In 1893, a young woman wears a magical bracelet and the dark shadow of an evil jinni (genie) looms over a bloody scene, foreshadowing the violence to come.
In modern day, three criminals burglarize a house owned by the now elderly woman with the magical bracelet. The criminals kill her with an axe to her face and find the lamp. A genie is released from inside and possesses the old lady’s corpse to kill one of the burglars by head butting him with the double-headed axe still lodged in the corpse’s skull. The genie finds and murders the other two intruders.
After surveying the crime scene, an officer sends the evidence, including the lamp and bracelet, for display at a natural science museum. From inside the lamp, the genie observes the museum’s curator, Dr. Bressling, cataloguing the newly arrived artifacts. Dr. Wallace’s teenage daughter, Alex, is also present and she tries on the magical bracelet. In a fit of adolescent angst, she says to her father, “Sometimes I wish you were dead!” She’s unable to take off the bracelet.
Alex’s class goes on a field trip to the museum where her dad works. The genie possesses Alex’s body and convinces her friends to go on an “outing” later to spend the night at the museum. The genie levitates Dr. Bressling’s body and decapitates him with a ceiling fan. The genie embodies more people and museum artifacts to commit acts of violence. Many bloody murders ensue. In the form of a resurrected snakeskin, he murders an opera-singing security guard. Alex’s friend, Babs, takes a bath at the museum and is killed by the demonized snakes during her bath. The genie’s true form is finally revealed as he chases Alex and her friends down the halls of the museum. Help arrives and together, they try to “destroy the lamp to destroy the jinn by throwing the lamp into the fire inside the incinerator.
At the end of the credits, the opera-singing security guard returns to take a bow.
The fantasy-horror movie The Lamp, produced by H.I.T. Films of Houston, Texas. Shot for a little more than $2 million in a little less than six weeks, the film will already have opened in most of the rest of the world by the time Skouras Pictures releases it here late this summer or early fall. According to Warren Chaney, The Lamp’s writer and producer-and Deborah Winters’ husband-that strategy enabled the film to make its money back even before a U.S. distribution deal was struck.
“This picture developed out of an old McGuffey Reader that had the ‘Aladdin and His Lamp’ story in it,” explains Chaney. “My mom used to read it to me when I was four or five years old. There was a picture of a genie in there-half-animal, half-man that wasn’t your friendly genie, and he scared me.”
Chaney went on to make his own 8mm films as a child. He later joined the Army, where he did TV shows, training films and videos and picked up a PhD in behavioral sciences. After leaving the military, he worked as a professional magician and then became involved in TV writing and production for The Fall Guy, among other programs. And even when he moved into feature production, serving as executive producer for the comedy Hunauna Bay (directed by Halloween III’s Tommy Lee Wallace), that childhood image was still working in his head. Finally, it worked its way out through his fingers and onto paper, and The Lamp was born.
“My wife had been after me for some time to do a horror movie, because she loves horror films, but I didn’t want to do a regular dice-’em slice-’em thing. So I thought, ‘What would happen if Aladdin’s lamp really existed, and what if it did grant you wishes … but instead of the fantasy that has developed around the lamp, that of the nice sweet genie that grants your wish, it’s more like the actual mythology?’”
He began researching the idea, aided by some friends in the Middle East. “The legend of Aladdin really springs up in two quarters, with two existing legends. One is Chinese, one is Middle Eastern, and they both overlap somewhat,” Chaney elaborates. “Well, I didn’t know anyone in China, so I leaned toward the Middle Eastern version, which is essentially that the genie is a spirit that can take on the form of a man or animal, and it takes on more than that. It takes on the master. According to tradition, the master literally becomes enslaved by the lamp.”
The film’s actual budget was $1.6 million but by the time the production house and studios add on to it, it was around $3 to $3.7 million-about a third of the average film budget then. But, I spent only $1.6 on the film. The film had a 6 week prep time followed by a 5 week film shoot on location.
