The Creator of Blood Orgy Talks to Me
Friday, November 26, 2010 | by Waldfield
I’ve already interviewed several people on the cast and crew of Blood Orgy of the Leather Girls. I did not think I would ever get to interview its writer/director — much less that he would be so witty, or that he would still after all these years have so much to say about the movie! I didn’t have a seven-year-long crush on him like I did for both Robin and JoAnn, but this actually still managed to become my favorite interview of the five. A lot of stuff comes up during it that should completely fascinate any fan of the movie. Have a read.
Michael Lucas had quite an important role in the making of Blood Orgy: he directed it! And wrote it. The credits might say otherwise, attributing those roles to Meredith Lucas and Sarah Dicken, but as it was eventually revealed, neither of those people existed. The movie was entirely Michael’s brainchild. Since then, he’s also published two books and been in more bands than I could keep track of.
Wallid H. Fielding: So Michael, thank you for agreeing to the interview. I’ve been a fan of your work since before I even knew that it was in fact your work. We should probably start there — what was your reasoning for crediting the creation of the film to fictional people, and females at that? This one website speculated that it might be due to embarassment on your part. I always guessed it had more to do with the way people would view the gender aspects of the film.
Michael Lucas: You are correct: the film was attributed to women in hopes that it would be taken as a sufficiently serious, though rather muddled, feminist statement. I was hoping that so doing might make distribution to the art house circuit viable: even though playing the St. Francis Cinema on Market Street would have been personally gratifying, I knew that the production values I could afford would be unacceptable to the action/horror/exploitation houses, and that the only way this would ever get seen was as an indie/art movie.
Another reason that I had my sights optimistically set on art house distribution was that there seemed much ado about violence against women in B films, and I had some gadfly notion about seeing how people would react to a movie that predominately featured women committing violence against men with no real justification (as opposed to vengeance for rape, murder, or rape and murder wheeze — I might as well mention that Savage Streets, which I saw at the St. Francis Theater with Robin Gingold and possibly Jo Ann Wyman, was a major inspiration on Blood Orgy, both positive and negative).
It seemed to me that a male-directed (what direction there was) violent feminist film would be too easily dismissed as not being “genuine” (it might have been more viable in the atmosphere after Camille Paglia’s popular ascendance). I had a friend set to play the part of Meredith Lucas, and shot some interview footage with her for a “making of” promo short. That wound up being seeming like too much trouble when the film wasn’t getting any real distribution, so I went with the despondent director’s suicide so that it wouldn’t be necessary to produce her. [What a story! I wonder if that footage still exists? It's not too late to give this character a face, Michael.... –Wal]
Incidentally, this was largely inspired by the suicide of J.G. Patterson Jr.: I might have gotten the details wrong, but I understood that he was despondent over failure to get distribution for Doctor Gore and being thusly unable to repay the financial backers of the movie (was it somewhere implied that the money was loaned by Southern mobsters? I can’t recall, as it’s been many years since I saw this on VHS with the Herschell Gordon Lewis introduction that might have touched on that).
I asked Mr. Lewis about it as diplomatically as possible (when a jug band I’m in backed Mr. Lewis on the theme from 2,000 Maniacs a few years ago for a couple of appearances he was making in San Francisco), but I didn’t want to put too much of a damper on the proceedings so didn’t press it after Mr. Lewis’ response that it was very unfortunate, which it certainly was.
It’s all the more unfortunate that it was over Doctor Gore, for criminy’s sake: sacrificing oneself on the Altar of Art is tragic enough, but the notion of doing so for the sake of Doctor Gore — or Blood Orgy of the Leather Girls — seasons the pathos of the story with a dash of bathos. [Wow! Who would have guessed that Michael Lucas has met with Herschell Gordon Lewis?? Or that he would craft some wordplay around two ancient greek terms? –Wal]
WHF: For the record, just how much of the movie would you estimate was your creation? Did any of the actors add to their characters beyond what you had put in the original script? Were any sequences embellished or shortened at the behest of other people?
ML: A gut quantification would be 50%, more or less. The three main characters were basically written for the actresses and with the dynamics of their existing friendships in mind, which made it easier for them to deal with the lack of preparation, direction, and extra takes.
Jo Ann had to do the biggest stretch to fit the role of Fleabrain, but she was game to go for the laughs of playing the stock role of the muscle that lets others do the thinking (and, since it was a stock role, she easily understood what was required).
