BRUTEVILLE - Alan Spencer is best known as the creature of the ’80s cult TV series Sledge Hammer! The series was noted for elevating the level of violence found in a network sitcom. He returned in the 21st century with Bullet In the Face which took casualty comedy to a higher level. The IFC series featured a notorious criminal who has the face of the cop he killed grafted onto his mug. The police give the hitman a chance to hit back at the underworld empire that had marked him for death. Over the course of six episodes, this epic revenge comedy plays for laughs between trigger pulls. Eddie Izzard and Eric Roberts play the mob bosses calling the shots in a city over run by criminals.
The Party Favors had a chance to call up creator Alan Spencer to chat about the short series that’s just been released on DVD from Shout! Factory. The first question dealt with his approach to making a show that’s only six episodes long.
“Because it was ordered straight to series, we didn’t make a pilot like we did Sledgehammer,” Spencer said. “We were using a new paradigm. Which is very interesting because we used to make a pilot, then they’d evaluate it and whether or not to order a series. Creatively and economically it makes more sense to go straight to series. Take that money for a pilot, spend a little bit more and get the whole thing. I got a six episode order with the caveat that I write them all. Which I did.”
Because of the six episode order, Spencer didn’t follow the conventional production technique of treating each episode as a separate entity.
“It was not shot one episode a week,” he said. “It was shot like a movie out of sequence. I knew it was going to be shot that way in advance so I wrote for that. When I met Eddie Izzard, he thought it was a very interesting character. He said, “Why did you make him agoraphobic?” I said, “So I could shoot you for five days in the same location.” I figured out ways to maximize getting our big guest stars. I was repeating locations. It also gave us more latitude for the bigger things we were doing.”
Shooting in Montreal during the wintertime was something that required quite a bit of latitude.
“I was also eliminating exteriors since that was out of our control. The weather was so wild up there in Montreal. One day it was sunny, the next day it snowed. It was schizophrenic weather to match my personality. It’s the only time I’ve been in a hotel where I saw my breath in the lobby. The heater was barely putting a dent in the cold. I would have rather stayed at the base in The Thing or Ice Station Zebra. It definitely cold and it was beautiful too.”
I joked if being in the cold of Canada made him feel like he was stuck in a David Cronenberg movie.
“A little bit. Certainly when I was catching a human head when I did a cameo. There was real gore in it. It’s very eerie to look at a prosthetic human head that looks very real. The actor did the life mask the day before and he’s not on the set and you’re holding his head. You get really worried that the make-up people are method actors.”
Turned out the head was fake and the actor was alive after all. Montreal did prove to be a perfect location to be the sinister Bruteville.
“The city itself has various locations that resemble different parts of the world. But it’s heavily Americanized. When I first arrived at the hotel, the concierge said, “Have you seen all our fine local restaurants?” I’ve seen Five Guys, McDonalds and Subway. They call it Five Guys in Montreal. I thought they’d call it Five Monsieurs.” Alan did get to eat at non-chain restaurants. “Really great food in Montreal.”
The city of Rocket Richard and Ken Dryden proved worth of Bruteville’s stature. One person outside the city didn’t like the fictional town’s slogan.
“I called it a melting place of crime so it was more Eurotrash. I wanted it be various nationalities and cultures in there. It’s interesting that the place was called Bruteville, A Melting Pot of Crime. One of the network executives didn’t like it. He didn’t give a reason why. It defines the town and explains the city. It explains to the people why they’re hearing all these crazy accents. Once it aired, people were quoting it.”
Oddly enough, there wasn’t too many objections at the network to the level of violence in the series. Was Spencer amazed at what he could get on the air?
“I wasn’t amazed, Spencer said. “I knew I could do it since there’s big difference between 1986 and now. I’m amazed at how much violence I can get away with in real life now.”
His original series had to be lightened down as it made it through pre-production. “Sledge Hammer! was originally written as a feature film that would have been R-Rated,” Spencer said. I made it as violent or maybe a little more violent than a Dirty Harry film. It went to HBO where it was still was R-rated. Then it was picked up by the ABC network where we toned it down. It was still considered at the time as out there, extreme and very off beat. The level of violence I was dealing with, people wouldn’t have blinked in an hour drama show because they deal with that all the time. Breaking Bad has a decapitated head on a tortoise. But for dealing with a half hour comedy, it was considered unusual. I don’t know what it says about me that this is all normal. When I was a kid, I watched Get Smart. It frequently had people getting shot and stabbed in it. That’s what a normal sitcom looked to me. People getting physically harmed and I’m not talking about Two and a Half Men with people getting harmed off camera.
