World Gone Wild (1987) Retrospective

SUMMARY
In the nuclear ravaged wasteland of Earth 2087 water is as precious as life itself. The isolated Lost Wells outpost survived the holocaust and the inhabitants guard the source of their existence. Now an evil cult of renegades led by Derek Abernathy (Adam Ant) threatens to take over their valuable water supply. And the villagers are no match for such brute military force. Only one man can help the stricken community – a mercenary living in a distant cannibal city. But even he, and his strange henchmen, may not be able to survive in the world gone wild.

DEVELOPMENT
Tucson, Arizona. Thirty miles out in the desert, and you go back a hundred years. During daylight, the springtime desert is austerely beautiful, rolling hills touched with green, the cactus in bloom and the sky crisp and clear. After dark, it’s eerie; the cholo and ocotillo, twisted and angular, are like plants from a Gothic nightmare; jack rabbits hide from car lights behind great clumps of beavertail cactus, just now beginning to form their cherry-red “prickly pears.” Bats circle bright lights, snatching at insects. The dirt road is packed hard, sticky from the rain the night before. It’s easy to imagine coyotes caroling from the low hills nearby, and to picture Wyatt Earp riding by on his way in from Tombstone.

But up ahead, surrounding dozens of brilliant lights and itself surrounded by camper-trailers, is the wreck of present-day civilization: a huge wall of abandoned, rusting cars. Cars of all sorts, station wagons, sedans, a school bus, stacked three cars high. This wall is an immense oval surrounding an old service station, an odd house on stilts, and other car bodies obviously used as huddling places by human beings. A light wind blows, scuddling smoke over and through the wall of cars. People rush here and there in the desert night, carrying cables, boxes, chairs labeled with familiar names. The setting has a sense of purpose, of community for this is the location for Apollo Productions’ venture into the action-science fiction market. World Gone Wild.

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The movie is set after the bombs have fallen, 50 years since it last rained. Led, or at least advised, by hippie-like Ethan (Bruce Dern), Lost Wells, a peaceful settlement, is located near one of the few working wells. Their peace is threatened by an attacking mob on motorcycles, the “Cadets,” led by fanatical Derek (Adam Ant). Ethan and Angie (Catherine Mary Stewart), the community’s naive school teacher, go to a lawless city nearby to recruit’ dangerous men, hoping they can repel the forthcoming revisit by Derek and his Cadets. Ethan first persuades George (Michael Pare), once virtually his son, to join them. Others, including Exline (Rick Podell), pyrotechnician Chuck (Julius Carry), a big bruiser (Alan Autry), and Ten-Watt (Anthony James), a heroic cannibal, join the trek back to Lost Wells and the showdown with Derek.

Lee H. Katzin, veteran of many SF TV movies and episodes, is directing; it’s the first produced screenplay of Jorge Zamacona who’s on the set constantly, almost unheard-of for a writer. Producing is Robert Rosen, an affable man who worked his way up to producer from the lowly position of second assistant director. When your story is set in a time when it hasn’t rained for 50 years, it’s practical to set it in a desert, right? In this case, maybe wrong. Not only did it rain several times, but also snowed. Rosen admits that a line will have to be added to the movie explaining that although it hadn’t rained in decades, there were often dark, threatening clouds overhead. The setting is very familiar, of course Road Warrior territory, heavily plowed by Italian imitations, with a plot remarkably similar to The Magnificent Seven. And no one is denying this.

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Handsome, witty Jorge pronounced “George” rather than “Hor-hay” Zamacona cheerfully admits to his inspirations. “It started as a writing sample,” he says. “I wanted to show that I could write action, and to set it in a milieu that lent it to not having to stick in contemporary elements. Putting it in the future allowed me to do many things that I wanted. Also,” he smiles, “I had seen The Magnificent Seven and The Road Warrior a thousand times.”

He’s very happy with the film and the people who are making it. He’s 27, and although he has written for both St. Elsewhere and Miami Vice, World Gone Wild is something special. “This is,” he claims, “probably the best experience I’ll have having a picture produced. It has been very satisfying. The first day I got here, I walked around to each of the construction guys and I thanked them.”

World Gone Wild is clearly a film made with a sense of commitment. “Everybody involved has approached it as a labor-of- love,” Bob Rosen says. “We had the wardrobe people working by themselves, nobody told them to do this three consecutive days without one hour of sleep. We’ve had our construction crew, because of meeting deadlines and the rain, working Sundays and nights. Not because we ordered them to, but because they thought they could make the town better.”

