Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pervert! - Interview with Jonathan Yudis and Mike Davis

Pervert! is an American indie movie for the fans of cult sexploitation films, made by the fans themselves. It is an homage to Russ Meyer films, but the producers call it rather a “love letter”. The movie can be defined as Russ Meyer meets H. G. Lewis meets The Hand and Kondom Des Grauens. It has been received with praise by the cult movie community and it won the Best Feature Award at the 2006 Coney Island Film Festival. I did an interview with the creators of the film in 2006 for Sonic Splendour# 5, which was unfortunately never published. So without further ado, here is a peek at the world of Pervert! through the eyes of the writer/co-producer Mike Davis and the director Jonathan Yudis.

Hello, Mike and Jonathan. First of all, can you tell us about your background on filmmaking? How did you decide to make “Pervert!”?

Mike Davis: I studied screenwriting at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, optioned my first screenplay (it was never made) and have been writing scripts ever since. Jonathan and I have been working together creatively since I moved to Los Angeles in 2000 and had varying degrees of success trying to work within the Hollywood system, but weren't able to get our work produced. We did "Pervert!" outside the system, and it is my first experience with film production. For me, co-producing Pervert! was better than going to film school.

Jonathan Yudis: I've always loved movies. I grew up on 70's and 80's movies and TV. My directorial influences are all over the place, from Kubrick to Spike Lee to Ron Frike (Baraka) to Coppola to - of course Russ Meyer. Like Mike said- we really just wanted to MAKE a movie and stop developing and pitching ideas to other people. After nearly 10 years in the game and many award winning shorts and some TV gigs, I was still paying the bills working as an office PA at Paramount when we created the opportunity to direct PERVERT! The goal was to make something outrageous and funny for very little money.

Who and what are your influences?

M: I love classic directors and cult directors. I am inspired by the amazing work of Fellini, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Herschell Gordon Lewis, John Waters and Roger Corman. As for Pervert!, the most important influence was unquestionably the late Russ Meyer.

J: Russ Meyer catalogue/ 70's exploitation/ Outrageous Comedy in general

How was the movie received generally? And how was it received in terms of political (in)correctness?

M: The reception to Pervert! has been incredible. It was made for a specific audience which is outside of the mainstream, and that audience has embraced the movie as the 'modern cult classic' we wanted it to be. Fans of cult, exploitation, sexploitation can be very picky (including myself) about new movies, and the general reaction we get is "You guys got it right." That is a huge compliment. But above anything else, Pervert! is a comedy, and the laughter from the audience always warms our hearts. We did not take ourselves seriously in the creation of Pervert! (except on a technical production level) and I think the fans appreciate that. It's hard to hate and be offended by a movie that is meant as one big joke.

J: Mainstream Hollywood has completely dissed PERVERT! I have collegues that no longer return my phone calls and others that avoid talking about Pervert! completely. Still other producers and people I know say that if I had any sense at all or ever want to work in Hollywood- I should remove my name from Pervert!

On the other hand, the cult movie community (which is who we made Pervert! for) has completely embraced PERVERT! and seems to not only "Get it" but celebrate it for what it is- a silly sexploitation comedy that pays its respects to Russ Meyer, 70's Drive-In classics, the horror /exploitation genre and movies that are created to push some buttons and make you laugh. I think it's also safe to say that anyone who appreciates big boobs will dig Pervert!

What do you think about the rise of exploitation/trash movies during the recent years?

M: I love it. I'm happy to see these sickos coming out of the woodwork. I just hope the quality stays high (I mean low) and that the genre continues to evolve and be updated, not retreads of what's already been done.

J: It Rocks.

Mike also runs an independent film company called Stag Films. So, what is your motivation to produce and promote independent, cult, exploitation films?

M: Like any great underground movement, I feel like the twisted souls who get off on this kind of stuff need a venue to get themselves heard. It's very exciting to me whenever the existing system of power gets lazy and little punks come along and kick it in the ass. If enough of us do it, then things may actually change!

Can you talk a little bit about future Stag Films projects? Are you guys planning to make another movie together?

M: Stag Films/Infinite Entertainment is planning on making a follow up to Pervert entitled "The Corpse Corps." It is an homage to 60's biker flicks about an outlaw motorcycle gang that reunites only to find that someone is trying to wipe them out. It will be different from Pervert! but equally outrageous!

J: Yes- THE CORPSE CORPS which Mike described (and we also have several other scripts I'd like to see produced including an Alien Comedy )

“Pervert!” has an overt tongue-in-cheek attitude – one which is reminiscent of parody - which is another common characteristic among the new exploitation films. What do you think separates you from Scary Movie series?

M: Pervert! does not take itself seriously in any way, even as a 'parody.' We homage bits and pieces of many different types of movies and mix them together into a soup. This time the overriding flavor was Russ Meyer, the next movie will be biker gang movies. We don't recreate scenes of other films with a funny twist, we just want the audience to know who inspired us and make the whole damn thing twisted. I guess it's more like the Quentin Tarantino technique than Scary Movie. I like to think of Pervert! not as a parody or an homage, but as 'a love letter.'

J: I agree with Mike’s response on this.

The movie derives a lot from comic book aesthetics, especially at the beginning and at the end. Do you like comics? The style used in the comic book cover of “Pervert!” reminded me of the works of underground comix artists. Was this a conscious choice? Do you think you have anything in common with them?

M: I'll defer this to Jonathan since it was his idea. But I will say it helps establish that this movie is meant to be viewed like a cartoon.