“I was originally going to shoot the movie in Hollywood. We were going to use Marina Del Rey and dress it up as Galveston,” admits Chaney. “but Fred Kuehnert, a friend of mine I’ve known for 14 or 15 years, said, ‘Why don’t you film this story in Texas? We’d like to get involved with you.’ We ended up shooting in Houston, in Galveston and in Los Angeles. We were able to get most of our locations in Houston, but had to return to LA to shoot some scenes.”
Kuehnert, the president and cofounder of H.I.T. Films in Houston, is no novice. He was executive producer of both The Buddy Holly Story and Aurora Encounter, and before that he served a long stint in TV production. He also knew how to get films funded. The Lamp ended up getting much of its production budget from investors in Kuwait, who were, as Chaney points out, interested in the legend.
Tom Daley, the film’s director, was there from the beginning as well. A former film student at the University of Texas, where he did some palling around with Tobe Hooper, Daley has directed commercials and music videos, including Julie Brown’s “Homecoming Queen’s Got A Gun.” (“I’m infamous for that one,” he laughs.) He and Chaney met at the Milan Film Festival in Italy a few years ago, and nearly collaborated on a movie to be called Breakdancers From Mars. Says Chaney, “It was a sciencefiction parody. It was also one of those cases where I’d get one part of the funding and I couldn’t get the other, then I’d get the other and the first would fall out, so circumstances were such that we began The Lamp instead.”
In fact, Chaney, who has taught at the university level, is a bona fide film buff. He’s written articles on movies for several publications, and met his wife at a Western film convention in Memphis, where he was visiting his mother, Penny Edwards, a well-known B-Western star of the ’40 and ’50s. In conversation about The Lamp, he mentions such venerable films as Tod Browning’s Dracula, King Kong, and Howard Hawks’ The Thing. “With a name like Chaney, you have an obvious throwback to the classic horror films,” he chuckles. “I pulled a scene, slightly, from Man in the Iron Mask, there’s a shipboard scene like in Nosferatu, things like that just off and on throughout the picture. There’s a little touch of Lionel Atwill’s Mystery of the Wax Museum. And, obviously, I couldn’t leave out Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame or The Unholy Three.”
Director Daley agrees that The Lamp harkens back to some of the classic horror films in many ways, although he cites Poltergeist as well as John Carpenter’s The Thing as an influence on his approach. He also credits cinematographer Herbert Raditschmig for the film’s look, which he says is “very rich.”
Whether or not The Lamp will establish itself as the best of the independent horror crop remains to be seen. But it already can claim one distinction. “The concept is the thing that’s really different,” claims Chaney. “There has never been an evil genie movie.”
I did a few versions of the Lamp and Genie. The director just picked one. I always liked to draw mythical beasts. The Lamp is kind of based on sex. The two dragon things are having a good time! I know Chris Biggs sculpted the Lamp alone. The Lamp stayed pretty much the same during sculpture. Brian Wade, Chris Swift and Gabe Bartalos sculpted the Genie. It changed (for the better!) from the original sketch. They made it look great. It was about 10 feet tall and massive. – Barbara Anne Bock (“Genie” and “Lamp” Designer-Reel EFX)
With Chaney producing, Daley attached as director, and Winters handling the casting and functioning as associate producer, The Lamp swung into preproduction. “It was a very ambitious project and we didn’t have much time to shoot it,” says first-time director Daley, “but the crew put up with working 15, 16 and 17 hours a day. It sometimes took until 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. to finesse the mechanical FX to the point where they were successful. But overall, everything went very smoothly. We spent so much time prepping it-from January until March of last year, working on the special FX, storyboarding the picture out, and doing the casting-that it went much smoother than most.”
CGI didn’t really exist at that time as we have them today. The effects” that were added in post were mostly “animation such as the glow around the genie, the lamp clicker, smoke enhancement, etc. I knew and liked David Hewitt (Technomagic Film Effects/Hollywood Optical Systems], very much. He worked with us in post-production and some of the animation effects that were added, were his. David was a few years older than me, but being young at the time, we struck it off pretty good. He had also been involved with “stopmotion” animation and I was very tempted to go that way with the genie. Eventually, budget limitations and time overtook us, so I continued with what we had.