So what makes this Road Warrior look-alike different from the others? The distinguishing factor, Lee Katzin says and so does everyone is “we hope, the humor. We’re trying to stay away from the biker idea of The Road Warrior. We hope it verges on literacy in its humor, which is not a put-down of the Mad Max films.”

Rosen, a good-humored and ingratiating man, tells what drew him to the script. “I like all the invention that’s there, I like the humor, compared to other films that might fall into this genre. Our picture’s irreverence may far exceed anything that I’ve seen. I mean, when was the last time you were rooting for a cannibal?” Rosen is sure World Gone Wild will be better than his previous SF thriller, Prophecy, which he candidly admits was “horrible.”

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BEHIND THE SCENES
Bruce Dern, lean, intense and focused, with a face like the business end of a hatchet, always tells the truth, on screen and off. His character, he says, is “just a guy who’s a survivor, who has outlived his time. He is the Haight-Ashbury survivor of 80 years in the future. He remembers what it was like in the ’70s and ’80s.

“Essentially, my character is a guy who is apart from everybody else, and lives up in the little hut there, overlooking the town. I’m the only person who knows how to control the water. And Ethan always does what he does with a smile, and a laugh, and a little bit of an up epigram for everything.”

When Ethan (Dern) finds George in the lawless city scenes shot in small Bisbee, Arizona, where some residents protested the movie company’s presence they meet other players in the drama, who are running a wild scam. In a big arena for a prize of water, Exline outdraws those who challenge him and always wins. “He has never lost in I don’t know how many years,” Dern says. “George is the 9,343rd person to fight against him. We’ve just seen a guy killed, so when we walk in, I figure it out, and it’s real simple.” Dern seems as pleased with his character’s accomplishment as if he himself had spotted the scam.

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“Exline can’t outdraw anybody. Before his gun clears, the other guy has already been shot.” Ethan assures George it’ll be a breeze. “Hey, you ever see a curtain with feet? So, when they say ‘one, two, three, draw,’ George just shoots the curtain. And this other guy with a rifle falls out dead.”

Dern was drawn by the script’s humor and by its humanity. “The movie is really about the love and affection that grows between these guys we round up and the townspeople, who were scared when they first arrive because they look like a horrible bunch of bad banditos,” Dern says. But the newcomers find as they train the townspeople in various skills, including the flinging of killer hubcaps, they may have finally arrived home.

Michael Pare, in his tight blue leather trousers as heroic loner George, talks while makeup man Bob Burman strips away the Don Johnsonian beard stubble and various gnarled scars. He has a clear grasp on his character. “George Landon considers himself the prince of a city of decadence,” Pare says. “Ethan raised this guy, taught him all the ways of a soldier to get by in this savage world. George wandered into the city and started to take advantage of all that Ethan taught him.”

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As Pare talks, it’s easy to understand how this former chef, who became an actor almost by accident, literally being discovered in a bar, has managed to make a career for himself. He believes in his roles. “My character has become completely black; he has never dealt with anything positive, so he’s not aware that he’s a bad guy. He has just been surviving, getting along in the only way that he knows. Then, he’s exposed to those good-natured, sweet people at Lost Wells, and he sees that there is a better way.” When he falls in love with Angle, it’s the attraction of opposites: “She’s going that way and I’m going this way, and we meet in the middle.”

Pare, up close, is even more handsome; his muscular build, his sea-green eyes and sculpted face are those of a hero, of a star. Pare first made a quick one-two-three impact in Eddie and the Cruisers, The Philadelphia Experiment and Streets of Fire. More recently, he started his TV series Houston Knights. He sees himself in the classic hero mold, and likes playing in SF movies “because they are hero movies, and I like playing heroes.”

Julius (Nitro) Carry
Julius (Nitro) Carry

“Working with Bruce Dern and Michael Pare was a lot of fun. Running around in the desert for three weeks wearing metal chainmail was not. Just when I had gotten used to the heat, we moved to nights and there I was wearing this spandex outfit and freezing my butt off. -Julius (Nitro) Carry  

Catherine Mary Stewart, relaxing in another ubiquitous, almost identical Winnebago-like dressing room, is bubbly, friendly, intelligent and, of course, very attractive even more so off-screen than on, because she’s so charming. There’s virtually no emotional distance between her and her interviewers; she’s warm and down-to-earth. Her character, she explains, is the schoolteacher at Lost Wells. “Which has,” she jokes, “a lost well, very original. Angle was born and raised there, she has never seen anything outside of Lost Wells, but unfortunately. Angle discovers that the world is completely the antithesis of Lost Wells. She isn’t slowly eased into what’s happening Out There, it’s like smack! right into the middle. When she leaves the town, she finds out that it is actually a [in a deeper voice] World Gone Wild. Isn’t it amazing how I included the title like that?”