A lot of what I think is worthwhile about the movie (but what do I know?) is that it captured certain intangible elements of the time and place, which is certainly nothing that I can take credit for. I suspected (or, rather, hoped) that this would be the case while making the movie, as it was something that struck me (and continues to strike me) about a lot of movies that weren’t especially good but that I nonetheless found compelling.
The “script” was basically a collection of notes. For some dialogue scenes, I would give a copy to the performers, but they were generally given great latitude in how they said what they needed to convey. Exceptions include the manifesto delivered before the drill sequence, the ruminations of the gang members at the conclusion, and most of Phillip Silverstein (Inspector Morton)’s narration (the “fleas… on a bit of dig rust” was all his, after I told him to just come up with something philosophical about things not working out as planned, then having the camera run before he had time to actually formulate anything). I gave Owen Maerks (Prof. Kemhold) his bit of narration but encouraged him to expand upon it, which he did (the talon-like fingernails and shopping sprees at Macy’s were among his additions).
The specifics of the “action” scenes were generally figured out by my scouting a location and coming up with what could be done with it, sometimes on the same day that we were shooting.
So ultimately, much of the movie is a result of letting circumstances dictate what happened, though I’m more than willing to take credit for whatever doesn’t work (which I guess would be significantly more than 50%).
WHF: One other thing I’ve always wondered: to what extent would you say you’ve created a feminist film? The violence in the film is clearly gendered. The Leather Girls read classical feminist literature. There’s even a dedication to Susan B. Anthony. How seriously should we take all of this? Do you yourself have any background in feminism?
ML: I would consider it feminist, despite containing more than a few goofs on certain types of doctrinaire feminism, but again, what do I know?
The impetus for the movie was something of a reaction to Dworkin-esque feminism, especially as it evinced itself in San Francisco art houses where a certain cadre of women at the time felt the need to express their displeasure with any statement or action in a film that they regarded as improper by hissing or clucking their tongues loudly. This would be regardless of whether it was being presented in the film as a positive, negative, or neutral (simply reflecting the mores of the time in which the movie was made) and struck me as ridiculous as well as annoying. They were sitting in an audience of people who were completely sympathetic with their progressive and enlightened blah blah blah, and the characters in the movie obviously took no notice, so I didn’t understand the point of making a big deal out of letting everyone in the theater know that the movie was making you miserable.
I don’t recall the classic feminist literature, though I guess there might have been a copy of The Second Sex in one of the piles of paperbacks in one of the girls’ rooms.
Susan B. Anthony seemed to be neglected by feminists of the time, though my impression was probably based on no more than conversations with a few people taking women’s studies courses. In fact, it was probably just one such student that I came across who didn’t know who Susan B. Anthony was despite being on the dollar coin. The fact that the Susan B. Anthony dollar seemed to be so disliked probably also had something to do with my choice. At any rate, I didn’t want to dedicate it to any modern feminist icons, as it would likely cause the movie to be dismissed by any adherents to the doctrines of competing icons. It’s quite amusing to recall how big I was thinking. [I've had a lot of conversations with a lot of friends about the Susan B. Anthony dedication... none of our theories even came close to the truth! –Wal]
My background in feminism? My readings in feminism have been a result of an interest in people’s beliefs, motivations, etc. My beliefs? Most people in the world seem fairly worthless, once/if you get to know them well enough (call Fox News – you’ve got an unrepentant elitist here), but I haven’t found women to be statistically more prone to being among the worthless. Is that feminism? Probably not.
WHF: What was the genesis for this whole movie? Where did you get these ideas from? Was there some sort of “mission statement” guiding your vision of the film? Were the characters designed with any specific goals in mind?
ML: Besides what was mentioned above, I wanted to shoot something in 16mm, as I wasn’t creative enough to overcome the limitations of Super 8. I was a fine of Juvenile Delinquency (JD) films, especially girl gang movies, and it occurred to me while watching Robin, Jo Ann, and Melissa walk down a suburban street (looking pretty much as they do in the movie) that I should make the movie around them. I was always tickled by gang and biker movies that had small gangs.