There was a little controversy when IFC ran a trailer featuring severed heads during afternoon episodes of Malcolm in the Middle. “The parents get upset for the kids. But the kids have no trouble.”
Spencer is charmingly proud about the attention his creative violence receives. But he knows it gets tougher every year to get noticed.
“It becomes increasingly harder to shock people because we get desensitized. That was something I was saying about Bullet in the Face with this unrepentant character and the world of violence. The PTC put out a report about all the violent shows on TV and the amount of acts of violence per hour. It was amusing that we ranked highly and we were the only comedy. I’m really proud that even in the half hour form, we held our own against hour long shows and their violence. We got the press from it. We were between the Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. I was very proud that counts of violence per half hour is my specialty. ”
Spencer had no desire to take the series longer than the original six episodes.
“I only had a deal for six. At one time, the network gave a note, “In case we do more, hold back.” I don’t do that. I go for broke. I wrote the final episode as if it would be the final episode. Even though I put a little question mark to make it ambiguous. But if you watch it closely, there is an ending. There is a resolution. I just don’t spell it out. Versus the first season of Sledgehammer where I knew the show wasn’t coming back so I blew up the world. Then I had to figure what to do when we got a second season.”
Having all six episodes on a single DVD will allow folks a chance to watch the series in an evening sitting which seems to be the craze according to Netflix streaming.
“It’s easier to binge watch these six,” Spencer said. “Nobody watches a TV show week after week unless it’s a reality or contest. Everybody waits and watches it unfold in its sum total. That’s fascinating.”
Spencer was about to meet with a production company over an unscripted series idea. “It’s such a burgeoning field.” However he’s hesitant to call it “reality TV. “I don’t know how you can call it reality when people are being filmed. I can call Bullet in the Face a reality show since it’s my reality.”
A major difference between Sledge Hammer! and A Bullet In the Face is the speed of response from viewers. Twitter has changed the game.
“It’s very interesting to see the immediacy. Back in the day when I did Sledgehammer, people had to write fan letters and use snail mail. And it took longer since they had to cut the letters out of the newspaper. That’s the kind of fan mail I would get. On Twitter, it’s immediate. You do a #bulletintheface and see what people were saying. Although a lot of them just put WTF. My Twitter following shot up 10,000 and some of them were real. ” His twitter handle is @mralanspencer. Feel free to follow him.
SCREAM FACTORY SHOUTS
Cat People: Collector’s Edition brings back my crush on Nastassia Kinski in 1080p resolution. Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) tackles Val Lewton’s original movie with a horror as sleek as its black panther stars. This movie still rocks with its tale of an African tribe where women were mated with the big cats (and we’re not talking Ernie Ladd). Kinski arrives in New Orleans to see her adopted brother (A Clockwork Orange’s Malcolm McDowell). He goes out for the night and doesn’t come back. Why? Because he turned into a black panther and mauled a hooker. Instead of going to jail, the panther is locked up in the zoo. Kinski finds him while visiting the Crescent City’s tourist spots. She gets involved with zoo keeper John Heard. Can she really hook up with the guy? It seems her people have a knack for turning into panthers after getting frisky. This edition includes interviews with Schrader, Kinski, McDowell and music legend Giorgio Moroder.
Die, Monster, Die! brings together Boris Karloff and H.P. Lovecraft. This adaptation of “The Colour Out of Space” takes place in England. Nick Adams (Frankenstein Conquers The World) arrives in a remote town to see his girlfriend’s family. What he doesn’t know is there is something extra evil and glowing lurking in the basement. This is Meet the Parents with a Lovecraft twist. Karloff is her father and he’s up to his mad scientist ways. There’s strange creatures and plants lurking around the creepy old house. It’s a messed up haunted house movie courtesy of American International Pictures. It’s good to enjoy Karloff in HD. The bonus feature is the trailer.