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Adam Ant is very quiet, serious and thoughtful about his career as an actor, which he is developing with extreme care, taking only roles that don’t relate to his image as a rock star. As Derek, he admits, he’s “really just the antagonist. We assume some machinery is still available, videocassettes, libraries and some books. Derek’s just unfortunately picked the wrong books and videocassettes on which to base his life.”

It is, in fact, one book in particular, and this is sure to be the most controversial aspect of this SF film: It’s L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics. Derek uses the book to exert a powerful grip on his worshipful Cadets, cultish teenagers dressed in white, who ride off-trail bikes. Derek employs “preaching, teaching, brainwashing and violence,” Adam Ant admits. “He beats them into submission, gets them terrified, and then does it. It scares me, in the way it’s written.”

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Though he prefers to read history and biography. Ant is a fan of science-fiction films. His favorite is Blade Runner, though he also likes Le Dernier Combat, THX-1138 “and of course, A Clockwork Orange.”

Director Lee. H. Katzin began, like his longtime friend Bob Rosen, as an assistant director, and in that capacity worked on The Outer Limits and The Birds. Alfred Hitchcock, he says, “for whatever reason, took a shine to me” and Katzin learned everything from him. He directed the pilot movies for Space: 1999, The Stranger and Man from Atlantis, among others. Katzin was offered the TV movie pilot for Star Trek: The Next Generation but turned it down because of his involvement in World Gone Wild.

Katzin loves science fiction, written as well as filmed, speaking familiarly of Robert A. Heinlein, A.E. Van Vogt and others. What he likes best about World Gone Wild is that it’s “a futuristic Western and a morality play.” He’s happy with his cast, finding Pare “marvelously responsive,” and Catherine Mary Stewart a “sensitive actress who can do anything.”

He directs a scene with Pare and Dern, now clad in a flowing grey robe. It’s the big fight, and Pare is wounded in the shoulder. The young actor cheerfully goes through the rough-and-tumble scene several times before Katzin is satisfied.

“On this film,” he says, “we’ve had many production problems, but, at the moment, we’re going along OK. There’s a great deal of Fellini in it, a great deal of madness, and hopefully a feeling that man will survive.” With a hippie as a leader? “Maybe that’s the answer,” Lee Katzin smiles. He returns to the set as bats wheel overhead in the chilly Arizona night.

51vG8Wt3whLMy next job was World Gone Wild, which had Lee Katzin as director, who was the assistant director on Stoney Burke. Bob Rosen was the producer, who was Mr. Frankenheimer’s producer on Black Sunday. It was a futuristic movie where I played the old sage. We shot it outside of Tucson. I had two costars who were absolutely the most fun guys I ever worked with: Michael Paré, who was a fabulous guy, should have been a major movie star. He starred in a movie for Walter Hill called Streets of Fire, with Diane Lane, in which he was pretty good, a good looking, big physical guy; and Adam Ant, who had just broken up the rock band, Adam and the Ants. I had no idea how big a star he was until we walked in the hotel one night and girls just descended on this guy. He’s a little black-haired kid from Brighton, England. Adam and the Ants were huge. They were as big as Freddy Mercury and Queen. My wife and her mom were there, and Adam Ant was with these Druid-looking, black-haired girls, who looked like tiny, thin vampires. They were white-skinned, nasty-looking little girls, and they were pledged to him, and he said, “Whatever you want, Bruce.” I said, “Well, my wife and my mother-in-law …” “Whatever you want, whatever they want.”

 There was a big lightning storm one night. All the lights went out, and we were in the huge hotel lobby, much like the Ahwahnee in Yosemite with high ceilings and a rock fireplace. It was like musical chairs. Everybody was running for the chairs to sit on, and my motherin-law, Violet Rose, runs for a chair, sits down, and starts squirming because she’s sitting on someone. She gets up and says, “Oh my God, I’m sorry,” because she’s sitting on Wynonna Judd. Adam Ant sits down on Naomi Judd. She says, “Wynonna, Adam Ant is sitting on my lap! Can you believe it? If only it was the other way around!”

