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An Interview with Andre Perkowski on his Ed Wood-Adaptations and Low Budget Filmmaking

by Mike Haberfelner

June 2008

Films directed by Andre Perkowski on (re)Search my Trash

 

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You are about to release two Ed Wood-adaptations [Ed Wood bio - click here] you directed on DVD soon, Devil Girls and The Vampire's Tomb. Could you tell us a bit about Devil Girls ...

 

From the youtube description, honk if you need more:
Restored! Revised! Soon to be Remaindered! COMING SOON! Finally! Really, this time! We Swear! Ed Wood's pulp paperback was shot in a frenzied four and a half days in 1999 on a mix of cheapo DV and film but the original Super-8/16mm film elements lay undeveloped and untransferred for years ... last year they were stitched in along with some more inserts that were shot for this and the The Vampire's Tomb to finally bring them in line with what was originally planned for this insane trilogy of exploitation noir based on unproduced Ed Wood Jr. screenplays and fiction...

... and the The Vampire's Tomb ?

 

(clears throat then screams at top volume through hands)
Available at last! The forgotten horror classic,
from beyond the grave - from beyond space and time.
Beyond anything your mind can conceive - from the muddled mind
of Edward D. Wood jr.
comes a tale to torment you...
Savage suspense - delirious despair!
Watch souls shredded in two
in the vortex of perpetual hell!
The wind screams for revenge,
the air stinks of death...
morbid fantasies of the damned
come to life in an orgy of madness...

 

The 64 Dollar question is of course, where will one be able to get these films ?

 

Working on double feature DVD release this very second, should be good news for restless mutants soon. Till then, sporadic screenings this year to sate the ugly appetite.

 


With Devil Girls being based on a novel by Ed Wood, what can you tell us about Wood the writer ?

 

I spent a few years tracking down his books and magazine stories, the best of them were surrogates for the kind of strange exploitation movies he would've been making if he could've scared up the financing. Without budget or constraint, limited only by impending and overdue rent, liquor bills, and the occasional fried chicken, Wood could let his ideas and fetishes flow freely onto the page ... the same motifs turn up recycled in endless combinations - the angora wearing film director, the transvestite named Shirley, preoccupations with death and moldy graves ... constant coffins and macabre obsessions even in a cheap sex story. It was always a fun moment when one of his little quirks would turn up in the midst of some frenzied potboiler, another key to his psyche, another autobiographical signpost for a man who didn't get the chance to tell his story other than through his work. If you're like me and really enjoy Wood's unique, purple prose style - that strange two am voice of confusion - collecting Wood's books is like a constant parade of particular sleazy Christmases in your mailbox.

The Vampire's Tomb was originally intended for Bela Lugosi. How hard was it to find an actor to take his place in the film ?

 

Oh, I agonized over it.

Obviously we weren't going to be getting some Martin Landau to pull it off convincingly and not look like a weak imitation. So I wondered what other angles I could hit it from ... early ideas involved David Ossman in George Leroy Tirebiter mode ... then briefly it might've been Paul Chaplin from Mystery Science Theater 3000. He had to work on popular internet site timmy bighands tho, a wise decision on his part and possibly a bullet dodged! We shot the dialogue sequences anyway with a bunch of standins with their back to the camera and a hat and cape, intending on sorting it out later. That later turned into years. Finally, it was obvious that the only fitting way out was to go the chiropractor route and have everybody from our fathers to our other fathers to do the closeups behind capes, made more palatable since they were all shot on gorgeous, strangely outdated Soviet filmstocks that flared and fucked up on their own accord, with no need for hours of phony filtering. We did end up getting another Firesign to do voiceovers for the trailers and some subsequent productions, the spectacular Philip Proctor ... a gracious, insanely amusing man. Working and improvising with him was one of the proudest and most hysterical moments of my rather pathetic career thus far toiling in the cellars of cinematic obscurity.

Did you take many liberties with Ed Wood's source material ?

 

Well, it had to be mangled a bit due to the miniscule budget. Far smaller than anything Wood ever had, except for his later porn productions. Devil Girls was set in Texas. I used Chicago and inexplicably mentioned my NJ small towns instead to confuse things further. Devil Girls had boats. I had stock footage and railings at the lakefront in the rain with the weather somewhere around 20 degrees.

 


Whenever I'd find an interesting bit of dialogue or quote in one of Wood's books that related to the scene even vaguely, I'd make a note of it and see where I could crowbar it in ... I wanted to refine it down to that pure resin of Ed, that dense strangeness and dimestore poetry. Since we had so little time to shoot the sync sound sequences, the actors would often slip in little bits of business ... sometimes it worked, sometimes we all cringe and something dies inside us all.

I tried to trim out most of these murderously camp moments, lots of stuff that escaped into the world in the Devil Girls rough cut have been massaged and reformed back to the straightfaced Wood tone ... trying to present the dialogue as straight as possible, the entertainment coming from the sheer surrealism of the writing ... Wood's 50s mindset in a 60s piece shot decades later in some limbo with anachronisms a-go-go added even more layers of odditity.