The Beast of Hollow Mountain & The Neanderthal Man Scream Factory Double Feature is a prehistoric twin bill. Beast is the better of the two since it features the special effects work of Willis O’Brien. He’s the man who manipulated the original King Kong. Now he’s back with the tale of the last T. Rex roaming around a swamp in New Mexico. A few cowboys get up the nerve to see the king of the dinosaurs in person. He proves tougher than an Apache attack. The Neanderthal man takes the mad scientist out to the country. Seems that a saber tooth tiger is roaming the wilderness. How could this be? Turns out it’s a project of a scientist who has no problem experimenting on people. This is how he turns his maid and himself into early humanoids. This is a fine Creature Double Feature worthy of being announced on WLVI-56 in Boston.
Night of the Demons Collector’s Edition brings forth one of those classic titles that would stand out on the shelves at Phar-Mor’s VHS rental department. This movie is a classic for doubling up the evil in a party house. A bunch of kids want to get wild on Halloween so they bust into an abandoned funeral home. This is normally enough of a scary place to get Demons bounding out of the dry wall. But it turns out that the house was also owned by a mass murderer. What good can come from having a séance at such a site? None. This is good for viewers eager to see the partygoers have their fun turned into a raging nightmare. Demons take control of many of the kids. The special effects are good and gruesome. There’s a nipple effect that will leave you wincing in pain. The bonus features are packed. Director Kevin Tenney and his actors and producers contribute two commentary tracks. There’s interviews with all the major players. The original video trailer that lured kids to rent the weirdness is included. There’s also a DVD to go with the Blu-ray.
Witchboard reminds people that communicating with the dead to liven up a party might turn bad. The host wants to impress his friends that he can talk to the spirit of a dead 10 year old boy. Everyone gathers around the Ouija Board to speak to the other side. But the conversation turns ugly when a drunk disturbs the spirits. The next day Tawny Kitean (Tom Hank’s fiancé in Bachelor Party) uses the Ouija Board to get the dead to locate a lost object. What she doesn’t know is that the nice boy talking to her has been replaced by an evil demon. You know that just means trouble is going to happen. Mostly this happens in the form of Tawny getting possessed by the demon. Can she be saved and the evil Ouija Board destroyed? I feel bad they didn’t do a sequel about a possessed Magic 8 Ball. There’s a lot of great ’80s hair on the screen. Witchboard was directed by Kevin Tenney, the man behind Night of the Demons. It’s nice to see him get the top notch treatment from Scream Factory for his legendary VHS legends. There’s a lot of bonus features although no evil Ouija Board in the Blu-ray case.
Star Trek: Enterprise - Season: Three is when the show finally established itself as more than just another cookie cutter from the Star Trek franchise factory. They roughed up the show by introducing a worthy enemy in the Xindi. Unlike all those other sweet and misunderstood aliens, the Xindi arrived at the end of season two with a massive arrival. They tore apart Florida worse than Bugs Bunny . In the past, Star Trek shows kept their stories to one or two episodes. The Xindi dominate the entire season. Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) and crew are scooting around the unchartered galaxy looking to track down and face off with the enemy. The show is a lot more brooding with the intensity jacked up. There’s a major fear that the Xindi are coming back to finish off the planet. There’s also a time travel episode, but mostly this season is about Enterprise coming into its own. Sadly viewers had tuned out the previous season and weren’t coming back to the UPN. At least they can now catch up on what they missed on these Blu-rays. The bonus features include a nearly 90 minute documentary exploring how the show shifted its tone. They ported over all the special features from the previous DVD release. This really is the start of the show.
Wolverine Vs. Sabertooth brings Jeph Loeb and Simone Bianchi’s comic book series to motion as part of the Marvel Knights Animation universe. This is a main card battle that tops a UFC fight. Two mutant enemies are not backing down on this battle. It does seem that only one of them will emerge from this Thunderdome beatdown. There’s plenty of blood splattered across the screen. It’s more fun to watch the action his way than in the comic book. The motion and slashing is fierce. Another prime battle between Wolverine and a worthy opponent.
