The History of Empire Films Part Four

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Empire Pictures/Tycin Films (1986-1987)
“At the time everyone was talking high concept so I said let’s do RAPISTS FROM OUTERSPACE.” Charles Band bought the film released as Breeders as well as Mutant Hunt, which Kincaid shot back-to-back. Director Tim Kincaid was rewarded with a long term, ten picture deal with Empire in which some of the films will be made under his Tycin Films banner and others under Millennium Pictures. The latter will include some bigger budget items. Make them for under $1 million each on 10-day shooting schedules, back to back. Kincaid explained that most of the Tycin features will be produced for direct-to video sales probably through Empire’s own Wizard Video. The remaining films will see a theatrical release.

Although filmed after Mutant Hunt, Breeders (1986) was the first to land on video store shelves aided by a stylish pulp-influenced poster. Though no censors could get at his script Kincaid did have a domestic overseer. “My wife is very much into making sure that women aren’t being ripped-off in these films,” he said. “We had a lot of nudity but we weren’t brutalizing women on screen. Everything is implied. Variety speculated that BREEDERS went out on video because of problems with the rating board, but we had always planned to make it an R-rated film. Nothing has been cut for the video release.”

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The climactic scenes of BREEDERS take place in the monster’s underground lair, where it has created a nest for its victims. Kincaid filmed in a series of catacombs under the Brooklyn Bridge, used by workers who built the structure. There are vast rooms with brick and stone archways, the largest of which is a prayer room used by the men before they went into the depths to work. Kincaid learned of the location from BREEDER’s makeup effects man Ed French.

The monster’s victims were to be seen immersed in a pit of translucent slime actually gelatin. But with the actresses disrobed and immersed, the jello failed to gel. Kincaid was wary of adding the chemicals necessary for fear of harming the girls.

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“The art director jumped in a van and headed for the nearest supermarket,” said Kincaid. “He brought back ten pounds of flour and we poured it into the pit. It worked, but unfortunately it turned it white and gave the scene these sexual undertones that we never meant for it to have. The girls ended up working in the stuff for four or five hours-until 4 a.m.”

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Necropolis (1986) Reincarnated “Satanic Witch” from New Amsterdam, circa 1600’s comes back to revive her cult members by sucking the life force out of people.

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Robot Holocaust (1986) Just outside New Terra (whats left of New York City), Neo, a drifter from the atomic-blasted wastelands, and his klutzy robot sidekick arrive at a factory where slaves labor to fuel the Dark One’s Power Station. He meets Deeja, a woman (Nadine Hart) who convinces him to help rescue her father. The father is a scientist (Michael Dowend) who has invented a device that can break the Dark One’s control over the factory slaves. Gathering a motley crew of allies on the way, Neo goes to the Power Station to confront the Dark One’s evil servants.

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Mutant Hunt (1987), which Kincaid calls an adventure film with a science fiction background” finds Manhattan in a state of terror as Z, a mad industrialist, alters a squad of cyborgs with a drug known as Euphoron, turning them into crazed killers. The cyborg’s original creator is imprisoned by Z, but his sister escapes and seeks the help of Matt Riker, a private operative.

Kincaid directed MUTANT HUNT in 15 days, stretching the budget to give it more value and making up the difference by cutting corners on BREEDERS, putting that film in the can in only eight days. Empire is easily the most prolific distributor of genre films and their tactic of using both theatrical and video markets to release their product should enable them to keep a constant supply of films flowing to the fans. This is fine with Tim Kincaid, who seems to get a genuine joy out of making films, even on restricted budgets.

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The location is a large industrial type complex, eight stories high and several blocks long. The Army abandoned the terminal more than a decade ago. Today, it is the home of a noisy spice factory, hundreds of dilapidated city buses, and a small, but eager film crew. “There’s nothing like a set that doesn’t move,” says Rick Gianasi. The beefcake actor plays the film’s macho hero, Matt Riker. “This place is fabulous,” he observes.

The same location, with its scores of broken windows and rusty train tracks, conjures up a nice post apocalypse scenario on this windy and cloudy morning. Despite the atmosphere, Kincaid explains that his movie is not set in the next century. “Matt Riker: Mutant Hunt is not Road Warrior or Star Wars,” he notes, but it is in the future, only about six years from now.”

Matt Riker: Mutant Hunt certainly has its share of Fango moments, so don’t get the idea that this flick is simply another science-fiction yarn. The movie’s mutants are actually diseased cyborgs, exploited by an evil genius called Z, who eventually run amuck throughout the Big Apple. Kincaid, while looking around the set and mapping out the morning’s schedule, adds that his film will not take itself too seriously, either.

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“It’s sort of-I don’t want to say tongue-in-cheek because that term’s overused-a contemporary adventure,” he explains. “There’s not much hardware, just some lasers and effects. It isn’t knockdown, fall about-funny, but Matt Riker: Mutant Hunt has a sense of humor. The heroes are a happy-go-lucky trio of mercenaries, adventurers for hire who share a kidding camaraderie with each other. It’s a comic strip.”

