Friday, October 2, 2009

"Crimson Orgry" by Austin Williams

"Grindhouse director Sheldon Meyer has been cultivating an obsession. He has just one hellish week to shoot CRIMSON ORGY, seventy-six minutes of mayhem destined to become the world's most notorious cult movie... and just maybe the first true "snuff film" ever made. Struggling to cope with a reluctant starlet, a booze-ravaged leading man, a backwoods cop bent on revenge, a mutinous crew, a devastating hurricane, and his own inner demons, Meyer relentlessly pursues a vision of unrivaled box office horror. He gets what he's after, but at a price no one could imagine."

Yes, the title totally sounds like it should be erotica, but it's not. This was a pretty decent little book about an independent studio filming their first horror movie. Stupendous Pictures is basically director Sheldon Meyer and producer Gene Hoffman; their studio is a "grindhouse", known for making lots of films for very little money (grinding them out, so to speak). It was a very real phenomenon back in the 60's and most of the work was marketed as "nature films" to get around the censors. They were nudie pictures, pure and simple, and they made such studios famous (or infamous as the case may be) - and they made them a good bit of money for very little investment.

Along comes Herschell Gordon Lewis, one of the famous grindhouse directors, with a new movie called "Blood Feast". Yes, there was nudity - but there was also a lot of blood. It's considered by many to be one of the first "horror" films, and once it hit big, others jumped on the bandwagon. Such as our gentlemen at the fictitious Stupendous Pictures. They've hired a small cast and crew and hauled everyone to the remote Hillsboro Beach in Florida to film "Crimson Orgy". Hoffman is hoping to make big money, while it's not entirely clear what Meyer hopes to accomplish. It's obvious that the director is trying to exorcise some demons through this work, but no one is entirely certain why or how.

The cast consists of just a few players. Vance Cogburn, a bartender/actor/drunk, is playing "Frank Butler", the male lead. Opposite him is Barbara Cheston, a nude model, as "Kelly Dunhill", a reporter who will break the serial killer story wide open. Jerry Cooke is cast as the psycho killer "Ace Spade" and quickly begins demanding that everyone call him "Ace", claiming that he's using "the method" made famous by big-name actors. Julie Baylor, a Weeki Wachee Mermaid, has been cast as "Betty/victim #2"; Meyer wanted her because she can hold her breath for almost two minutes at a time, which means she'll be able to "play dead" for the camera and make it believable. There's the crew, Cliff the Grip, Juan and Ricky, who all have small parts to play in the events surrounding the movie-making.

Things don't get off to a good start, as Deputy Sonny Platt demands speaking lines in return for the use of his squad car for a scene. This means last minute re-writes for Meyer, and when it comes to film, the car isn't available. Meyer is livid, but Hoffman tells him they don't have much time and to forget about it. Barbara isn't sure what she's doing, as she's never acted before, just posed. Even stranger is that she doesn't have a full copy of the script; Meyer is giving her one scene at a time. When her co-star Vance learns of this, he becomes suspicious that all is not as it seems. Thrown in to this mix are a hurricane headed straight for Hillsboro Beach, a tragic accident that occurs away from the set, and Sherry, the barmaid at the Angler's Rest (and Sonny's girlfriend), and the tension mounts. Just what kind of movie is Meyer shooting? Can Hoffman keep his director in line? Will the hurricane wipe them out?

The book starts with a small section about the filming of "Crimson Orgy", just as if it were a real film. The big question is this: Is Meyer trying to film the first real "snuff film"? Or does it just seem that way? Some of the book works and some doesn't. I did think the author captured some of the feeling of a small movie production, especially one on a small budget. I really liked the way he worked in the real Herschell Gordon Lewis and his movie "Blood Feast"; I've read quite a bit about the grindhouses, and this all rings true in Williams' book. However, where I felt the author could use some work was in character development. There are a few key scenes where you start to get to know the characters a bit, most of them occurring between Meyer and Barbara. But for the danger that's obviously building up as you near the end of the piece, there's just not enough emotional involvement to really impact you when you get to the end.

Overall, not a bad first effort, and definitely one to pick up if you like those old grindhouse movies of the 60's.

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