Power Rangers Megaforce: The Mysterious Robo Knight is the latest installment of the saga. Troy, Noah, Emma, Gia and Jake must defend the world from more evil monsters from outer space. Luckily they don’t have to do it completely alone. They have the Robo Knight arriving in the nick of time. Their big weapons are a Vulcan Cannon and Lion Zord. The boxset has the episodes “United We Stand,” “Harmony and Dizchord,” “Who’s Crying Now?” and “Robo Knight.” The big bonus is a Mega Bloks Micro Figure of the Red Power Ranger from this series. You can watch and play!
You’re Next is a great film for why you should avoid your parent’s wedding anniversary. A family gathers at a remote estate to celebrate mom and dad being together for so long. What they don’t know is that somebody wants to put an end to their streak. Who is it? The killers are wearing animal masks and using crossbows to attack. It’ll make you just mail a card to your parents when their special day comes around.
Frankenstein: The Real Story brings together three of the History Channel’s specials about the iconic monster. “In Search of the Real Frankenstein” gets into the science of bringing animals and corpses back to life. Was Dr. Frankenstein on the right track when he harnessed the lightning? “It’s Alive! The True Story of Frankenstein” looks at the movies revolving around the creature. There’s been plenty of them from the silent era onward. They even cover Young Frankenstein. Frankenstein deals with the stories that could have influenced Mary Shelley’s book. All three specials are fun watching for the Franky fans. The specials are subtitled.
Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars explores the new wave of air attacks. The remote control drones have taken over security duties since they’re relatively cheap, have no chance of pilot death and can tote heavy weapons. It’s like a big old videogame as they snoop around the air. Director Robert Greenwald and his crew go into Pakistan to meet people who have been victims of drone attacks. Is this weapon convenience turning foreign countries against America? Can some man at a remote computer terminal determine what’s really happening on his video screen?
Greedy Lying Bastards reminds us that a corporate press release shouldn’t be taken as the truth. The documentary directed by Craig Rosebraugh and produced by Darryl Hannah looks at who is pushing the anti-climate change agenda. Are major corporations backing scientists that are willing to publicly act contrary to mounting evidence to create uncertainty? Of course there’s coverage of the Koch brothers. The movie explores how companies factor profits over damage to people and land. It’s a tough look at “Kind hearted” private businesses that love running PSAs making themselves look so wonderful.
Counting Cars: Season 2 Volume 2 gives more tales of Danny “The Count” Koker and his Las Vegas creative car crew. The 13 episodes include quite a few guest stars. “Zombie Truck” has him working on a vehicle for rocker Rob Zombie. How do you make a car that impresses a man who wrote a song about the Dragula? “One Love, One Car” lets the Count fix up Bob Marley’s old Mercedes. Can he make things right and proper for the icon’s cruising mobile? He also fixes up quite a few cars for ordinary people. This spin-off from Pawn Stars does a fine job at letting folks know what’s the cost and effort of bringing a car back to life. They include 35 minutes of bonus footage on the DVD.
African-American Leaders Past & Present is a five film documentary collection from the History Channel. This is a fine set for people eager to celebrate the lives of five major men. “Civil War Journal: Frederick Douglass gives plenty of facts about the man who escaped slavery and struggled to free others. “Who Killed Martin Luther King, Jr.” ponders if it was a bounty that led to that fateful day in Memphis. “Malcolm X: A Search for Identity” gets into the revolutionary’s actions. “Thurgood Marshall: Justice for All” follows this lawyer to a seat in the Supreme Court. “Barack Obama” gives the early rise of our current president.
Duck Dynasty: Season 4 captures the sensation of America’s favorite family that made themselves endearing with their bushy beard and country wisdom. These episodes were made before the recent “he said what?” controversies involving Phil Robertson. The family is noted for being extremely rich thanks to their duck calls. Of course the family has become extra rich thanks to massive endorsement deals that have made them their own industry. They had Chia Pets last Christmas season. They are massive stars, but the show does its best to keep them simple folks. Basically the show is a modified sitcom without a studio audience or laugh track. They just bobble around and do their best to impress the folks in Middle America.
My Little Pony: Classic Movie Collection contains 4 movies from the earlier version of the show. This isn’t the same animation or voices as the Friendship is Magic version. While there is Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash and Spike the Dragon, you also get Minty. The movies include “The Princess Promenade,” “Dancing in the Clouds,” “The Runaway Rainbow” and “Friends Are Never Far Away.” It’s a fine set for Bronies looking for the early work involving their favorite ponies.