As you can see, the answer to your second question is kind of spread out among the answers to some of the other questions, but I’ll add that I wanted the characters to be assertive enough that it didn’t matter to them that they killed a handful of people over a rape that didn’t happen. In the Death Wish movies, no innocent person ever gets hurt by Bronson: if someone were doing that one man vigilante shit in real life, he’d be certain to fuck up at some point and hit some kid with a stray bullet, right? As I mentioned, Savage Streets was a major inspiration, both in its ridiculousness (Where does the crossbow come from? Shouldn’t that have been prefigured somehow?) and in its use of showing violence against women in order to justify the violence against men. I just thought it would be interesting to remove the violence against women and present the violence against men without that justification. [I always really liked the unprovokedness of the violence in Blood Orgy. You don't see a lot of film protagonists do that stuff. –Wal]
WHF: Also, where did you get the money from? Although Blood Orgy appears to be a no-budget film at first glance, it actually has a number of expenses that true no-budget films lack. The wrecked car windshield, the sheer number of guns, the gore effects….
ML: A little bit of savings at the beginning, then from working (I borrowed some money, but paid it back before the movie was finished). That’s why it took four years. Total cost was about $10,000: it would have been much more had I gone beyond the workprint stage, but I didn’t have the money for that; I was hoping that some distributor would find the thing promising enough to pick up the tab to do all then necessary post-production stuff. I had a couple of shady characters who expressed some interest, but nothing came of them (one of them thought it was releasable, but thought the butt-drilling would have to be cut).[In my opinion, you made the right choice not to cut what is after all the central image of the entire film. That's distributors for ya! –Wal]
Troma expressed a willingness to take it, though I wouldn’t receive anything but the satisfaction of them putting it out (probably straight to video): at least they were upfront about it. They also indicated that there would need to be a scene where a couple of the girls get naked together, which was out of the question for two reasons:
I was studiously avoiding any indication of Lesbianism on the part of the characters: I wanted their hatred of men to be more philosophically based, as that seemed a lot more interesting than the overused “man-hating dyke” device. [Agreed! I always found that to be one of the more subtly compelling aspects of the film. –Wal]
I was certain that the actresses would not go for it, especially at that stage of the production, when everyone was tired of dealing with the film and with me. This was exacerbated by the fact that a lot of the people involved in the film were getting more and more into (for lack of a better term) a quasi-hippie “bag” during a period of about six months when I was driving a cab on the night shift (fifty hours a week, to pay up debts as well make money to keep working on the movie). I wasn’t that into what they were doing and they were doubtless sick of me. It should be mentioned that working nights makes one rather prone to feelings of alienation, especially from people who are living normal hours.
[What a fascinating story! The Troma part especially. One, because I would never have imagined this movie going anywhere near as big a company as Troma (no offense meant), and two, because Troma's response to the movie was almost identical to their response to Trey Parker's Cannibal! The Musical. As Trey describes it in the preface of Make Your Own Damn Movie, he got the same "Don't expect to get anything more than exposure out of the deal" speech. Now, there are two key differences in the stories: Trey said yes to the money-less distribution offer, and Trey was never asked to add nudity to his movie. (Apparently, since there is none in the movie.) For a while I wondered how Blood Orgy's legacy would have been different if Lucas had said yes to Troma's offer. Certainly it would be more popular, right? Troma is pretty big. Then I realized — no. The reason people have heard of Cannibal isn't because of Troma's label on the box; it's because Trey later went on to make South Park. I mean you can find dozens of movies in Troma's catalogue that nobody's ever heard of. By show of hands, who (uh, besides me) has ever seen Meat for Satan's Icebox? I think I'm getting off track; let's get back to the interview. –Wal]
I’m very happy that the minimal budget seemed impressive. The car was an unregisterable beater that I bought for $50 (though I also got a $75 fine for driving it after purchasing it). There are only two guns: my .38 and a friend’s shotgun. The other guns are toys. I thought the gore effects looked as cheap as they were, though the ass was rather effective: I spent a few bucks experimenting with various corn-syrup based fake blood recipes, there are some cheap meat byproducts, and the body parts were readymades that had a little extra effort put into making them look better. For example, the ass in the drill scene was a novelty costume ass (this sort of thing, but a little better) with some underarm hair glued on (there may have been a zit or two painted on, and a dab of Hershey’s fudge around the ring: I don’t recall). Underneath the fake ass was a bucket of intestines with a little fake blood and Hershey’s fudge at the top. Total cost was less than $10.
WHF: Robin Gingold was equivocal when I asked her this next question, and you might literally be the last person on earth who can help me with it. I’ve been wondering for seven years. Is the line at the end of this clip read correctly or not? Did the original script say “perpetuated and perpetrated,” or was it just “perpetrated”?