The first shot of the day, which Kincaid is now planning, will take place on a concrete walkway inside a spectacular atrium that bisects the terminal. Grey buttresses jut out from both sides of the enormous hangar-like structure. Sunshine streams in from a huge skylight above, reducing the need for artificial lighting. To the left of the walkway, New York-based special effects man Matt Vogel peers over the charred remnants of Z’s dummy corpse, the victim of a Vogel pyrotechnic effect from the previous night’s lensing.

Vogel, who honed his incendiary skills on the pyromaniac horror flick Don’t Go in the House, is also contributing cyborg sparks, various fireballs and assorted gunshots. And included in his makeshift FX lab–actually his very own spot on the floor are boxes of ornaments, Christmas balls. Christmas balls?

“We have this chemical called titanium tetrochloride, ” Vogel elaborates. “When you open it up, slivers of smoke come out. It was once used for skywriting. The smoke is nice, but you can’t contain it. If I put it in a Christmas ball and seal it up, I have a titanium tetrochloride bomb. With a small explosive charge, the ball breaks and tendrils of smoke emerge. The hardest part of my job is finding Christmas balls in September!”

A few feet from Vogel’s effects “shop” is makeup man Ed French’s cluttered work area where he and his assistants John Bisson and James Chai leisurely paint some cyborg appendages. Later, French will supply an immobile six-foot cyborg “stretcho” arm, plus the diseased facial features for a cyborg duo. French took on a multiple challenge on these dual productions. Not only is he providing the special makeup effects, but Kincaid is letting him direct most of the FX sequences as well. “In terms of directing the special effects,” French reveals, “much of it is up to me. I don’t have any designs on becoming a director, but it is something I’ll have a lot to do with on these films. My storyboards are followed very closely by the editor. They’re very practical in terms of our shooting time. We can’t compete with An American Werewolf in London, but if it’s planned intelligently, we can have a lot of fun.”

French is particularly excited about a mechanical cyborg puppet that both he and Tom Lauten built for Matt Riker: Mutant Hunt. Its enticing features include a blown-away face with missing jaw, but French resists displaying this trophy, explaining that it is so fragile that he prefers to bring it out only when the cameras are rolling. Instead, visitors to the set get to see his chicken-wire-and-foam dummy, an unfortunate body that many crew members delight in kicking.

“This is our generic, all-purpose cyborg-dummy,”French announces, pointing to the abused double. “We took him apart yesterday, and pulled his arm off and had sparking as it came out of the joint. We divide him in half for an operating table scene. He also does some falling. This is body part city. We have an action scene where a cyborg knocks another’s head off, a combination dummy-puppet. We even have industrial strength cyborg blood squirting all over. It looks like anti-freeze.”

Nearby, two of the actor-cyborgs sit patiently while their bizarre crew cut hairstyles are neatly trimmed by the set’s conventional makeup artist Laurie Aiello. With their threatening height and muscular builds, these guys seem perfect for the cloneesque cyborgs, but their haircuts make them look like demented sailor boys. “We knew what we were getting into when we were offered the roles,” jokes Beta Cyborg Mark Legan, one of this production’s chiefly unknown cast. Alpha Cyborg Warren Ulaner doesn’t mind his appearance. “I was in the East Village the other night and my haircut was, more or less, conservative.” Adds French, “The makeups and designs are very stylized and give them a punk-heavy metal look.”

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“I was looking forward to playing this kind of role,” says Legan, “because these guys are as villainous as you can get. Warren does a number of nasty things to people and gets a lamp stuck in his eye. Yesterday, I got to tear somebody’s arm off. That’s more fun than saving the girl. For me, the film’s highlight will be when I attack a couple in an alley, tear the girl’s head off and roll it down the street.”

For a production that is supposed to wrap in only 10 days, things are going very slowly on this Wednesday morning. Most of the crew point to the reason: they’re recovering from late night shooting of some extra action stuff to impress Charles Band. Band flew in earlier this morning to get an advance peek at the dailies and, according to French, liked what he saw. Today’s first shot involves a short dialogue scene with the intense Z (Bill Peterson) holding a fellow scientist (Marc Umile) at laser point. Kincaid is an atypical, laidback director who stresses the “please” when he calls, “Quiet, please” as things finally get moving.

“Maybe the pace will pick up suddenly, and it will be rat-a-tat-tat, scene after scene,” predicts the hopeful Ron (New York Ninja) Reynaldi. He plays Johnny Felix, a martial arts master and electronics expert to Riker. He also doubles as Matt Riker: Mutant Hunt’s comic relief and stunt coordinator.

Following the short dialogue scenes, Kincaid readies the next few shots in which the heroine (Mary Fahey, sister of Jeff Fahey), is chased down a dark tunnel. The crew pauses for the sun to hide behind some clouds (day for night). Despite the brief delay, the director remains confident that Matt Riker: Mutant Hunt will come in on schedule.