Crossing Lines: Season One is an international police series. William Fichtner is an ex-NYPD detective who comes to Holland. Why? Because he’s hooked on drugs. He does have a job at the carnival. But he finally gets control of his demons to become a member of the International Criminal Court located in the Hague. The 10 episodes show him going around Europe tracking brutal criminals that need to be taken before the court. Donald Sutherland appears as part of the team. It kind of throws back to the old ITV shows with its use of great locations and international goons.
Semi Colin is a documentary about graphic novelist Colin Murray. The man’s comic books are rather erotic. Director Damien Lay explores the artist who hid his desires for decades until rather late in life he released The Lady and the Vampire, Riveria Moon Goddess and The Palace of a Thousand Pleasures. The books have become collector’s items. Murray is kind of like a dirty version of Grandma Moses. While the film seems to be a great addition to Crumb. This is a strange tribute to a man who finally stopped listening to others and pursued his dreams.
The Contradictions of Fair Hope is a documentary about what black communities in the south did after the end of slavery. Many of them joined together to form “benevolent societies.” These groups helped address those who needed major help. The film goes to a place in rural Alabama which still has their society in effect. They’re called “The Fair Hope Benevolent Society.” There’s a lot of preaching as members deal with the sins of the world and heavenly aspirations. Whoopi Goldberg narrates the movie.
Hazel: The Complete Final Season wraps us Shirley Booth’s domestic career as the maid that controlled everyone. This fifth season starts off with the shocker that the Baxters have moved to Iraq and left their son Harold (Bobby Buntrock) with her. She’s moving in with Mr. Baxter’s brother Stephen (Ray Fulmer). He’s in the real estate business. His wife Barbara (Lynn Borden) is not prepared for Hazel to take over her house. Hazel will not merely do as she’s told. It’s only a matter of a few episodes before she whips these next Baxters to do her will. The 29 episodes change up the previous shows by having stories dealing with odd real estate deals. Hazel gets into flipping property action long before all those cable shows. It’s rather sad when it comes to an end. Hazel knew how to take care of a family. Although I still question why nobody seemed to know what happened to the original Baxters. They just took Hazel’s word for why they left so suddenly.
Perry Mason: Movie Collection - Volume 1 has the first 6 TV movies that brought back Raymond Burr in the role of the greatest attorney on TV. “Perry Mason Returns” revitalizes the character who had become a judge. Why would he give up his robes? Because his old secretary Della Street (still played by Barbara Hale) is up on murder charges. Perry’s not going to let some punk young attorney handle her case. She’s been framed by a killer in her dress. Paul Drake Jr. (Greatest American Hero’s William Katt) is Perry’s new investigator. In a confusing bit of casting, Richard Anderson (The Six Million Dollar Man) is a suspect and not a cop. The TV movie did well enough for 25 more of them. “The Case of the Notorious Nun” is an unholy homicide. “The Case of the Shooting Star” is a special effect gone bad. “The Case of the Lost Love” gets Perry’s old flame put on the fire. She’s being blackmailed and her husband might have offed the creep. “The Case of the Sinister Spirit” conjures up Robert Stack (The Untouchables) and Dwight Schultz (The A-Team). “The Case of the Murdered Madam” has four guys getting blackmailed by the woman holding the little black book. Who was the John that pulled the trigger? These are six movies worthy of letting Burr return to the courtroom. He has a beard for this go around.
Instructions Not Included proved to be a smash indie hit. A major Casanova gets a massive surprise when a former lover dumps a daughter on his doorstep. The guy can’t be stuck with a child. He heads to Hollywood to return the gift. While in Tinseltown, he gets a gig as a stuntman. Although the biggest stunt is him growing up to become a father. How does he react when the mother return? The film does a fine balance of comedy and heart.
House of Versace lets Gina Gershon work her lips to their fullest potential. She portrays the legendary Donatella Versace who was forced to run the family’s fashion business when her brother was gunned down. This is what you crave from a Lifetime Original movie. There’s a lot of jet set and eurotrash action. Gershon gets to put Donatella through her drug issues and emotional breakdowns. She not only survives, but thrives. Although it’s hard to watch the film without remembering Showgirls.