ML: The line as given to her was indeed “perpetuated and perpetrated”: I recall being a little amused when writing that at being able to combine legal and political/philosophical terminology, as it seemed a certain untoward gravity to throw into the scene. I don’t recall if the slight stumble was intentional, though. [Woah!!! Well there goes seven years of wondering finally put to rest. Unless of course Michael is making that up to save face... maybe I can keep wondering for just a few years longer.... –Wal]
WHF: My research tells me you have at least two unfinished films under your belt: “Teen Rasputin” and “Go Baby Go… Or Go To Hell!” How close to completion are these films, are there any others I don’t know about, and will they ever be released to the public? (I can offer you free web hosting if you’re interested!)
ML: “Teen Rasputin” was one of my Super 8 projects. Most of the footage from that shows up as the movie being shown at the drive in. “Go Baby Go… Or Go To Hell!” was in 16mm and abandoned due to my singular lack of screen presence. After Blood Orgy, I had determined that it was a bad idea to impose on actors over the course of several years, so I decided to make myself the lead, since I would always be available. After several weekends of shooting, I decided that the footage just wasn’t that good and decided to cut my losses rather than subject myself to what promised to be a similarly grueling and unrewarding experience again. [Free web hosting... the offer's still on the table! –Wal]
WHF: You’ve also published two books that I know of: “Rock Stardom for Dumbshits” and “Devil Born Without Horns.” Do you want to plug those books? Tell us what they’re about, and all of that?
ML: Love to plug! http://www.rudosandrubes.com
“Devil Born Without Horns” is a neo-noir with lots of dark humor (well, I thought it was funny), and “Rock Stardom For Dumbshits” is a humorous (see previous parenthetical note) but all-too-true examination of the world of rock, conceived by my dumbass surf band, the Phantom Surfers. I also published a short story collection by Johnny Strike (late of the band Crime) with illustrations by Richard Sala, and reprinted “The Guilt of the Templars” by Gershon Legman and three novels by Hal Ellson, one of the (if not the) all-time great writers of JD fiction.
WHF: And tell us about your bands now… The Mummies, The Phantom Surfers, The Wild Breed… am I missing any? Are any of them still together and touring?
ML: The Mummies are friends; I’m not sure why it’s widely thought that I’ve ever been in the Mummies (though half the Mummies have wound up currently in the Phantom Surfers). [Whoops. –Wal] The Phantom Surfers still play, though work and family commitments usually keep it down to one tour a year and we’d generally rather go to Japan, South America, or Europe than spent one and a half to two weeks in a van traversing the ill-maintained highways of the U.S. so we can experience Missoula on a Tuesday night (though I like Missoula). Some people regard that as being unfaithful to the Rock Credo… so be it.
I’m also in The Highlander Twos (hillbilly punk), Hiroshi Hasegawa’s Poontang Wranglers (the jug band that back H.G. Lewis, and we’ll play at the drop of a nothing — in fact, we prefer playing places we’re not wanted), and Sir Dance A Lot (still play once every year or two when someone’s fool enough to ask). The Wild Breed have played a few reunion shows in the last three or so years.
WHF: Last question: can you talk about the legacy you view this movie as having? How have the last 22 years been to it? Have you gotten any strong reactions to it? From friends, family members, strangers, or more recently the internet?
ML: I think I managed to set up a situation (or series of situations) where, of necessity, a film resulted that was not too unlike many that I was stylistically emulating: Glen or Glenda, Mars Needs Women, Rat Pfink A Boo Boo, The Color of Pomegranates, Maniac (the 1934 film), various Corman films (though his films of course look much better, even when extremely cheaply done). I’m satisfied with that, as well as that it has gotten better with age as I suspected it would (to those who think it’s bad now, you should have seen it in 1988), though, as mentioned above, that’s nothing for which I can take credit. Other than that, it’s done and long out of my hands: if people are able to derive something from it akin to what I’ve derived from the above films, I’m very glad for that.
Yours is the strongest (and most perspicacious) reaction I’m aware of, I must say. [Awesome!!! I always suspected as much but it's nice to have official confirmation. My friend Amanda and I have been joking for a while that I might actually be this film's biggest fan. Like, people say "I'm your biggest fan" to celebrities all the time, but it may genuinely be true in this case. –Wal]
WHF: Thanks again!