A five-man crew from Reel EFX (makeup FX and creature construction supervised by Gabe Bartalos and Jim Gill), in addition to the makeup and mechanical FX, also built the glass shields to keep the snakes away from the actors.
Some of Gabe Bartalos’ fondest memories of the shoot was the construction of the amazing genie and operating it on set. The sculpture, giant fiberglass molds and even foam fabrication was accomplished in Los Angeles at Reel EFX. We then trucked everything down to Huston, Texas, and set up a temporary work space. The genie was revealed in pieces, so we assembled him in sync with production. The first week just the arm was needed to burst through a wall, so Jim built an articulated aluminum armature that was inside the creature’s arm. I then painted the skin using a combination of rubber cement paint that was airbrushed on and complimented by hand painting details in PAX paint. By the time the full genie was needed, we were ready, and it was pretty impressive. The entire genie was mounted on a riser arm attached to a heavy weight dolly. Mounted on the sides of the dolly were the long controllers for the arms, torso rotation and head movement. Under the genie where his waist ended, we attached a cheesecloth pouch that had huge amounts of smoke pumped through it so it looked like the genie was floating on a column of smoke. When we pushed him through the museum at “high speed” with all of us on the dolly manipulating the creature, it was a real thrill—this was making a monster movie!
The genie was latex with foam rubber backing, sculpted from a ton and a half of clay. Its bottom part was mostly a liquid nitrogen tank; operation of the top was, according to Reel EFX’s Martin Becker, “partially pneumatic, partially hydraulic, and partially cable pull. And part of it was radio-controlled.” Becker is “fairly happy” with the work he and his crew did, although he feels that a bit more time would have served the FX better. The hardest part consisted of getting the 20-foot tall monster to move with some degree of freedom. With its elongated, fully-articulated arms stretched straight out, the three-fingered humanoid creature was 23-feet wide. The genie stands only eight feet tall. Its misty bottom was added by means of a liquid nitrogen tank connected below the waist. “The liquid nitrogen gave a nice effect, was non-toxic and didn’t smell everybody out of the room like a lot of fog generators do,” said Bartalos. “Basically, it’s 70 percent of what air is-only much colder. You only have to worry about getting frostbite.”
“The reanimated mummy” was an effect that I tackled” says Bartalos. I began by getting a store bought medical grade skeleton. I then molded its face and created a cement “positive” which allowed me to sculpt on new features. I gave the illusion that the eyes had dried into their sockets, that the skin collapsed around the bones’ high points, and that the overall texture was dried and decomposing. I then molded my facial sculptures and ran them in foam rubber. These pieces I now was able to apply to the skeleton’s face, custom made prosthetics for a skull! I added stringy white and grey hair and painted the whole skeleton with parched colors (a lot of grey and umber tones). At the same time Jim was we waist of the skeleton. He installed a cool pneumatic rig that allowed the skeleton to sit up on its own when activated. He also added a mechanism inside the jaw, so it could chomp down on one of the students’ fingers. For this effect I made a fake hand that had a blood tube concealed inside of it. In closeup you see the “Mummy” bite down on the fake hand and pierce the finger. In the wide shot it was the real actor (Scott Bankston] with his finger bent back with a prosthetic stump attached and plenty of flowing blood.
I did most of the on set gore effects. There is a scene where a lovely young lady [Damon Merrill] gets attacked by snakes while she takes a bath. I was tasked with applying nine different prosthetics to her entire body that simulated the snake bites. Right before cameras rolled, I added fresh blood dripping from the puncture holes and spritzed it with water. The added water over the blood made for a very real “bloody wet look.” One of my favorite effects was the “Night Watch-Man” character that is established as a junk food over-eater. I created a “wrap-around” prosthetic that gave the illusion that mysterious forces have slammed copious amounts of food down his throat. Once I applied this burst neck prosthetic, I placed various hard candies in the open wound: Smarties, Mints, Twizzlers, etc. Good fun.
The Lamp features a reanimated mummy, an animated skeleton and some gore FX as well, all done by Los Angeles’ Reel EFX The major effect is a 26-foot-tall genie-and, unlike the genies usually encountered in popular fiction, this one is anything but benevolent.
