Friday, May 6, 2011

Part 18 - The Monsters are Coming, The WEREWOLVES ARE HERE!

Things were changing rapidly during my second semester at CalArts.  For one, an announcement had been made that starting in the Fall, CalArts would be accepting more entering students so they would not be guarantee returning students places in the dorms.  A meeting had been called for all of the dorm students to explain how the school was going to handle it.

First of all, everyone was pissed; second, you have a large group of people who were not known for their responsible living habits; third, the school had announced that they would be breaking ground on a new dorm building that wouldn't be ready for more than a year.  Put that all together, and you have the making of a bad meeting and that's just what it was.

A Fine Art Student named Rubio (who I think was from Ecuador) showed up having shaved his head.  He had stolen a grocery cart that had two things in it: a boxer's weight bag with a face drawn on it with a felt marker, and a GIANT bottle of gold tequila with a hand pump on the top.  Rubio began screaming about how unfair all of this was (and, it was) and would punctuate his rants by pumping tequila onto the "mouth" of the weight bag, and then into his own mouth.  All the time, trying to maintain order, the school announced that there would literally be a lottery to see who would return to the dorms and who would have to find housing off campus.  My family (mother, really) couldn't afford the school as it was, and I knew that finding off campus housing was going to be difficult.  That is, until I spoke with a friend who came to my rescue.

James Fujii (ANOTHER James for those of you keeping score) was a Disney animator who I had met and befriended.  He taught me how to take Ohio Blue Tip Matches, twist the fuse of a black cat firework around it, mount it into a paper cone dart, and launch it with a blow gun so that the match would hit the ground and the "dart" would explode within seconds.  It was genius to say the least.  James' family had bought a house in Newhall, and he was looking for roommates.  The rent was reasonable, if not cheaper than what we were paying for the dorms, so I jumped at it.  To hell with the lottery.

To be honest, by that time Steve and I weren't exactly seeing eye-to-eye.  Familiarity had finally bred a bit of contempt and we had had enough of each other, even though we both kept hanging around with James Cummins.  It would be difficult to say exactly why, but my hindsight would just chalk it up to immaturity on both of our parts.

In the Winter 1980 issue of CINEFANTASTIQUE (with the CLASH OF THE TITANS cover) there was an article about a new werewolf movie, with Special Make Up Effects being handled by a protege of Rick Baker.  His name was Rob Bottin (Bo-teen) and the movie was THE HOWLING.  I had read articles about Rob in magazines about his work for director John Carpenter's second film THE FOG.

Rob Bottin wearing his leprous ghost make up in THE FOG
There were some make up effects in the film, including a quick, insert puppet head of one of the leprous ghosts (complete with squirming worms) but John Carpenter had decided to keep the films ghosts mysterious and mainly in silhouette.

Now, in this magazine, was a photo of Rob, holding a hand puppet of one of the coolest looking werewolves I had ever seen.  Once more, the article described that for the first time, an audience would see someone physically turn into a werewolf on screen with the use of sophisticated make up effects rather than what had been done in the past which was a series of optical lap dissolves of an actor as make up was gradually applied to suggest different stages of transformation.

Wolfman Wolf Man Lon Chaney Jr Transform Change Transforming On Wall Emoticon Emoticons Animated Animation Animations Gif

In a process that Bottin described as "hulking out" (referring to the TV series The Incredible Hulk transformation), the characters anatomy would change from human to wolf in progressive changes.  Again, remember that this was Spring of 1981, and with the exception of some parasites in THEY CAME FROM WITHIN, a swelling throat in THE EXORCIST, and the rippling arm, chest and forehead of ALTERED STATES, no one had attempted anything like this before.

Of course, I ran out, bought the paperback book written by Gary Brandner and counted down the days until the movie opened.  That Friday evening, a group of us went down to the Avco Embassy Theater in Westwood and thrilled as we saw humans turning into huge bipedal werewolves!

By today's standards, it might seem silly, but at the time, it was really cool!
That was one, big, bad wolf!
To be fair, within the article, Rob mentioned that the work had begun under the supervision of Rick Baker, who had to bow out to commence the work on friend/director, John Landis' movie AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, which was also to feature an on-camera werewolf transformation.

Now, here is where I kick myself.  Weeks earlier, during a visit to Hollywood Book & Poster Company, I had searched through a series of frame blow ups from THE HOWLING that were now color 8" x 10"s.
I, of course, purchased a classic shot of Rob's werewolf...

Wish I still had this photo...It's long since gone!
...but there were other photos of what looked like miniature set with Stop Motion Werewolves in it.  It confused me and I didn't buy the photos.  Months later, I learned that animator, David Allen, had animated a few shots of the werewolves as they fought to get out of the burning barn.  By the time the film made it to the theater, all but one quick shot of the Stop Motion werewolves remained.  It wasn't until the release of THE HOWLING on Dvd, had I actually seen that cut footage.

Needless to say that after the opening of THE HOWLING, Rob Bottin was the new, big name in Make Up Effects and werewolves and air-bladder transformations were the fashion.

Before I would leave CalArts at the end of my second semester, there would be two more films that would explode across the screen.  The first one was the big screen adaptation of Robert E. Howard's character CONAN: THE BARBARIAN.

We all knew about Arnold Schwarzenegger but this was before he was the enormous action star he would become.  In fact, I'm sure he would say this is the film that turned it all around.

The director was John Milius, whose interest in military and political history brought added layers of sophistication to what could have just been another sword & sorcery epic.  I would be lying if I said that was the reason the film was a success, but history has shown that it was the savage action of the film that delivered one of the screen's first, true barbarians.  And it also didn't hurt that actor James Earle Jones' character, Thulsa Doom, turned into a snake or that Conan fought a giant mechanical serpent.

Everyone was changing into animals in the '80's...
Bleed, yoo bastid, bleed...
Although CONAN was a huge success, the last film we saw before we left for the summer was the sequel to an Australian cult film called MAD MAX.  This film, directed by Aussie, George Miller was titled THE ROAD WARRIOR, and it set new standards in motion picture action!

A pre-nutty, Mel Gibson screamed across the post-apocalyptic Australian outback in his suped-up car looking for gasoline (a rare commodity) while avoiding wasteland crazies and personal attachments.  The car stunts and art direction did more than thrill audiences, it literally influenced a generation off young people who would adopt the look as their personal statement.

The character, WEZ, became the new face of anarchist terror!

"Just walk away....just walk away..."

So, with the summer starting, school ending, and a new address awaiting for me in the Autumn, I said good-bye to my new friends, shook Steve Burg's hand, packed The Lizard King, and started out back home to Louisiana.

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