In the near future, an atomic disaster has reduced the world to poverty. Instead of a government, America is run by an organization called the Merchants, who exploit the degenerate remains of society. In order to keep control of the populace, the Merchants force Dr. Paul Dean to create a new life form, a parasite that feeds on its host. Realizing the deadly potential of such a being, Dean escapes the Merchants with the parasite, infecting himself in the process. Now on the run, he travels from town to town, studying the parasite so that he can find a way to destroy it, all the while keeping one step ahead of a Merchant named Wolf, who is hunting for him. While resting in a desert town, he is attacked by a gang of hooligans, Dana, Arn, Shell, Bo, and Zeke, led by Ricus, former slave of the Merchants. The gang steal a silver canister containing the parasite, not realizing what it is, and it escapes and infects one of the members.
Meanwhile, Paul befriends a pretty young lemon grower named Patricia Welles, who promises to help him destroy the escaped parasite. Ricus, trying to save the life of his friend, comes to Paul for help, only to be confronted by Wolf. Patricia, Paul, and Ricus manage to evade Wolf, but when they return, the parasite has spread to another member and grown into a fleshy worm with a mouthful of deadly teeth. Ricus becomes a turncoat and attempts to help, but ends up getting killed by Wolf. A friendly diner owner, named Collins, comes to aid the group. After Patricia helps kill the parasite bonded to Paul by electrocuting it, the remaining parasite attacks Wolf who is then blown up by Patricia, Paul, and Collins.
Originally conceived as a 5-day Corman-type quickie remake of William Castle’s THE TINGLER, the film is the brainchild of Alan J. Adler, Frank Levering and Michael Shoob, based on an idea that grew out of an on-set gab session between Band, Adler, and actor Bob Glaudini. The plot involves a post-holocaust world run by an omnipotent corporation called Zyrex. A technician, played by Glaudini, discovers that a synthetic life-form with (what else) a dark purpose has escaped the laboratory. The technician has another beasty growing inside of him and has to find and destroy the creature before the one inside devours him.
A chance meeting with 3-D specialist Randall Larson convinced Band that the process would give PARASITE an added dimension, so to speak. And another dimension was added when Band asked Stan Winston to do the makeup effects. The production soon expanded with Irwin Yablans supplying enthusiasm and more money. Winston and his crew took two months to design the parasite itself, plus the various heads and torsos that it bores out of. Designed by Winston and sculpted by Jim Kagel, the “adult” version of the parasite (affectionately named Perry) was actually an elaborate hand puppet, operated by three people. The mechanics of the beastie were engineered by Lance Anderson, who incorporated bladders, rods and cable systems into the polyurethane monster to make it breath, snarl, quiver, flick its tail, and effect a number of startling, life-like movements.
“I hate the word ‘puppet,” said Winston, “because it means so much. The state of the art of what I do, and what Dick Smith and the Burmans do, is a combination of live-action, makeup effects and puppetry. Organic movements are the best way to animate a being, rather than by servo motors.
“There’s been a great deal of technological advancement in the creation of creatures,” continued Winston, but there’s a point after which you might get a wonderful piece of equipment with servos, drive motors, radio controls, but on screen you end up with something that looks like just what it is: a machine. The effects here are basically simplistic, but that’s part of being creative, finding the simplest and most effective way of doing things.”
When the monster was due to make an appearance, Winston would stir up a little of his special “formula” a greenish slime-to coat “Perry” before each take.
Stan and I went back to Day One, around 1974, when we were working on a film called Mansion of the Doomed. I had Stan as my effects person. When we were working on Parasite, I asked Stan to come on as FX person, even though we didn’t have any money and he came on board and did it. – Charles Band on Stan Winston
Of course, the monster was only one part of Winston’s responsibility. He also provided a clutching severed hand; the half-devoured, mummified remains of the parasite’s first victim; the emergence of the baby parasite through the lead character’s stomach; and, not one, but two incredible on camera “head-bursting” segments. And all of this in glorious 3-D.
Although 3-D has been around for some time, the new technologies are sull in their infancy. The StereoVision system has Natural-Vision lenses which give very sharp images and create dynamic stereo effects. You still have to wear a pair of polarized glasses to see the 3-D effect, but the headaches caused by lack of convergence are a thing of the past.
“We’re all learning as we go along!” said first-time director Charles Band. One of the first things the PARASITE team discovered’ was that hanging objects and tracking shots both heightened the 3-D effect. So expect to encounter a lot of hanging bric-a-brac in the film: ropes, chains, and a good deal of illogical, perhaps, but nonetheless sensational junk strung up all over the place.
The Natural-Vision 3-D lens is a far cry from the dual-camera behemoths of earlier days. The lens can even be mounted on a hand-held Arriflex. The Natural-Vision lens splits the scene into an above-and-below pair of images on a single frame. Cinematographer Mac Ahlberg worked closely with Band and Larsen to master the new process. Although there were problems.
“The lenses were unpredictable,” said Ahlberg. “We had to experiment and test. I needed about twenty-five times as much light as in other films. It must’ve been like the amount of light they used in Hollywood in the *50s and before. The slow-motion shots were a particular problem, because you need even more light.”
Another problem cropped up when it was discovered that the combination of the Arriflex BL camera with the StereoVision 3-D system made sound recording very difficult. The sound blimp (noise muffler) used for the StereoVision system created innumerable lens flares for cinematographer Ahlberg (made infinitely worse because there are two points of view in 3-D photography). Because of the low-budget, it was impractical to spend a lot of time avoiding the flares with elaborate camera lighting set-ups, so the obvious solution was to ditch the blimp.
Unfortunately, that produced another problem: the camera’s operating noise made it nearly impossible to capture useable sound on close ups. To combat this problem, four wireless mikes were used extensively on the speaking principals, and an inordinate amount of looping was required in post-production.
How does it look? Every day Band, Yablans and company would gather in the projection room to watch the dailies. All of them wearing the polarized glasses looking like the Hollywood chapter of the Devo fan club. A scene with actress Vivian Blaine comes on, showing the parasite escaping Blaine’s head in a welter of raw hamburger. Yablans turns to his director and murmurs appreciatively. “Charlie, you’ve hit a new low.”
Alan J. Adler
Robert Glaudini as Dr. Paul Dean
Demi Moore as Patricia Welles
Luca Bercovici as Ricus
James Davidson as Wolf the Merchant
Al Fann as Collins
Cherie Currie as Dana
Tom Villard as Zeke
Vivian Blaine as Miss Daley
Freddy Moore as Arn