“I plan my films like any other feature,” he notes during a lunch break. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. What you have to realize is that a Magnum P.I. even though it’s 52 minutes long and they have a bigger crew and bigger budget-goes out in seven days. Everything is carefully planned out in advance and really set up so that we know where we are going. We know how long it’s going to take to shoot each thing and how much time to allow for it. That’s why we’re shooting so radically out of sequence.”

After Matt Riker: Mutant Hunt wrapped principal photography a week later-inserts will be shot soon and Band’s California-based technicians are doing the post-production opticals. Kincaid and company immediately began Breeders, a tale of lustful aliens invading Fun City with sex, sex, sex on their otherworldly minds. Some new crew members have joined this film, along with another batch of unknown performers, including makeup man Ed French. Breeders is shooting in the same underground tunnels.

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“I think Breeders is going faster, but I don’t know why,” observes French, while preparing a shot with a grotesque half-alien/half-human baby. “Maybe it’s the script. Breeders is more elementary and straightforward. The style, which is very ’50s sci-fi monsters on the loose, almost dictates what you should do. On Matt Riker: Mutant Hunt, the script kept getting rewritten and getting bigger and more complicated. It’s an action movie with a lot of special effects. We knew Matt Riker would go over schedule a bit since it’s so ambitious.”

French steps aside to talk with his assistant, James Chai, who is lying on the dusty concrete floor for his part in bringing the monstrous puppet to life. The baby alien is appropriately disgusting, with an immense, gaping mouth running vertically down its face. A big, bulging bug eye blinks blindly. French applies some gooey methyl cellulose to its row of razor sharp teeth. Meanwhile, gun toting actor Lance Lewman and stake-wielding Teresa Farley wait for French to call action so that they can battle the crippled beastie. As on Matt Riker, Kincaid lets French direct his own special FX sequences.

Acting is another experience French is enjoying on Breeders. The occasional actor plays a doctor possessed by the aliens. Eventually, he even turns into one. “It’s really kind of exciting,” French laughs. “There was an eerie moment yesterday. I’m supposed to be hiding this little creature and then let him loose on these people. I was in the shot, so I just couldn’t step out of the scene and check out the creature. I had to stay in character and let my assistant take care of it.”

In a connecting tunnel next door, a couple of production assistants place the finishing touches on the aliens’ “nest,” a squat six-foot-square box made of foam, goo, plastic and some broken glass. The “Gigeresque” nest is where the captive women are taken. Attractive actress Francis Raines, last featured as the first victim of The Mutilator, does not mind wallowing naked in the nest for her upcoming scene as alien breeding stock.

“This stuff is like food preservative,” explains Raines referring to the buckets of methyl cellulose ooze. “It’s not like they hired 40 Ukrainian elephants to spit in there. I go through the pit and transform to become another Breeder. I can’t wait! At least, I keep away from the dirt.

“My biggest scene is where it does its transformation and chases me around this photography studio while I’m modeling swimsuits. He gets me, attacks me, and uses me. The biggest effect occurs when this stomach cord shoots out and grabs me. Its tentacles drag me away.’

French insists that Breeders is not as lewd as it sounds, while Kincaid obviously believes that sex and violence sell flicks. “I’ve always liked the lurid exploitation movies of the ’50s when I was growing up,” Kincaid remarks. “I think the time is right for them to come back, since we’re coming to the end of the wholesome-family-type science fiction that appeals to a wide range audience. Now, we have a big video market for these low-budget pictures. There hasn’t been an audience for these movies in the last 10 to 15 years… until now.”

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In addition to “tactfully” filming the alien rapes, Kincaid and French wanted an abstract look for the invaders. French based his designs on a book of insect microphotography. Most of the black-painted Breeders suit lies in sections around his ad-libbed workshop. A separate Breeders insert head is used for close-ups, and includes waving antennae. An alien hand snaps out a line like a frog’s tongue as well.

“The most challenging bit about the whole thing, and what I’m learning the most about, is integrating the monster suits into the film so that it doesn’t look like a monster suit,” explains French during a 4 p.m. lunch break. “I hate monster suits. Everytime you see this thing, we show a little more of it, like in The Elephant Man. First, you see its hand, then its shadow, a partial transformation, etc. It’s all judiciously shot and generally nightmarish. You’re not going to see a guy running around in a rubber suit.”

Monster suits or not, everyone at Entertainment Concepts is banking that Breeders and Matt Riker: Mutant Hunt serve as the first of a succession of independent New York productions all to be released by Empire… if all goes right.

“Empire has approached us about working with them as an East Coast off-shoot of their production suppliers,” Tim Kincaid reveals. “Their films are shot all over the world, Spain, Rome, California, but they don’t have a group of people to supply them from the East Coast. They like the feel and scenic look of what they’ve seen. We’re hoping it’s the beginning of a series.”

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Waldo Warren Private Dick Without Brain (1988) (The Occultist, MAXIMUM THRUST)
A cyborg private eye is hired to protect a Caribbean president visiting New York City. Unknown to him, the president’s daughter is in league with his country’s rebels who are trying to assassinate him.

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