This episode we pay tribute to one hell of a human being, one of the best entertainers in history and possibly the sole reason that Vince McMahon has a successful business; one Roddy Rowdy Piper. In 1988, shortly after the success of They Live, Roddy starred in a little film called Hell Comes to Frogtown. It's the story of a man in charge of boning lots of ladies while kicking ass along the way. Well that sounds pretty rad....and it is.
On a personal note, Hot Rod was a real big deal to me. I grew up watching and rooting for Rowdy and Macho Man more than any other wrestlers. I remember being astounded about how energetic Roddy was and how everyone else seemed so rehearsed but he was just off the cuff with anything he said. You could see whoever was on camera with Roddy being completely unprepared with dealing with Roddy. I loved it. Roddy, you'll be missed. Say hi to Randy Savage for me.
Director Donald G. Jackson was the man who made $1,000,000 with a $1,000. Roller Blade was the film that cost $1,000 and made $1,000,000, as it turns out it cost closer to $5,000 and made indeterminately over a million. A wrenches to not riches story, Don G. is probably not the American dream.
Before making films that made critics refer to him as the Ed Wood of the video age, he worked at an auto factory in his home state of Michigan. His first film, The Demon Lover, was supposed to be financed by a possibly self inflicted injury at the auto factory by a co-worker, Jerry Younkins. As it turned out Younkins spent the money before they could begin principle photography. According to the interview with Don G. on scottshaw.com, making the film was one of his greatest regrets.
Though Jackson is know for his low budget video escapades he worked for Corman and Cameron in various capacities. A little known fact is that he shot the scene of Schwaz walking past the camera nude as additional footage that wasn’t planned as part of the original production as well as several other added scenes. Roller Blade was hyped as the first direct to video feature film from New World pictures. The profits are what financed Jacksons most extravagant and highest budgeted project, one Hell Comes to Frogtown.
In case you were all wondering the company Rollerblade (one word) predates the film Roller Blade by several years.
Jackson, in the art scene, is possibly best know for, after teaming with Scott Shaw, the co advent of Zen Filmmaking. Though words like karma and flow, spirit and positivity are thrown around a lot, and plenty of people from L.A. have bought into Zen Filmmaking, it is essentially what they teach you not to do in film school: Turn the camera on without any sort of a plan and see what happens. It is my strong opinion that Jackson’s formal training either inadvertently or directly did caused the first films done in this manner to work, or at least work better than they should have. Since his death, it would seem that whatever impression rubbed off on Shaw has weathered away and the subsequent product is usually little more than piles of shots.
There was an interview on the extra features of The Roller Blade Seven with Frank Stallone. Stallone detailed some of the strategies of Zen Filmmaking. According to Stallone, Shaw and Jackson picked him up at the airport and took him not, to a hotel, but to a place where they started shooting some stuff with him in it. I don’t think they ever ended up taking Stallone to a hotel but they did end up shooting some more stuff. Stallone didn’t seem all that mesmerized by the whole experience.
I have watched a good portion of Jackson’s work. I get the distinct impression, and I reiterate that this is my impression and strictly an opinion, that Scott Shaw was Jacksons Weed hookup. At some point Shaw, though the influence that any drug dealer has, became involved with Jackson’s film Making. It is recounted by Jackson, during their first meeting, Shaw was shirtless holding two Samurai Swords. Totally something a small time drug dealer would be doing. Fortunately for us Shaw hadn’t yet got to Jackson when he was making this film.
Though I just accused Scott Shaw of being a low talent and at least a former drug dealer I did find the following words from Jackson on Hell Comes to Frogtown on the website of one Scott Shaw. In regards to the conception of the project:
There is a section of Los Angeles known as Frogtown. The story goes, that back in the 1940s this area was overwhelmed by a large invasion of Frogs — which is why it got its name. I had a friend Sam Mann, who was one of the actors in Roller Blade and lived in this area. We were driving along one day and he came up with the title, Hell Comes to Frogtown. From there, I ran with the idea and that is how the movie developed. New World had made so much money on Roller Blade they offered to finance Hell Comes to Frogtown. My original plan was to shoot the movie with Sam Mann and Suzanne Solari (both from Roller Blade) as the leads. I was going to shoot it on 16 mm, with my Bolex — as I had done with Roller Blade. But then, New World decided they wanted to "Up" the budget. The problem is, the minute you let the devil in the door, the devil is going to take control over you. And, that is what happened with New World and Hell Comes to Frogtown. They decided that they wanted to cast name talent and take over the production of the film. So, the movie evolved from being a 16 mm art film, to a relatively high budget 35 mm cult movie. Sadly, my friend Sam didn't get to play Sam Hell and Suzanne was only given a small part in the film.
In Regaurd to working with Piper and Bergman:
…as stated, my original plan was to shoot the movie with Sam Mann and Suzanne Solari as the leads. But, New World wanted to use Roddy Piper as he was a very famous wrestler at the time — and this was going to be his first movie.
As a fan of wrestling, I was happy to have him. But, as you can understand, what occurred was not fair to my friend Sam. I think I may have made the wrong choice by not standing by my friend Sam, who actually came up with the title and the idea for the movie. But, I spoke with him and he seemed Okay with what was happening. Though Hell Comes to Frogtown is, no doubt, my most famous feature, by my accepting New World's offer, I believe it did set a lot of bad karma in motion.
Regarding Sandahl Bergman:
She had just finished Conan: The Barbarian, and they wanted to use her for her name power, as well. I had very little to do with any of the casting of the film. Again, this is the problem when a large production company becomes involved in a project — the actual filmmaker is allowed very little creative control. Which is why I have never again worked with a large production company. But, Piper and Bergan were both very nice people to work with.
Roderick George Toombs, or as we knew him, Rowdy Roddy Piper, recently died of a heart attack. Toombs graced the small screen with some of the most memorable moments in entertainment wrestling history. Some would consider Ric Flair to be the greatest, Ric was quoted as saying that Piper was the “most gifted entertainer in the history of professional wrestling”. As a wrestler he holds the distinction of being one of the most popular wrestlers of a generation without having held the then WWF major title. He carved his own path after wrestling. There are differing accounts to how he parted ways with McMahon. One is an anecdote of a knee jerk reaction following a screening of No Holds Barred. The other was an interview where I saw Toombs state he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with John Carpenter. Whether or not a person is a fan of They Live, that person could probably identify it as being a better movie than the former. Again entering in to the land of my unsupported opinion, I feel the alley brawl is a direct answer to battle of the tough guys.
We Remember Sandal Bergman from Conan the Barbarian, we should remember her from She, coincidentally they were made the same year. She was in Xanadu before both. She was and probably still is one hell of a dancer.