Hewitt’s most spectacular effect involved an animated scene in which the vaporous genie flies out of the lamp into a swimming pool, reaches up out of the water, and jerks an actor down by the legs. His favorite FX scene in the picture, however, is one that is mostly mechanical. “It’s the mummy scene in the museum, when the mummy bites the boy’s fingers off and then sits up and bites him in the throat,” he says. “The only thing we did there was right at the beginning of the scene, when the boy and the girl are running through the museum.
We added the possession part, where the green vapor flies into the room real quick and just for a split second you see the skull of the mummy glow. All we did was enhance the stuff the guys at Reel EFX did. Physical and optical effects work really well together, and when you can put the two together it really sells the effect much better.”
Like the rest of the cast and crew, Hewitt worked under time constraints, finishing the opticals in five weeks. And, though he laughs about “rotoscoping on an airplane” in order to make his deadline, he found working on The Lamp a pleasant experience. “You couldn’t ask for a nicer guy to work with than Warren Chaney,” he states. “He was real open to suggestions. He really knows the pictures back to the silent days, all the effects pictures, so we had a great deal of fun together.”
For Deborah Winters, star of such mainstream films as Kotch and Class of ’44 as well as the recent TV miniseries Winds of War, working with makeup FX was a new experience-and a not altogether pleasant one. The interesting thing is that if she could’ve found an Arab woman in Houston, she probably would have been spared.
“I had all the agents looking, and they would send me an Italian woman, and a Mexican woman, and it just didn’t work out,” recalls Winters, whose previous horror movie experience includes 1976’s Blue Sunshine. “So Warren said one day, ‘Well, I don’t know what we’re going to do. I guess we’re just going to have to have Martin Becker’s people handle this as another special effect.’ And I said, “OK, that’s fine,’ because I was fed up with the whole thing of trying to find somebody,” she laughs. “Then Warren said, ‘You can do it.’ I said, ‘I can do it?’ He said, ‘Sure. You can change your voice and no one will even recognize you; it’ll save us a lot of money and you can forget about it.’” That was how Winters found herself encased in five hours worth of makeup for four shooting days, after flying to Los Angeles and getting a head and torso cast.
“Doing makeup FX in a movie is tough,” she affirms. “I really had no idea. Between the contact lenses and the makeup, and having to sit around and wait until you can’t move and you can’t eat. . . At one point, there was smoke involved in a scene, and the FX guys blew smoke in my face and I couldn’t breathe. It was an experience. But the worst of it was the two hours it took to remove the makeup. Believe me, it was very painful. I had my Early Times with me. After doing this thing, I don’t think we could’ve found anybody that would’ve wanted to go through it.
“It was worth it, of course,” she adds. “But one day Warren told me, ‘Maybe we can do a sequel with the old lady,’ and I said, ‘Listen, brother-if you do a sequel, you can play the old lady.'”
Winters also portrays the old lady as a young girl in the prologue, and has a major role as the museum curator’s paramour. The curator is played by James Huston, and his daughter is Andra St. Ivanyi, a student at the University of Houston who gets high marks from both Chaney and Fred Kuehnert for her performance. Chaney also speaks very highly of Hollywood Optical Systems, the LA outfit that created the optical FX for The Lamp. Fans of low-budget horror and science fiction will recall Optical’s boss, David Hewitt, as the director behind the threadbare ’60s epics Journey to the Center of Time, Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors and The Mighty Gorga. For The Lamp, he and coworkers Bill Humphrey and Larry Arpin added more than 50 optical FX in post-production and, admits Chaney with a laugh, “saved my rear in a couple of places.”
According to Warren Chaney, The Lamp was the title of the film as sent to distribution. H.I.T. Films separated U.S. domestic from overseas and so “two films” were born: “The Lamp” and “The Outing.” Skouras Pictures took the pic as The Lamp and released it in theaters in the overseas markets; TMS (The Movie Store) was the domestic distributor and wanted to cut 18 minutes out of the film in order that it could run “one more time” in the theaters. The original film ran 102 minutes but after their cut, it was reduced to 86 minutes. Now, their method for editing left a lot to be desired: they merely took a pair of scissors and cut 18 minutes off the front end; they tacked on some “cheap” credits and ripped off some of John’s music (John Carpenter] and they had a pic that would run 4 or 5 times per day instead of 3. Reviews for the original were pretty good; reviews for The Outing were much less so-and I agreed with the critics.