And if that wasn’t enough content for ya, a few other points came up during subsequent e-mail exchanges:
The song “Fleabrain” was by Lucas and Rosenthal, not Nudelman and/or The Wild Breed like I had originally guessed. It was Lucas on vocals, guitar, and overdubbed second guitar, and Rosenthal on drums. Lucas wrote, “I had originally figured on using the Gene Vincent song ‘Fleabrain,’ but of course I didn’t count on whoever the current owners were of the Capitol back catalog wanting so much for its use. So I had to make my own ‘Fleabrain.’” Well, it sure came out awesome for a Plan B! Frankly I don’t think the original can hold a candle to it, but you be the judge.p
Another soundtrack story: “The pursuit sequence that uses Myron Lee’s ‘Homicide’ was originally to Nervous Norvous’ ‘Wild Dogs of Kentucky,’ but I couldn’t track down the rights. Myron Lee I was able to find, and (as with Ralph Nielsen, who did “Scream”) said, ‘Great, just send me a copy.’” Hmmm! How cool. Again, the sound of the original is nice, but I have to side with the choice in the final cut.
The above two points are making me rethink something I said in that audio commentary track I’m (still) in the middle of recording, which was doubt as to whether Lucas had really secured the rights to this 1950s doo-wop song used in the acid trip sequence. If Lucas cared about the rights to the above two songs, he probably didn’t slip this one past. OR DID HE? Regardless, it’s already recorded and this track is nuissance enough to make without changing stuff I’ve already said.
Regarding a point in an earlier Blood Orgy interview, Lucas wrote, “Until your mention, I didn’t realize that there was a ‘St. Jerome School’ in San Francisco. I chose to name the school after him because he shared his name with Bo Diddley’s maraca player, Jerome Green, who has long struck me as someone intensely cool.” Now that is unexpected. Especially because the real St. Jerome school is only five miles away from Berkeley, a place mentioned in the ending credits. I WONDER IF THIS SCHOOL WAS SIMPLY LURKING IN LUCAS’ SUBCONSCIOUS ALL THE WHILE.
Hoooo boy. I apparently made another fuckup on my audio commentary track. I’d better just copy/paste Lucas’ whole paragraph (which is in response not to the still-unreleased commentary, but to a mid-sentence parenthetical from my review of the film). “Rock Ross’s titles: that’s actually my fault, not Rock’s. I wanted to get the opening titles done before shooting was complete so I could put them into the opening and string together a rough cut and see what connective scenes might be needed and just generally get a feel for how it was shaping up. I had the titles on paper and handed them to him. He was giving me a deal, so I thought I’d give him a credit to himself. He thought it rather odd and made a humorous remark about it: I figured I’d be getting more titles done after (instead, as you can tell, I just had the end titles for the VHS release done on a video generator). So it wasn’t Rock being egomaniacal, it was me fucking up.” Soooorry Roooooock. I definitely insinuated that he was egomaniacal on my commentary, and (as said above) I definitely lack the energy and professionalism to rerecord anything I have done so far. Maybe history will absolve him. (Is Rock Ross even a real name?)
It appears I’ve inadvertently gotten Lucas to engage in a little back-and-forth with a commenter from one of my articles! The accusation was made that Blood Orgy objectifies its actresses. Lucas replies: “As far as I’m concerned, cameras objectify. This is probably less noticeable during dialogue or character development scenes, of which there are certainly fewer than most movies in Blood Orgy, but I think people in movies are basically objects unless a well executed dramatic situation transcends that, which rarely happens. Of course, a lot of people seem to think that the characters in movies are real and get emotional at the depiction of preposterous situations that have the force of cliché behind them. Films are still made in which someone finds a corpse and takes out a knife or picks up a nearby gun to look at it, just before the police barge in of course, and many viewers find that emotionally involving. But that’s a different rant.”
I’m not the first person to interview Lucas — he was also in a documentary by Heather McLean! Have a look. This video focuses mostly on his “shtick bands.”
Well, that wraps it up for my Blood Orgy interviews. Five is a number I’m very happy with, and it was way more than I ever expected. Especially since I’m like, not a legitimate journalist.
I eventually will finish and then post that commentary track — I promise! it’s about 85% done — and then will probably go a very long time before mentioning the movie again on my website.
I really am ecstatic to have played a role in all of this. I learned a ton about this movie I’ve loved for a very long time, and (although I wouldn’t have thought it possible) I now love it even more than I used to. Hopefully I’ve gotten some of you all to love the movie too.
Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” It’s true, and it’s true of more media than just books. For instance, if you want to read interviews with the Blood Orgy cast and crew, but you notice that in 22 years none have ever existed… it’s your responsibility to find and interview those people yourself!
SOURCE: Waldfield's Corner