While most (amateur) filmakers use the Ed Wood-tag just as an excuse to make a really bad movie and not give a dam, you do seem to go to quite some length to duplicate the feeling of a genuine Ed Wood-feature. How hard is it to imitate Wood's rather unique style ?

 

I tried not to use it as an excuse for ineptitude. I attempted to cram in and as many bits of visual schtick and references I could manage ... I loved used hideously outdated surplus machine gun camera film to get that grainy, worn look I foolishly thought could be had with video and filters during the initial Chicago phase of production. I'm a big fan of odd handheld angles and high contrast, expressionist lighting ... so some of that is in there since I can't help myself. Wood did use that sort of style at times, especially in Glen or Glenda? Plus, it's very cheap to shoot an actor against black cloth. Some of those Wood-en touches come from the rushed schedule of the location shoots. Not all of the day/night switches are cool, calculated attempts to ape his continuity or disregard thereof.

Where does your fascination with Ed Wood come from in the first place ?

 

I grew up like any typical monster-obsessed kid, endlessly drawing the Universal gang in different windows of the same house with the Monster Mash playing ... loving Bela and hearing my father tell stories about seeing Plan 9 in a drive-in when he first came to this country from Poland in 1960, I kept hearing about this movie all throughout my childhood and finally came upon a copy from Goodtimes Video that was mind-expandingly strange. I tracked down his other work, made little short videos and parodies as a teenager, even to the extent of trying to make some crude feature luridly titled Space Vampires from Dimension Zero. Of course, I gobbled up the incredible Rudolph Gray book and it was the appendix of unproduced films that stuck in my mind ... it lingered there throughout a few more years of artier experimentin', and when I was back to plotting features, the lack of budget and my hobby of collecting his pulp paperbacks collided.

What would you say that young (amateur) filmmakers can learn from Ed Wood ?

 

Never give up, don't let death, poverty, anxiety, perceived lack of talent, or common sense get in your way of putting quirky dreams on film. When you can't finish a movie, recycle the scraps elsewhere.

Your personal Ed Wood favourites ?

 

I love them all but I think get the most fun out of The Sinister Urge and Night of the Ghouls. And any dialogue from Orgy of the Dead, as it pleasures me.

You have also worked with Ed Wood-regular Conrad Brooks, who has in recent years made a name for himself apprearing in B- and Z-grade productions (sometimes even directing them). What can you tell us about him ?
 

He called me collect once while I was having sex with my girlfriend of the time ... and I actually answered it. Sorry. He's a character - the bizzaro world Mickey Rooney. I love that he's been cranking out stuff, spreading the gospel of Ed in his own weird way, and turning up in cheap movies with that black cap of his. He did a few cameos in my films on the same day and starred opposite Ted V. Mikels in a 16mm short entitled To Kill a Saturday Night based on a Wood story intended for John Carradine... all parties involved deny involvement and remain embarassed, tho Conrad plugged it on his mySpace site. We shot it in an hour for lunch, basically.
Conrad called me cheap amidst other colorful insults, which I loved at the time - here I was, a goofy kid too poor for even an Ed Wood utility player.


Moving away from Ed Wood for a while, you have also made some other films, like two in the style of Mexican wrestling movies à la Santo [Santo bio - click here], El Intoxico and El Cerebro de Hitler. What can you tell us about these two ?

 

Frightening that those are a google away. I thought that was under a pseudonym! Those were glorified camera tests, really. I dearly love Santo, but that first one was a real train wreck ... mostly those were the product of being in a bored gang of nonactors and musicians who shot little vignettes on weekends with whomever was available, noticing that anybody could play the same character with masks and we could dub it all later and ostensibly it even may make sense! Originally it was a kodachrome sound super-8 half hour short, but the camera trashed most of the footage. The surviving stuff was inexplicably bloated out with video material after the purchase of some Sony DV cam I was using for editing. We extended it to feature length for no reason other than why not, and just let it slump to a stop at the end. It screened a few times, often without anybody telling me about it. That probably saved me a few panic attacks, thanks!

The sequel El Cerebro de Hitler was a mystifying later attempt to do justice to the genre properly. We shot that one mostly on glorious color 16mm in Chicago, NJ, and Burbank, CA. There's a half hour rough assembly, but the whole feature has not been edited and awaits a rainy day. It'll come out some day, it has some amusing stuff in it. There was even a THIRD sequel, Los Monos Atomicos that can be glimpsed in partial form in The Lost Program - minus the Mexican wrestling elements. Why we shot two sequels to a film unwanted in the first place will be a lesson to somebody out there, but apparently not us, because I'm still wondering if one day I'm not going to finish off the Wood trilogy with The Ghoul Goes West as originally intended.

And what about your martial arts flick A Belly Full of Anger ?