There were some longer shots of the genie that were cut out of the original scenes but later reinserted by the studio. My belief has always been that the “less you show” the greater the fear since people worry about what they can’t see. I wanted to film much less of the physical genie; Tom wanted to film more of the creature and so shot a great deal more footage in production. When I did the final edit however, I cut much of it out but as fate would have it, both distributors (Skouras Pictures and TMS) agreed with Tom and edited much of it back into the picture. I have always believed that when you are filming creatures “less is more,” but given the success both distributors had with the film, it’s hard for me to argue against them.
Five scenes were cut from the opening of the film. The opening scenes set the picture up to be a “tall tale”—there was considerably more detail about the ship, its cargo, and what happened on the way over (however, there were no hints as to the cause … you heard the screams and the helmsman lashing himself to the wheel). In a later scene (cut from the movie), one of the hoods (played by Hank Amigo, Brian Floores and Michelle Watkins] while delivering groceries, hears the old lady talking to the lamp. It occurred prior to the scenes where she was killed. That scene set up the “killers,” her, and her mystical aspects which is misunderstood by the thugs as her having a lot of money. When the scenes were cut, the picture opened in what was probably the poorest directed segment of the film: the scenes with the hoods in the van, on the way to the old woman’s house (if I had known this, I would have destroyed that part of the print). As a consequence, there was no “logic” to the film’s story from that point forward.
The end of the movie was trimmed (some 3 minutes). The museum director’s daughter [Andra St. Ivanyi) was being taken to a local hospital (explained by Detective Charles). Given the circumstances of the killings in the museum, the police are keeping her under guard. The teacher [Deborah Winters] remains to answer questions. There is a scene of a delivery truck delivering cases of soda. When the driver handles the cases, the bottles jingle, producing the sounds of the “evil-bracelet.” What was cut earlier was a quick scene early in the film when the driver is doing the same thing as the kids enter the museum. Andra St. Ivanyi looks at the truck and then at her bracelet. At the close of the film, the same thing happens, only now it’s a deathly reminder the girl of what happened. What was cut in the final scene was the close up of the bottles clinking together and making the bracelet sound.
Directed by Tom Daley
Produced by Warren Chaney
Written by Warren Chaney
Deborah Winters as Eve Ferrell / Young Arab Woman / Old Arab Woman
James Huston as Dr. Wallace
Andra St. Ivanyi as Alex Wallace
Scott Bankston as Ted Pinson
Red Mitchell as Mike Daley (as Mark Mitchell)
André Chimène as Tony Greco
Charity Merrill as Babs
John Blake … special makeup effects artist
Ron Clark … hair stylist / makeup artist
Thomas Floutz … special makeup effects artist
William Forsche … special makeup effects artist (as Bill Forsche)
Rick Jones … hair stylist / makeup artist
Brian Wade … special makeup effects artist
Gabriel Bartalos … special effects makeup
Barbara Anne Bock … special effects makeup
Nichael Boggio … special effects makeup
Jack Bridwell … special effects contact lenses
Lesley Chaney … special effects assistant
Paul Clemens … special effects makeup
William Forsche … special effects makeup (as Bill Forsche)
Jim Gill … special effects makeup
Tom Hartigan … special effects assistant
Frankie Inez … special effects supervisor / special effects: California
Bettie Kauffman … special effects coordinator
Richard Mayone … special effects makeup
James McLoughlin … special effects makeup
Bart Mixon … special effects makeup
Frank ‘Paco’ Munoz … special effects mechanical supervisor
John Naulin … special effects makeup: California
Steven Summerfield … special effects makeup
Christopher Swift … special effects makeup coordinator (as Chris Swift)
Brian Wade … special effects makeup
It Came from the 80s! Francesco Borseti