Sunday, October 25, 2009

Interview With Albert Pyun

A few days ago I received an email from director Albert Pyun in regards to a review I did last last October on his fantastic Sword & Sorcery movie, THE SWORD AND THE THE SORCERER (1982). I asked Mr. Pyun if he'd be interested in doing an interview by email and he kindly agreed. You may not enjoy some of his work, but even his lesser pictures contain entertaining qualities. Over the years, Albert Pyun has directed such movies as CYBORG (1989) starring Jean Claude Van Damme; CAPTAIN AMERICA (1990); the enormously entertaining martial arts/SciFi actioner NEMESIS (1992); and BRAIN SMASHER... A LOVE STORY (1993) starring Andrew Dice Clay. Now, Mr. Pyun is working on the long-gestating sequel promised in the end credits to THE SWORD & THE SORCERER. Titled TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE, it's about a beautiful princess recruiting a number of formidable swordmasters in an effort to free her kingdom from the grip of an evil sorceress. Kevin Sorbo stars in the lead hero role, along with Melissa Ordway, and the Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert. Lee Horsley also returns as Talon.

This is my first interview for this site so I hope you enjoy it. 


VENOMS5: How did you initially become attached to direct THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER (1982)?

ALBERT PYUN: SWORD AND THE SORCERER was my conception. It took me four years to attach an investor. The same is true for most of my films.

V5: Were there any reservations at directing such an ambitious movie?

AP: None. After spending a year on the storyboards I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

V5: Did producer Brandon Chase direct any of the film? In the opening credits it says 'A Brandon Chase Film'.

AP: No, he did not direct any portion of the film. Brandon Chase's company put up the money which gave them control. I was too young to know better at the time.

V5: Was CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982) ever an intimidating factor during production?

AP: No intimidation. Communication about who was making what and how was minimal in those days, compared to now. I knew the CONAN film was in the works and I held admiration for its director, John Milius. I personally hoped the film would be tremendous and did not realize my movie would in competition theatrically until later.

V5: What are your memories of working with Lee Horsley?

AP: Lee was terrific. Unfortunately, the wig he wore gave him a scalp infection. There was too much blood in the movie and he hated being put up on that cross. When I asked him to be in TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE he said, "only if you don't crucify me again".

V5: Richard Lynch is one of the screen's most memorable villains. Did you have a good experience with him?

AP: Yes. Lynch was a pleasure to work with, and an intense actor. He was a very complex performer for a first-time director to collaborate with.
V5: What are your memories of Richard Moll? With his propensity for comedy, was he a cut-up on the set?

AP: No. He was not comfortable at all with the makeup and contact lenses. Unfortunately, his cornea got scratched when he emerged from the tomb in the opening scene and he had to be taken to hospital.

V5: Was there ever a moment that you or any of the crew considered not completing the film after death of stuntman Jack Tyree?

AP: We were all terribly shaken and upset. I was not involved in the discussion of what would happen next. I waited with the crew while the decisions were made on how to proceed. It was tragic and taught me a lesson about set safety. I never had another death on one of my sets after that.

V5: Did Kathleen Bellar have any reservations about her nude scene?

AP: Only that she use a body double. I don't recall any other discussions or reservations.

V5: Were there any problems attaining an R rating?

AP: No, none that I recall.

V5: What was the critical reaction? The public was very receptive to it.

AP: Gene Siskel loved it and Roger Ebert hated it. That's indicative of the overall critical reception. The fan reaction was very enthusiastic and long-lasting to this day.

V5: Looking back, what are your thoughts on the film and is there anything you would change about it given the opportunity to do so?

AP: I have my opportunity now with TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE. In a sense, that's why I'm making this film at this time. I want to bring forth the version of SWORD AND THE SORCERER closer to the version I wanted to do back in 1981.

V5: Are there any memories, good or bad, that you'd like to share?

AP: I enjoyed the cast very much. As it was my first experience directing seasoned actors, it was both fun and magical to see them bring the characters to life.