Thanks For Sharing is about what happens when a sex addict falls in love. Is this just going to unleash the beast and destroy his pledge? It’s a crazy romantic comedy about people who just want to get it on. This has an A level cast with Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow Josh Gad and Pink (as Alecia Moore). The movie has its charms since it’s from the people behind The Kids Are All Right. Did I mention Carol Kane is in it?
Living By the Gun i s a fine cowboy flick with plenty of shots fired. It’s the classic tale of a man returning home to avenge the death of his brother. This ultimately leads to a young girl wanting her revenge for the situation. There’s plenty of ruthless action and hot lead zipping around the screen. Like the Highlander, there can be only one. There’s more guns in this movie than a season of Pawn Stars.
Joanie Loves Chachi: The Complete Series, Seasons 1 & 2 brings back the time when this young kids ran off to Chicago in search of fame. The Happy Days duo wants to be big time recording stars. What Joanie (Erin Moran) and Chachi (Scott Baio) didn’t count on was Al (Al Molinaro) being part of the picture. But he has the new fancy Chi-town restaurant that needs a band. The first season was only 4 episodes, but proved to be a major hit. This seemed like it would be another Laverne & Shirley. Would America have a love affair with these two foolish lovers? Sadly the second season is only 13 episodes. The show was dumped onto an 8 p.m. Thursday slot. Even with a visit from the Fonz, the show didn’t last half a season. Erin and Scott sang original songs on the show. The trouble was that their music sounded more Peaches and Herb than Beatles. They just weren’t right for the time. When is the last time this aired on TV? Now all 17 episodes are out on DVD for those who still have a crush on Joanie. There is a lot of Chachi’s exposed chest. For those extra curious, Al Molinaro is still alive at 95. Why hasn’t the Kennedy Center honored him?
Laverne& Shirley: The Seventh Season could be considered the final true season. This was the last time the whole cast was around for the full season. The girls are still faking it in Hollywood with big dreams while working at a department store. “Most Important Day Ever” has Lenny (Michael McKean) and Squiggy (David L. Lander) in the talent agency game. They would go on to form CAA in the ’80s. “The Defiant One” brings out the amazing Richard Moll (Night Court). Did you know he isn’t really bald? Charles Grodin plays himself in “Friendly Persuasion.” Jeff Goldblum (The Fly) buzzes on “Watch the Fur Fly.” Goldblum still refuses to admit he died in New Zealand. It’s a double Harry on “Star Peepers” when both Harry Dean Stanton (Paris, Texas) and Harry Shearer (The Simpsons) arrive. Shearer would team up with McKean to form Spinal Tap. “Perfidyin Blue” scares me. Shirley fears Laverne wants to kill her. The final season has Shirley leave the show quickly. She was as good as dead. I’m still impressed they were able to clear the Beatles stand up in their apartment. There’s a gag reel as the bonus feature.
All Is Lost is the return of Robert Redford to bad ass cinema. He plays a rather quiet guy who heads out on his sailboat for a solo journey. What could go wrong by himself? Pretty much everything goes wrong. Even without a Gilligan, Redford appears cursed by the elements. His boat gets a huge hole from an unexpected source. A storm makes things worse. He can’t call for help because of another screw up. Somebody up there hates him. But he’s not going to give up even as the sharks sniff him out in the big open ocean. The film is the perfect survival at sea flick. Imagine Hitchcock’s Lifeboat as a quiet one man show. Shame he didn’t get an Oscar nomination, but that shouldn’t stop you from wanting to spend a nice night on dry land watching what can go wrong above the waves.
Seal Patrol is pure men on a mission adrenaline rush. A group of ex-Navy SEALs now offer up their services for those who can afford and deserve their military expertise. In this case it’s Eric Roberts (Bullet in the Face & Star 80) who has to make the call. Roberts heads a company about to make a major breakthrough in energy. But something went wrong at the secret lab and now the brainy scientist is about to go boom. Can the ex-Seals get down to save this person and save humanity from a bleak future? There’s a lot of explosions to make your sound system really go boom.
Leave a Reply