Blood, boobs and camp

With its latest flick, the Trash Film Orgy crew gets supernatural and superfly

Actor Jawara Duncan as Jimmy Chevelle in a scene from the movie.

Actor Jawara Duncan as Jimmy Chevelle in a scene from the movie.

Check out Badass Monster Killer at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Thursday, December 3, at Esquire IMAX Theatre,1211 K Street. Tickets are $15.

It’s a simple formula: blood, boobs and over-the-top, campy fun. It’s the method husband-and-wife team Darin Wood and Christy Savage have employed over the past 15 or so years in all areas of their production company Trash Film Orgy: The annual Sacramento Zombie Walk, the midnight movie film festivals and, of course, their original films Monster From Bikini Beach and Planet of the Vampire Women.

The couple debuts its third feature, Badass Monster Killer, at the Esquire IMAX Theatre Thursday, December 3—and it doesn’t stray too far from the formula. This time, however, they’ve created something more along the lines of a ’70s blaxploitation-inspired supernatural monster movie.

But don’t worry, there are still plenty of naked ladies, gore and tongue-in-cheek fun.

“It’s set in the H.P. Lovecraft world with monsters from beyond space and time—and we throw Shaft in there,” says Savage, who served as the film’s producer and the director of photography.

Shaft, the starring character of the detective films by the same name, isn’t technically in the film, but the lead character Jimmy Chevelle, played by local actor Jawara Duncan, is clearly a reference to the iconic movie character. The world Chevelle lives in, the fictitious, surreal town of Camaroville, is much different than the gritty streets of Harlem.

In Badass Monster Killer, Chevelle, works for the top-secret government agency Department of Supernatural Security, and sports a take-no-guff badass attitude. He’s also fighting a secret super-evil demonic cult with a ton of monsters at its disposal.

Actors Chester Patterson and Galen Howard are big pimpin’ against a green screen.

Photo by Matt Tuskes

Wood and Savage first introduced the town of Camaroville in 2005, with their six-part serial Curse of the Golden Skull, and then set 2008’s Monster From Bikini Beach there, too. In those films, perhaps not surprisingly, Camaroville looks an awful lot like Sacramento.

Badass Monster Killer was mostly shot with a green screen and the filmmakers gave the town a more mind-bending aesthetic with a combination of dark and neon colors, and buildings that bend in unnatural ways.

The approach, Savage says, helped them to do more with less.

“It looks like … a Roger Rabbit kind of world. We just embraced the nonreality. It’s so crazy and oddball,” says Wood, who wrote and directed the film. “I don’t have the skill to make realistic CGI buildings in any kind of way, but it doesn’t have to be that. They can be stylized and cartoonish.”

The entire film, save two scenes, was filmed in front of a large green screen, and every scene was shot in a local warehouse. It’s precisely because of this technical choice that they were able to make Badass Monster Killer at all, given their modest budget.

Wood usually writes several scripts at once, and he and Savage then pick the best one for their next shoot. Badass Monster Killer initially wasn’t even considered an option because of the presumed finances needed. Then it dawned on Wood that they could create computer-generated cityscapes.

“Everything was going to be shot in downtown. You’d need to get permits and you’d do all this stuff on streets and back alleys and things like that would have to be all the sets,” Wood said. “All these urban exteriors that were going to have to be done with permits in the real world, could now be done on green screen. And it would take on a certain look.”

From left to right, Courtney V. Smith, Rae Wright and Liz Clare appear as “Kung Fu Foxes.”

Photo by Amy Slockbower

Budget was still an issue, however. Initially, the couple didn’t even raise the very low amount they’d set. Still, they managed to piecemeal funds through a few Indiegogo campaigns, private investors and various TFO events including a “blood wrestling” match that featured a bloody T-shirt contest.

With the money they did have, the couple needed to run a skeleton crew and get creative with every aspect of the film.

“It’s not Hollywood,” says Duncan. “I’m moving sets, I’m holding mics, I’m moving lights. If I’m not in the scene, I’m going to do something to get involved. Everyone was doing this.”

The biggest financial roadblock loomed after shooting wrapped and it came time to edit the film. There was a lot of work to do in post-production: the entire city had to be created with computer graphics. Wood and Savage had planned to hire professionals and have it done in nine months. That didn’t happen. Instead, Wood did it all himself with the help of a few volunteers. The process was painstakingly slow. Badass Monster Killer started production in early 2012 but didn’t wrap for good until just a few weeks ago.

[Post-production is] where the money dried up. Everybody’s like, ’Oh, you already did the shooting, you don’t need money now.’ Actually, that’s not the way movies work,” Savage says.

The filmmakers remained optimistic, however.

“We’re problem solvers. We figured out how to make it work,” Savage says. “So many [filmmakers] are like, ’I don’t have any money, I’m not going to finish.’ [But] we’re dedicated. We finish our projects.”

Ryan Cicak is Reverend Dellamorte in <i>Badass Monster Killer</i>.

Photo by Amy Slockbower

This wasn’t always the case. In the early ’90s, when they first tried their hand at filmmaking, they didn’t usually complete their projects. Then, in 1995, they launched a cable access show called Deth’s Oogly Hed. The horror movie magazine-styled show, which lasted until 2000, proved to be a learning experience. It was here that Wood and Savage say they learned the technical aspects of shooting and editing.

In 2001, they followed the cable access show with a midnight movies gig at the Crest Theatre. Before each set they’d stage bizarre, campy skits and other spectacles. TFO’s now-famed Zombie Walk was born out of this. Savage and Wood were one of the first to ever host such an event—it started as a promotion stunt for the Crest series.

All of that led to 2005 when members of the Crest’s management team purchased some digital projectors. That’s when Savage and Wood decided to maket the Curse of the Golden Skull serial. That, in turn, motivated them to give filmmaking another shot.

While this may seem like a roundabout way to get where they started a couple decades ago, it was the midnight movie festivals that helped them find an audience—all their films are inspired by the same drive-in style B-movies.

Comedian Keith Lowell Jensen, who partnered with Trash Film Orgy for a few years during its Crest Theatre run, says he appreciates the filmmakers’ raw approach.

“Watching these movies is like hanging out with these guys because there were no executives stripping away their weirdness for marketability. You get all the wacky, strange ideas unfiltered, and it’s glorious,” he says.

With all the ’60s and ’70s B-movie homages in mainstream films now, it almost seems as though there isn’t a place for low-budget filmmakers anymore. But big budget zombie movies are polished dramas. Quentin Tarantino makes high art out of grind house films, and even filmmakers like Scott Sanders, who made Black Dynamite to look and feel exactly like a low-budget blaxplotation, do so with a heavy dose of irony.

Wood and Savage say they try to make low-budget films the same way they were made in the ’70s, but for a modern audience and with authenticity.

“In Black Dynamite, they were doing jokes [where they] intentionally let the boom mic be in the shot. I wouldn’t do that joke. I wouldn’t intentionally be bad. If our monsters look crappy, we tried to make them look as cool as we could. That’s just the limitation,” Wood says.

Whatever the budget, he adds, the artistic goals are heartfelt.

“We’re never intentionally like, ’Let’s camp it up,’” Wood says. “We’re always earnest.”