J: I always thought of PERVERT! as a live action cartoon- so I thought the comic book opening and closing could be a simple but effective way of telling the audience - "Hey- this is just a COMIC world, none of this or these characters are meant to be taken too seriously". And yes, I am a comic fan myself and loved the techniques used in movies like American Splendour or all the Ralph Bakshi catalogue (which interconnects the live action and animated worlds on film)

What kind of equipment did you use while making the film?

J: We were committed to shooting PERVERT! on film. I thought that given the subject matter and nudity in the script, if we shot on any Video format, it would subconsciously connect the viewer to PORN as opposed to the 70's sexploitation movies which were all shot on film. Though I wanted to use 35MM, we could only afford super 16MM which turned out to look amazing. We were going for the BRIGHT Colors of the Russ Meyer films which also lend to the Cartoon aesthetic. we shot with a great 16MM ARRI camera.

What would you like to say to those who want to make their own films?

M: The technology exists now that almost anyone can make their own film (or at least video). I hope that everyone will, and that each person will attempt to do something that has never been done before.

J: Do it. Go for it. The world needs to see your visions and films. Don't let all the nay sayers or Hollywood nonsense get you down. You could never imagine ALL the people in this world that might really be moved, inspired, or transformed by your film (no matter how crazy or absurd it might be)- but they can only be inspired by it if you actually MAKE it.

Any last words?

M: Russ Meyer lives.

J: Thanks for the support. Live long, Laugh loud, and Embrace your inner Pervert!

PS: Check out http://www.pervertthemovie.com/ to order the DVD and for more information

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Kondom Des Grauens (Killer Condom) - Michael Walz (1996)


Moving on from castrating genitalia to castrating prophylactics. Kondom des Grauens was adapted from gay comics artist Ralf König’s graphic novel of the same title by Martin Walz. Set in New York with an all German cast, it tells the story of the Sicilian harboiled detective Luigi Mackeroni fighting against killer condoms with razor sharp teeth, and homophobia among other things.

New York Police Department’s attention is drawn to Hotel Quickie, a brothel in the most sleazy part of NY, when four incidents of castration take place in one night in its rooms. Detective Mackeroni, seemingly a frequenter of those parts, goes there to investigate the case, and meanwhile taking the opportunity to have sex with a male prostitute, Billy. As they are about to start, they realise the condom provided by the hotel is moving around the room. Mackeroni loses one of his testicles trying unsuccessfully to catch it and opens his eyes in the hospital, where he swears vengeance on the killer condom. Billy comes to visit him in his apartment and implies he’s in love with him, to which the cynical detective replies by saying he doesn’t believe in love any more.

Aided by former-cop-turned-transvestite Bob/Babette, who has a crush on Mackeroni, they catch the killer condom and kill it by using a hose as a bait whose other end is connected to the gas pipe. However, their troubles don’t end as more killer condoms emerge from the sewers and go on a castration spree, chopping the republican presidential candidate’s penis off on the way. Mackeroni & co follow the clues to the chapel hospital where Mackeroni was treated, where Frau Dr Riffleson, aided by the mad scientist Dr Smirnoff and a Chinese man, produces the genetically engineered killer condoms to fight pre-marital sex and homosexuality, which are, according to her, against the Lord’s intentions for mankind. After beating her, and killing the giant killer condom intended for Mackeroni’s 32 centimetre (12.5 inches) penis, Mackeroni gives his ‘sermon on the mount’, preaching love regardless of gender. He, then, walks off to the sunset with Billy promising to take him to Sicily to meet his family.

This film is wonderful in so many ways, it is hard to decide where to start. It satirises certain aspects of American society, like the ever present conservatism in Republicanism and fundamental Christianity, which deem homosexuality unnatural and dirty. Frau Dr Riffleson is an exaggerated version of the homophobic frenzy among the conservative segments of the society in her crazed attempt to end the sins of the ‘depraved’ by setting loose monster condoms in the gay and sleazy districts of the city. Ironically, one of the killer condoms find its way to the Republican presidential candidate’s bathtub, after his speech against sexual deviance in the city – as he is about to have sex with a prostitute.

Kondom des Grauens parodies the American hardboiled detective genre by replacing the straight macho detective with a charming ‘bear’, complete with trench coat, unshaven face, chain smoking and a voice over. His femme fatale is an ‘homme fatale’ and he fights for gay rights, thus reversing the gender roles perpetrated in many detective films. It is also a camp, and at times carnivalesque, celebration of gay culture. The transvestite Bob/Babette, with her lip-synching to “Killing me Softly” and insistence on Mackeroni’s seeing her as his mother - thus finding her sexy - is lovable in every scene she’s featured. The homophobic detective Sam is punished for his ignorance of the gay culture by being urinated on, but after a fist fight with Mackeroni, he bonds with his gay colleague, and becomes more accepting of homosexuality. The short, fat, hairy detective Mackeroni, with his big penis, is clearly a carnivalesque figure, who fights against the orthodoxy of the Church, which wants to end life based on pleasure, and promote abstinence outside of being fruitful and multiplying.

I have been able to get my hands on the graphic novel to compare it with the film. The copy I have is in German, but as the first part of the film is more or less the same with the graphic novel, which is not surprising as König seems to have created the book as a "horror film" as indicated on the cover. It wasn’t difficult to understand what was going on. The film also makes use of the sequel of Kondom des Grauens, titled Bis auf die Knochen (To the Bones), but is not entirely faithful to the script, which features a gay alien/monster who eats men with his penis and spits their skeletons out. The graphic novels are definitely more pornographic than the film, and look worthwhile to get a hold of for underground comix fans.

(PS: Above, you see the cover of the Dutch version, courtesy of Lambiek.net).