V5: Why has there been such a huge gap between the first film and its sequel, consider the huge success of the original?

AP: The world of 1981 and '82 after SWORD came out there was a proliferation of cheesy and cheesier fantasy films and the audience got burned out on them. At the time, I didn't feel I had anything more to say on the subject. It's just that it's taken me this long to come up with the ideas and approach to the S&S genre to make it vital again. Right now I'm in competition with the upcoming CONAN remake, the remake of CLASH OF THE TITANS, PRINCE OF PERSIA, and more, and I'm enjoying it.

V5: How is the new production coming along and are you generally satisfied with its progress?

AP: I'm thrilled with the project; but the process is very difficult, as it is with most independent films being made these days.

V5: Compared with the first film, do you have more resources at your disposal in terms of time and budget?

AP: Less time, less money, but more experience and resources. I have relationships that have been built up the last 27 years that are giving me great support. I like to think that I am a slightly better director than I was back then (although most people may not agree).

V5: What can the fans of the first movie expect from this upcoming sequel?

AP: I think all fans of S&S movies will welcome this return to the spirit of high adventure when the worlds are still bloody, gory and rife with evil; but we can all have a good time cleaving our way through it.
V5: Are there any sequences in the new film that you are especially proud of and would like to discuss?

AP: I can't really speak to that yet, because we're in the middle of the visual and action effects and there's still time for plenty to go wrong. TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE is the culmination of everything I've wanted to do in film. It benefits from all I've learned through my many filmmaking experiences.
An immense thanks to Mr. Pyun for taking time of out of his busy schedule to discuss THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER (1982) and its upcoming, and long-awaited sequel, TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE. We wish him and his crew the best of luck on this production, and all future endeavors.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shock Waves (1976) review


Brooke Adams (Rose), Luke Halpin (Keith), Peter Cushing (SS Nazi Commander), John Carradine (Ben)

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn

"We created the perfect soldier...from cheap hoodlums and thugs...and a good number of pathological murderers and sadists as well. We called them...the 'Toden Corps'...the 'Death Corps'. Creatures more horrible than any you can imagine...not dead...not alive, but somewhere in between."

A group of vacationers on a tour ship are stranded on a seemingly deserted island after their boat smashes into a huge ocean liner that appears mysteriously out of nowhere. The next morning, the ship is revealed to be the rotted out hull of an old vessel. Exploring the island, the group find an old hotel; the remnants of a forgotten era and its sole occupant, a former Nazi SS Commander left there in involuntary exile during the closing days of WW2. The Commander spins a terror tale to the unwitting visitors that the Nazis were working on a group of super soldiers amassed from serial murderers and homicidal maniacs. These killers could survive in any uninhabitable environment. The Commanders group was designed for the water and now that the island has fresh victims, the waterlogged Nazi undead have returned.

SHOCK WAVES is one of the most vivid experiences I ever had watching Shock Theater as a small boy. I remember this film being shown on two different occasions and both times I was unable to finish the movie as it scared me half to death. Years later I managed to buy the Prism tape after catching the trailer on the HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD VHS also out from Prism. It has since become a favorite of mine and when it debuted on DVD from Blue Underground, it was one of my most eagerly awaited DVD's of 2002. Upon seeing the film once more on the digital format brought about some minor discontentment as the print was in average shape. The print seen on the Prism tape was much better (the same print was utilized for the EP mode tape from Starmaker). Nonetheless, I was ecstatic just the same to have the film on DVD and with some welcome extras explaining the production.

Director, Ken Wiederhorn handles the film well building on the suspense creating a truly pervasive atmosphere of dread. It's one of the most chilling horror pictures I've ever seen made all the more effective by the oppressive musical score from Richard Einhorn. The music adds a whole other level of fear to the proceedings. The original trailer for the film captures this sentiment perfectly (The faster you run, the quicker you die!) so if it doesn't grab you, then the movie will likely do little to nothing for you. Possibly Wiederhorn's best film, he ported over some of the creepiness factor into his next feature, EYES OF A STRANGER (1981). Wiederhorn no doubt brought down the disdain of horror fans everywhere with one of the worst and most unwelcome sequels ever with RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 2 (1987).

