdrive, Pretty Woman, but in the process Raimi gained two future Hollywood heavyweights in the form of Liam Neeson (replacing Paxton as Westlake) and his old friend and former roommate Frances McDormand as Westlake’s besieged lady love.

Darkman was not the first time Raimi and McDormand had worked together; after playing the female lead in the Coen Brothers’ classic film noir debut Blood Simple, she popped up briefly as a nun in the opening sequence of Raimi’s post-Evil Dead stab for Tinseltown legitimacy, the frenzied, failed screwball comedy Crimewave.

Released in the final days of the summer of 1990, Darkman wasn’t an instant smash hit as Universal and Raimi had hoped. However it did manage to dethrone the season’s reigning box office champ, the supernatural romance Ghost, and with a final domestic gross of $33 million it earned a tidy little profit since it only cost $16 million to make. Five years after Darkman‘s theatrical release, excellent video rentals and sales and the film’s status as a modest ratings success on network television convinced Universal execs to green-light a pair of sequels to be produced for the studio’s home video division.

Since they weren’t going to have but a fraction of the budget Raimi had at his disposal the first time, Neeson was replaced in the role of Westlake by South African actor Arnold Vosloo. Vosloo had previously appeared as a secondary villain in John Woo’s first American action feature, the Raimi-produced, Pfarrer-scripted Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Hard Target. Bradford May, a veteran cinematographer who worked mostly in television but also shot the 1987 kid-friendly horror-comedy The Monster Squad, was drafted to direct the sequels which were released on VHS and laserdisc in 1995 and 1996 and enjoyed a fair amount of success with critics and fans of the original.

After Darkman III: Die Darkman Die the franchise ceased to exist. A remake/reboot has been hinted at over the years, and it may likely happen, but there hasn’t been any movement for quite some time. Let’s hope it stays that way. The original was released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory in February 2014 in a jam-packed special edition package. You can order that disc HERE.

In between the release of Darkman and the two direct-to-video sequels, Universal commissioned a pilot for a half-hour television series loosely based on the original in 1992. Raimi and his producing partner Robert Tapert lent their names and credibility to the questionable endeavor, while Christopher Bowen (Tomorrow Never Dies) took over for Neeson as Dr. Westlake and Kathleen York (Crash) was drafted to play a new character named Jenny. For some odd reason, the only actor from the movie to appear in the pilot was Larry Drake, so memorable in Darkman as the odious villain Robert G. Durant, the exact same role he was playing in the much cheaper TV version.

The pilot cannibalized the movie for stock action footage, and even a shot from the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner makes a jaw-dropping appearance in the beginning. The movie footage looks terribly out of place when you consider the lower-budgeted scenes shot for the pilot. Everything is barely held together by Bowen’s ponderous narration. For that part we can place the blame on Robert Eisele, who wrote the pilot script and served as an executive producer alongside Raimi and Tapert, and the direction was handled by ace music video helmer Brian Grant. The 22-minute final product never made it to air.

I have included two separate embeds from Dailymotion and YouTube for your viewing displeasure. Enjoy….or don’t.