 

Christopher Roy and I wrote the screenplay in 1995, an insanely over the top tribute to shitty kung fu movies on VHS ... the ones in the big clamshell boxes that seldom live up to their awe-inspiring titles. More Godfrey Ho [Godfrey Ho bio - click here] than Jackie Chan ... more Robert Tai than Jet Li. Whenever I hear news of a kung fu parody, I tense up and get worried that somebody else is beating us to it. Inevitably they get released and fail on every level. Belly will be the distilled eau de kung fu - the tropes and cliches magnified and mutated a million times over to deliver the goods, hi-fi image meal you can shoot up into your eyeballs and enjoy for days.... well, the stuff we enjoy anyway: not so much the endless 20 minute fight sequences as the melodramatic dialogue, isolated and vaguely Aussie/British accents, in-camera tricks, and clumsy zooms to the eyes. We finally shot it in 2007 and its being edited now. I managed to rope Phil Proctor and Trace Beaulieu in to
contribute voices, and am still tinkering with the soundtrack and hope to have it making the rounds in late 2008. It has pears killing people, I don't think you need much else for a night out. After a decade wondering if we should tackle out, we did it at the right time and all the elements came into place.

Any other films I forgot to mention ?

 

I was a Teenage Beatnik and/or Monster!
Huge 1950s retro semi-autobiographical garage band monster movie - with lotsa underground musicians, Dick Contino slapping a bagel out of my hand, Neil Innes, Ted V. Mikels, Ray Dennis Steckler as Cash Flagg damning me to death, Residents' collaborator Schwump, twisted noise pop from the Farmingdale Sound Machine, stopmotion puppets, sickness, strangeness, and Pappa Oom Mow Mow crossed with Ice Ice Baby extolling the virtues of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin's cut-up system. You know, good family fun. My private joy, personal baby, and weird vehicle for wish/curse fulfillment.

Program and The Paranoia Show
Consult youtube.com/terminalpictures for excerpts from these endless short film and sketch projects and television experiments. Beyond strange. Some cameoage from Janeane Garofalo and David Cross. Program is the comedy, Paranoia Show is the endless insane melted brain reaction to the George Bush Years and the Era of Homeland Security. May be gladly dated at time of viewing. Praise be and damn you, Dick Cheney.

What can you tell us about your approach to filmmaking and low budget filmmaking in general ?

 

I sneak up on filmmaking and stab it in its fat filmmaking neck. Buy a camera, grab a friend, start. Don't spend years talking abut it first, don't succumb to fear. Buy some film and borrow a camera. Steal a camcorder. Do whatever you have to do to get it done. Give false witness. All for a good cause, right? Ostensibly. Hopefully. Who knows, maybe the jury will believe it and applaud your pluck.

Your main influences as a director, apart from Ed Wood ?

 

Takeshi Kitano, David Lynch, John Cassavetes, Timothy Carey, John Waters, Billy Wilder, Spike Milligan, Terry Gilliam, Guy Maddin, Mike Jittlov, the Kuchar brothers, Roger Corman [Roger Corman bio - click here], the Coen brothers, Jan Svankmajer, The Residents, Antony Balch.

Your favourite movies, both recent films and all time favourites ?

 

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Germany (East AND West)  amazon.de

Looking for imports ?
Find Andre Perkowski here ...

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Something naughty ?
(Must be over 18 to go there !)

x-rated  find Andre Perkowski at adultvideouniverse.com

The Ray Dennis Steckler/Hall Familia epic Wild Guitar [Arch Hall jr bio - click here]. The sheer meanness of Kiss Me Deadly. I adore Alphaville and Eraserhead and have written for days with them playing in the background on endless loops. Explains a lot, really. I adore 70s era Bunuel - Discrete Charm, Milky Way, The Phantom of Liberty. Watching The World's Greatest Sinner at the Egytian Theatre what appeared to be the Cramps in front of me was a life-changing experience. I will never get tired of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and yearn to Find it not to mention the part of getting behind it. I can't explain my love of Jack Smith properly but can't live without Normal Love or Blonde Cobra. The icy strangeness of David Cronenberg keeps me warm at night and I still try to figure out his two eerie student films completely, Stereo and Crimes of the Future.

 

Some movies you really don't like ?

 

I don't like singling out anybody, it takes so much work to make any kind of film that you just have to nod benignly and appreciate the effort. Taste is so weird, there's plenty of room for all sorts of dubious entertainment in this world ... I hope to find a warm niche somewhere to curl up for the winter, even if I have to slice through the fat belly of the industry and pull out its steaming entrails first. So be it.

Any future projects ?

 

Endless documentary on low budget filmmaking featuring everybody I ever namedropped ever entitled Lights, Camera, Foodstamps.

Many more hidden features and weird productions. Watch the skies at night whispering my name. Please? Send money and lawyers.

Thanks for the interview.

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD

 

 

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