There is, in the heart of the horror genre, an undoubted fascination for freakshow and carnival flicks, be they good stuff such as Tod Browning’s classic Freaks (1932), the brilliant TV series Carnivàle (2003-2005) and David Lynch’s tragic The Elephant Man (1980), or less-than-classic but still fascinating efforts like Hideous! (1997), Charles Band’s Full Moon tale of rival freak collectors, Tom Stern and Alex Winter’s “thinking man’s stupid comedy” Freaked (1993), Frank Henenlotter’s always bizarre Basket Case series (1982-1992) and Clive Barker’s unfortunately slashed-and-burnt Nightbreed (1990).
It’s hardly surprising really. So-called “freaks” are the very origin of the term “monster”, which means literally “wonder” and was once used to describe what we might call deviations from the genetic “norm” of a species, be they human or not. If the horror genre depicts threats against normality and the fear that comes from the realisation that normality itself may be an illusion, then this is where the freakshow belongs.
The reality of genetic deviance is, of course, a lot different from what we see on the screen (with the exception of The Elephant Man, perhaps), despite the presence of real “freaks” in Todd Browning’s controversial film and in the X-Files episode “Humbug”, which featured members of a genuine freakshow (the Jim Rose Circus). Generally speaking, especially at the schlock end of the cinematic scale, the freaks are included for shock value and in a rather comedic-horror context — as well as giving the SFX make-up crew something fun to play with.
A new film, Crustacean (US-2010; dir. L.J. Dopp), seems to fit comfortably into this sub-genre, offering a mixed bag of horror, comedy, freakish weirdness, beautiful women, circus intrigue, sexiness, blood-and-guts, bizarre narrative twists, social commentary, metaphorical undercurrents … and song — all in a freakshow carnival setting.
A lobster-clawed carnival freak escapes from a sleazy sideshow (Professor Nightwind’s Carnival of Freaks) and goes on a bloody rampage in a rural community so small, that only two families live there.
Original promo “post card” front: Zenius Muleckis as the titular character,
aka “Lobster baby,” holding Angela Berliner as Allison,
as Co-Ed Confidential’s Hannah Harper looks on
According to writer-director L.J. Dopp:
This movie operates on several levels. On the surface, it’s an over-the-top, unrated horror comedy that seeks to entertain viewers of the pizza and six-pack set, who are looking for something that kicks ass in the areas of nudity, profanity, violence, and extreme gore. It’s also an dumb-and-dumber redneck movie for closet intellectuals.
A victim of the lobster-clawed carnival freak; gore courtesy of Synapse FX
“I figured as long as we’re doing all that, might as well make the whole thing a comment on American pop culture,” Dopp added, ” — from TV infomercials and the songs on the radio, to the portrayal of truly warped ‘family values’, and the downright de-sensitization of people.”
The scene goes to colour as McDougal the Hog Farmer
(played by Dopp as “Lorenzo Loco”) raises the chainsaw
and pulls the cord, laughing maniacally
— right before Lobster Baby rips his throat out.
Dopp, who also acted as production designer, didn’t stop with writing and directing. After years of involvement in music, he decided to write ten new songs for this movie, incorporating five cast members who sing (often in character) on the soundtrack, thus making Crustacean a sort of “subconscious musical” as well.
In terms of its musical content, Crustacean boasts the presence of Tom Saviano, a world-class sax player/producer who recorded and co-produced all the music for Crustacean with Dopp. Listed in the July-August issue of The Saxophone Journal as one of the top 100 sax players of all time, Saviano has platinum records from playing on the last Ray Charles record, as well as on Earth, Wind & Fire and Sheena Easton albums. He performs the sax arrangement on “Even Though,” the song that closes out Crustacean‘s trailer (see below). Says Dopp: “Tom is probably the most A-list person connected to this movie.”
Dopp himself was the producer who raised the money to back the film (under the pseudonym “Lorenzo Loco”):
Edward L. Plumb is my producing partner, and when we made The Boneyard Collection (hosted by the late Forrest J. Ackerman) a few years back, I came up with the Lorenzo Loco name (“Crazy Larry” in Spanish) so we could be “Plumb Loco Productions.” We feel that using our (real) names over and over in the credits makes the films look cheapjack, so we make up pseudonyms after our real ones appear two or three times.