Having seen SHOCK WAVES (1976) multiple times over the years, I've often wondered if John Carpenter hadn't seen it prior to making HALLOWEEN (1978). The shots of the Nazi zombies just standing stationary watching their victims from afar is very reminiscent of similar shots of Michael Myers doing the same throughout Carpenter's seminal classic. One sequence has two of the creatures watching the vacationers after they find the corpse of their cook. They slowly walk away never taking their eyes off the people.

Another scene has Peter Cushing attempting to regain control over his former troopers. A group of them emerge from the trees and begin to enter the water. Cushing yells to them in German ordering them to halt. From a distance, you can see the Aryan undead looking at him ignoring his order as they slowly submerge below the murky depths.

"The sea spits up what it can't keep down."

There were around 8 actors playing the various Nazi zombies. There are skinny ones, fat ones, tall and short ones. The way some of the scenes are edited, it appears there are far more than eight. These zombies do not just ascend from the oceans brine. They lie in wait beneath any body of water whether it be a small pond or river. The numerous scenes showing them rising from their watery graves recalls scenes of vampires awakening from their coffins.

These eerie sequences are made all the more effective by the music and the silent, emotionless goggle faced visage of the Nazi undead as they stalk the stranded travelers. Unlike the zombies of more famous and well known movies, these creatures do not consume human flesh preferring to drown or strangle their victims. The fact that these monsters were designed for the water, it is used as their main method of murder. Alan Ormsby, make up artist and actor in CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972), provides the effective zombie effects here. A scene that was discarded featured a rotted corpse found adrift in the sea by the boaters. Stills of it are found on the DVD.

Brooke Adams was a beautiful actress who featured in a handful of television programs and had good roles in other genre pictures such as the classy remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS from 1978. She was also in THE DEAD ZONE (1983) and the creepy evil baby movie, THE UNBORN (1991) for producer, Roger Corman. She shows off her lovely frame regularly here in a bikini. Luke Halpin from FLIPPER is okay as the hero of the film, but the scene stealer aside from the zombies, is Peter Cushing. He's in relatively few scenes, but his are some of the most memorable.

Just hearing Cushing talk commands attention. His dialog recounting who and what the water dwelling murderers are makes for spooky storytelling. Cushing's presence adds an air of respectability the production otherwise may not have had. It no doubt would still be an effective chiller, but with Cushing and Carradine (who plays the grumpy ship captain) on board, it adds something special to the movie.

With a number of eerily efficient scenes found in the picture, the ending of SHOCK WAVES (1976) is truly shocking in itself ending on a somber note. Wiederhorn also infuses the picture with an air of the supernatural. Such is the case with the haunted vessel that bears down on the small tourist boat. After the boat has been damaged, it's discovered that the liner is nothing more than an old wreck despite the previous scene detailing otherwise. Also, once the tourists make their way to the island, underwater photography reveals the hull of the old wreck creaking and rumbling below the depths.

It is here we see the first glimpse of the Aryan army of Nazi zombies. It's one of many startlingly well done scenes of impending horror. One difference between this zombie film and others is that shooting them in the head isn't the preferred method. Simply removing the creatures goggles exposing them to the rays of the sun (years of being underwater proves fatal when their eyes are exposed in the daylight in another vampire parallel) does the trick.

SHOCK WAVES (1976) may put off more impatient horror fans with its relatively slow pace and lack of gore (these zombies prefer to drown their victims in whatever body of water may be in the general vicinity). The only instance of any type of grue is some close up shots of the decomposing zombies. But those who can tolerate a more slow building sense of terror filled with many tense moments will find much to enjoy here. Wiederhorn's directing debut remains an underrated cult gem and deserves some additional attention.

This review is representative of the Blue Underground DVD.
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