ARCHIVES: Cloudy with a chance of death – Scranton horror movie ‘Deatherman’ comes to VHS
Many horror directors have gone down in cinema history for attempting to make a good, scary film and instead producing B-movie schlock.
Bobby Keller, however, failed as a filmmaker in a much different way.
“My original plan was to make a movie so bad that it was unwatchable, but I feel like I failed in a sense because I think we did make a really good, enjoyable horror comedy. The artwork [on the cover] is amazing, but I think if you saw the artwork and said, ‘Oh, I want to see this,’ you’d still enjoy it,” Keller said of “Deatherman,” his movie with a title that speaks for itself.
“I was actually watching John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’ and I was laughing at Charles Cyphers’ character because he plays a weatherman. I was laughing at the way that he died because he gets hit with a hook,” he continued, mocking the gasping noise the actor made.
“Out of nowhere, it just came to me that there hasn’t been a killer weatherman movie. As soon as I thought that, the name ‘Deatherman’ came up and I was like, ‘I have to do it.’”
He leapt out of bed and immediately called his friends Mike Gavern and John Kasper to help him “make the crappiest movie ever made” on one of the crappiest video formats still barely available – VHS.
“I spent so much time on the floor of Blockbuster and Prime Time [Video] just reading the backs of movie cases to find out what things were about. When we started talking about doing this, this was always a movie made just for us,” Kasper emphasized.
“The whole point of ‘Deatherman’ is to give you that feeling that you had in like 1993 when you were in the horror section at the video store and you picked up ‘The Gate’ or ‘Waxwork.’ Especially on video, they rely on the cover to get you to rent it, and what you watch is not what was on the cover,” Keller added.
The Scranton natives’ intentions are quite clear from the beginning, however. The tongue-in-cheek plot involves a weatherman named Dalton Law working for Action 13 News in the fictional town of Cyphers County. He meets a young, attractive intern who, unbeknownst to him, was just released from a mental hospital and is planning on taking his job one way or another.
She gets him drunk and murders him, but she and her friends bury the body on the night of a “nuclear acid rain storm,” reanimating Dalton’s corpse and forcing laughter from the filmmakers as they recite the corny tale and the one line that stands out from the trailer: “Acid rain brought me back.”
“That is the only thing I told him he has to say, and that line, just from the trailer, is fucking huge. Everybody loves that line, and I knew it – we had to do it,” Keller enthused.
“You just accept your one motive for being reanimated is revenge and that’s it. You don’t have any connections. You almost have to acknowledge it for what it is,” Kasper said of playing the doomed meteorologist.
“I was that caricature movie monster. I wasn’t very smart; I just had very specific things that I wanted to say. That was pretty much it.”
Bonding over blood
Kasper and Keller met in sewing class in middle school, becoming good friends after discussing the finer points of “Demonic Toys” and shooting many cheesy films together over the years. The now 28-year-olds began work on their latest creation in January, writing the script in a day and improvising the rest during a shoot that lasted from March until July.
“Right along with, ‘We’re going to do a movie about a killer weatherman,’ we said, ‘It’s going to be on VHS.’ It was the compound sentence,” Kasper said of their decision to shoot completely on tape.
“A good portion of it was improvised. We had a lot of ideas on the fly. We didn’t have a lot of money to work with, so a lot of the effects are really amateur at best.”
Spending about $500 from their own pockets and using their friends as cast members, Keller played two characters while directing and Kasper handled special effects as well as the title role. Not all the effects went as planned, however, as Kasper ended up actually breaking a pool cue over Keller’s back during one scene.
“That is not a special effect. That was real. In our original plan we were going to hit the girl. I said, ‘No, just hit me,’” Keller recalled.
“It hurt so bad. I remember showing my mom the next day and she goes, ‘You know that stuff is fake in movies, don’t you?’ I couldn’t explain it to her. I like stuff like that. It was so worth it.”
Hoping for mixed reviews
Despite bleeding for their art, they know that the resulting grainy, 55-minute feature will elicit opposing reactions when it premieres at New Visions Studio & Gallery (201 Vine St., Scranton) on Saturday, Nov. 24, but that happens to be exactly what they’re looking for.
“I’m nervous to read the reviews but, at the same time, I’m excited because if they’re good, that’s great, but if they’re bad, I might even be more excited that I’m pissing people off. I’m happy with the movie and that’s all that matters,” Keller admitted.
“Everybody is going to have their own opinion on it, but we did this with a specific goal in mind and we completely nailed it as far as we’re concerned,” Kasper continued. “I want people to love it, but I want people in the next row to hate it.”
Those who haven’t even seen the finished film yet will likely fall into the former. Only releasing the film on special edition red tapes, they’ve received pre-orders from VHS fans in Indiana, Texas, California, and even the United Kingdom.
Generating T-shirts and other merchandise, response has been so great that, like most bad horror franchises, a sequel is already planned. A DVD release, however, is currently not.
“If you still have a VCR, then you have the ‘privilege’ of watching ‘Deatherman.’ It’s for fans. … And ‘Deatherman 2’ is going to happen. We have a lot of great ideas,” Keller exclaimed.
“If you like ‘Ice Cream Man,’ you’ll like ‘Deatherman.’ If you hate ‘Ice Cream Man,’ fuck off.”