The production company behind the film is actually Irena Belle Films, owned by Edward Plumb. Plumb has a history in low-budget horror genre production, with titles such as The Vampire Hunters Club (2001), Boogie with the Undead (2003), The Low Budget Time Machine [aka Spacebabes Meet the Monsters] (2003), The Mummy’s Kiss: 2nd Dynasty (2006) and The Dead Undead (2009) gracing his CV — and in various capacities (from writing and production to acting and “miscellaneous crew”).
In a manner that became popular in 1970s and 1980s horror comedy, particularly independent horror comedy, and has remained a feature of this subgenre ever since, Crustacean boasts the involvement of horror personalities from various fields and offers a sort of genre self-consciousness that makes it a semi-historical pastiche — all as part of the fun, of course.
For example, horror writer Peter Atkins (who penned Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, and the Wishmaster screenplays and books) appears as Professor Nightwind the freakmaster, seen in the above picture catching up on his reading in a nighttime scene at the carnival. In the early days, Atkins worked in Grand Guignol live theatre in Liverpool with horror maestro Clive Barker.
In a nicely esoteric piece of visual trivia, it should be noted that writer-director L.J. Dopp was co-nominated for a Rondo Award for the cover of Mondo Cult #2 (as seen in the above picture) — and co-executive producer Brad Linaweaver is the magazine’s publisher.
Behind the scenes, co-executive producer, David F. Friedman, produced the first American “over-the-top” colour gore movies in 1963 and 1964, Blood Feast and 2000 Maniacs, both directed by his then-partner, Hershell Gordon Lewis.
Trivia note: Director L.J. Dopp was the art director of Dave Friedman’s pioneer adult video company, TVX, in the early 1980s, and directed Dave as “Captain Deal,” in Dopp’s first commercial feature, the early direct-to-video roughie, 1980’s Leather Persuasion. (Source: Dopp)
There are many other genre-referential acting roles and cameos:
- Sci-fi screenwriter George Clayton Johnson (original Ocean’s Eleven, Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Logan’s Run) posing with “Sweet Lucinda the Fortune Teller”, as played by Memphis beauty Natalie Jones. George plays himself as the inept prognosticator tells him, “I see longevity in your lifeline — and someday, you’ll be a famous writer.” She has a firm grasp on the present:
- Caleb Emerson, director of the cult flick Die You Zombie Bastards, plays the Pirate Guy at the carnival – harrrr…:
- J.Kent Hastings as “Herb Aphrodite, the Bearded Fat Lady” poses with sexy model Paula Labaredas, appearing as a stranded singer in a bizarre carnival cameo defined by flashing type underneath as the PRODUCER’S “GIRLFRIEND” SCENE:
- Matt Burch, from TV’s Operation Repo, also appears as a biker love god, in a brief, surreal send-up of Italian post-apocalyptic movies of the 1980s with spaghetti western music.
- Rising horror star Elissa Dowling appears as Thumper Stain (below). Dowling has 40 movies on her IMDb page, most of them genre (including two that have featured on Undead Backbrain and its sister site, Undead Brainspasm: Transmorphers, and O.C. Babes and the Slasher of Zombietown). She’s done eight films since Crustacean!
Dopp points to the influence of Ray Bradbury’s work on his film:
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) was a major influence on Crustacean’s carnival elements. Ray Bradbury established himself as the king of the sideshow world with the 1947 publication of his first short story collection, Dark Carnival. Professor Nightwind in Crustacean is actually a goof on Professor Dark, played by Jonathon Pryce in Something Wicked ... There is a character called “Jim Nightshade”, too, so I sort of combined the names. I had hoped Prof. Nightwind would evoke memories of Pryce in the role — both wear distinctive black top hats — but if people see Freddie Jones from Elephant Man in Peter Atkins performance, I can certainly live with that. [see Addendum at the end of this article for more on the Bradbury connection]
According to Dopp, Crustacean is full of movie references and, occasionally, lines of dialogue from other movies — “if the scene fits, why not?” he says.