We had a lot of fun. Filming was arduous, because the story was apocalyptic. The bad guys are pursuing us, we’re defending our little gas station, which is nothing-a rubble of tires – and these fifty bikers dressed in white sheets are attacking. We’re staving them off. There’s fires, burning tires, and all kinds of shit. In the middle of it, Michael Paré and I are back to back. He’s got a zip gun, and I have a cane that shoots lightning rods. He says, “Are we going to go down? You think this is what it was like at the Alamo?” And I say, “Well, we’ll always have Paris.” The whole movie was like that. The script writer, Jorge Zamacona, wrote funny shit. His mom was a biker from Milwaukee, a leather chick, who was tough, and into guys. She ran off with a crew member. Jorge wasn’t a biker. He had a wife and lived in Hollywood and was just trying to be a writer. The script, Katzin, and Rosen were the reasons I did World Gone Wild. – Things I’ve Said, But Probably Shouldn’t Have: An Unrepentant Memoir-Bruce Dern

LOCATIONS
The vintage, Woodstock element of Dern’s character is reflected in the set decoration by production designer Don Harris. In constructing Lost Wells, Harris depleted the Tucson area’s supply of junk cars, which serve as the community’s buildings and habitats. The most impressive of these “immobile” homes is Dern’s, built from a 24 foot trailer box with a porch made out of a flatbed truck, elevated 15 feet off the ground. The trailer box is littered with items like rock posters from the ’60s, (Hendrix, Joplin,etc.), a collection of tail lights, silver renderings of the Last Supper, old TV sets, and a working microwave oven powered partially by a windmill which stands in the center of town. Even Ethan’s car, a 1949 Pontiac Woody station wagon evokes a bit of the past preserved in the future.

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SPECIAL EFFECTS
“One day I received a call from producer Bob Rosen of Apollo Films, asking me to do the makeup effects for World Gone Wild. The call was right out of left field, but I accepted the offer.”

“Most of what we did on that show was similar to what has been done before,” explains Burman, who spent five weeks on location. ‘‘There were scores of cut throats, a dismembered arm and things like that. It was all pretty standard stuff, but even though it has all been done before does not mean it wasn’t a challenge. Special effects are totally unpredictable . You never know when you build something whether it will work. Nearly 90 percent of what we did on the film was fairly simple straight makeup, performed daily on as many as 150 extras, but we did have a couple of things that kept us in suspense.”

One nerve-wrecker was a scene in which a villain gets his throat slit by a hubcap thrown frisbee-style. “We used a real hubcap and cut a U shape out of it to fit the throat,” discloses Burman. explaining the particulars of the effect. ‘‘We put an appliance over that and mounted the hubcap on a fiberglass plate. When it was attached to the actor’s neck and blood was pumped out through two concealed tubes, it gave the appearance of the neck being struck and sliced open. A quick camera pan through space that stops on the actors completes the illusion of the hubcap being thrown and striking.”

A similar approach served the scene in which a person has his jugular severed by the business end of a broken bottle. “We took an appliance, put it over a blood bag and stuck the whole thing on another fiberglass plate.‘’ reports Burman. “When the breakaway bottle was jabbed into the appliance, it exploded into a real bloody wound.”

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Burman and his assistants Barney Burman. Bob Smith, Annie Mayo and Chris Bergschneider were given a reprieve from the tiresome routine of “putting a little foundation makeup on actors every day” when it came time to make up the futuristic punks that swell the ranks of the biker bandits. “With the bad guys, it was no-holds-barred, as far as what we could do. We gave the actors all kinds of strange scars, cuts and painted patterns. Some of them look downright weird. But I don’t want to blow the surprise for the audience, so you’ll have to wait and see for yourself.”


Opening Title Song “A World Gone Wild – Chequered Past”

He sums up his World Gone Wild experience as an interesting if not overly challenging one. Except, he laughs, in one delicious respect: “The most difficult thing we had to do on that picture was to come up with a good, edible substance for the scene where one of our characters eats a scorpion. Now, that was rough.”

CAST
Directed Lee H. Katzin
Music Laurence Juber
Cinematography Don Burgess
Written Jorge Zamacona

Bruce Dern as Ethan
Michael Paré as George Landon
Catherine Mary Stewart as Angie
Adam Ant as Derek Abernathy
Anthony James as Ten Watt
Rick Podell as Exline
Julius Carry as Nitro
Alan Autry as Hank
Mindy McEnnan as Kate
Bryan J. Thompson as Matthew

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Fangoria 71
Starlog Magazine#124
Cinefantastique v18n02-03
Starlog Magazine#204

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