It’s not a string of scenes from other movies with a threadbare plot to hang them on, like the Epic..., and Date movies. The plot of Crustacean is like your fairly conventional, kinetic, real-time grindhouse horror flick — for the first hour — then the plot goes off the rails. It’s a horror/sci-fi genre satire — like Blazing Saddles was to westerns — with scenes you’ve seen in lots of movies, generalized — not specific scenes from certain movies reproduced. It’s kind of original in a lot of ways.
- Producer Lorenzo Loco appears in a cameo as McDougal the Hog Farmer in a send-up of Motel Hell:
Dopp comments on the image:
We didn’t have the money for an SPCA person on-set, so we shot a lot of closeups of ceramic pigs, then created black-and-white images of these pigs dissolving in-and-out of focus until they turn into a black-and-white image of the man in the pig mask luring the off-screen pigs to their doom. An off-screen baby pig screeching periodically punctuates this flashback sequence near the end of the movie — a sequence that is also a brief homage to Eraserhead, my 3rd favorite movie.
- Actor-filmmaker David Dietrich as “The Hippie,” killed in a shower of blood during the “show ’em the monster” flashback at the beginning, so designated by flashing type at the bottom of the screen reading, with postmodern tongue-in-cheek, “SHOW ‘EM THE MONSTER” FLASHBACK.
There’s Beauty, Too
But it’s not all horror, blood and ugliness. For example, there’s former porn queen Hannah Harper, who has sold a heap of videos and has appeared on the cover of Penthouse twice, and on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show twice, under her own name — as well as starring in three seasons of Cinemax’s adult comedy series, Co-Ed Confidential. She appears to be really getting a head in the horror business:
Also current porn starlet and 2008 AVN Awards Best Actress nominee, Marie McCray, who appears as “The Girl Gone Nuts” in the woods — a send-up of the “Girls Gone Wild” infomercials, with their calypso music and constant boob flashing. Here she is about to do a “reveal”:
And Angela Berliner, Best Actress winner at the 2008 Hoboken International Film Festival appears as “Ali”. The award was shared by her sister, Jordana, who also appears in Crustacean.
Crustacean will be available on DVD soon. We’ll keep you informed. Meanwhile here is the newly revealed and lengthy trailer. You can check out more images in the Gallery below.
Written and Directed by L.J. Dopp
Produced by Edward L. Plumb and Lorenzo Loco
Executive Producers — Brad Linaweaver, Maxine Gillespie, Charles P. Hammill, and “The Last of the Great Showmen”, David F. Friedman
Director of Photography — Morgan Schmidt
Edited by J.Kent Hastings
Music Score and Production Design — L.J. Dopp
Special Makeup Effects — Synapse FX
Key Makeup — Corinne Dutra
Additional Makeup Effects — Hugo Villasenor/MP3 FX
2nd unit Key Makeup — Lorraine Martin
Unit Production Manager/Key Grip — Peter Lugo
- Sources and Article Credits: L.J. Dopp via Avery; written and organised by Robert Hood; all stills by Don Allen, Mark Lampert and Pete Lugo; tie dyes by Dopp’s brother Don of Sacramento
- Official website: http://CrustaceanTheMovie.com (under development). Here there will be a link to Dopp’s personal art gallery site, a brief synopsis, a full cast and crew list and updates on the film’s availability, along with a link to the trailer on YouTube.
Addendum: L.J. Dopp remembers Ray Bradbury on the making of Something Wicked This Way Comes:
I briefly interviewed Mr Bradbury while doing a piece for Cemetery Dance Magazine ten years ago, and mentioned that “Something Wicked…” was one of my favorite movies he’d written. He had this to say: “One of my favorites … but I beat up the director (Jack Clayton) when he didn’t do it right. The film was so bad that we couldn’t release it, and we had to go back and spend five million dollars to correct the mistakes he made … I helped edit the last reel, because it was so wrong…” I spoke with an editor friend who’d worked on the picture, and she confimed that Bradbury had come into the editing bay one day and had suggested changes. A man in the signing line asked wasn’t Jack Clayton dead, and Ray said, “Yes, and I hope he burns in hell!”