With the October 19th release of Monster A Go-Go, schlock impresario Bill Rebane has brought one of the worst movies in the history of cinema to DVD just in time for Halloween. The man behind such Drive-In classics as The Giant Spider Invasion and The Capture of Bigfoot reintroduces us to this uniquely atrocious sci-fi thriller with a special edition disc that includes one-on-one interviews, original short films, and a hilariously insightful scene-specific audio commentary.
Second only to Super Babies: Baby Geniuses 2 as the worst film to ever hit theater screens, Monster A Go-Go kicked off Bill Rebane's directing career in notorious fashion. This story of a muted astronaut wrecking havoc on a local teenage dance party almost didn't see the light of day due to under-funding. Four years after filming had ceased midway through production, king of matinee exploitation fare Herschell Gordon Lewis decided to finish the movie to run as a second feature behind his own Moonshine Mountain. Quite surprisingly, it was Monster A Go-Go that stood out, slowly but surely gaining a rabid cult following.
It has since been lampooned in The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and Alien Trespass, and it even got its own episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Over the years, it has accumulated a strong fanbase, and Monster A Go-Go is highly regarded in schlock loving cinematic circles. Despite audiences holding a genuine fondness for it, director Bill Rebane still thinks its shit, and he doesn't understand why any sane individual would take seventy minutes out of their life to engage in Monster A Go-Go's painful ways.
To help celebrate the release of Monster A Go-Go, we caught up with the very candid Rebane, who is a joy to talk to. Here is our conversation, where he contemplates the loftiness of this career milestone:
On the DVD for Monster A Go-Go, you ask the question: "Why do people enjoy watching this shit?" But you never give us an answer. Why do you think people like watching bad movies in general, especially your own Monster A Go-Go?
Bill Rebane: My perspective on that surrounds the inadequacy of the pictures. And the cohesiveness of it all. You have to remember that I didn't see this movie after Herschell Gordon Lewis took over the post-production of it. That was three or four years after I had worked on it. When I finally saw it, my reaction was, "Oh, my God! This has to be the worst movie I have ever seen."
Do you think the finished movie would have been something completely different without H.G. Lewis' creative input? From what I understand, he only contributed about three or four scenes to the footage you'd already shot.
Bill Rebane: Not only did Herschell Gordon Lewis receive the entire picture, it was pretty close to being finished at the time he took it over. I think the only thing missing was ten minutes of the ending. Which was a happy ending, where Dr. Gordon had an antidote that he gave to Frank the astronaut. It actually worked at the end. The lead-up to the end scene had us seeing Frank in a tunnel without the make-up. He was becoming better. And the antidote actually worked. That was the original ending until Herschell changed it.
So, with the exception of the ending, the movie really didn't change all that much? If you had retained creative control of Monster A Go-Go, it would have still been pretty much what we see today?
Bill Rebane: No, not at all. I saw the picture maybe once in the last forty-five years. When we transferred it recently, I saw bits and pieces of it. But there is a lot of missing footage that we shot with the non-Union crew. I have identified that its not there. I have a hunch where this missing footage is. But it's been so long, no one has taken the interest to chase these things down.
There are bad movies, and then there are unwatchable movies. What do you think separates the two?
Bill Rebane: I think it's a matter of story treatment, cohesiveness, and real plot. The outcome of it all. It's about the story through the material. We started out with a pretty cohesive, and more than reasonably good screenplay on Monster A Go-Go.
So there was a germ of a good idea when you set out to make this...At what point during shooting did you think to yourself, "This isn't what I thought it would be?"
Bill Rebane: That thought came very quickly. Maybe after seven or eight days of shooting. The Union had stepped in right at the beginning. They told us, "You have to make this Union!" So, they basically confiscated our budget, which was about $100,000. And they put it in escrow. They were going to spend my budget for me. We ended up shooting with a full Union crew. Which, in those days, wasn't possible for an independent picture. Especially one being shot on that low of a budget. It took us four or five hours to set up. We had to set up on location. After that took place, we had about two hours left for shooting. After that, it would go into the Golden Hour. It was a pretty cumbersome process, and the money was gone in about seven days. With over-time. Then we lost our star, Peter M. Thompson. At that time, I was about to give up. But I had two partners, and we agreed that we would go out and get some more money for it. We would raise more money, and continue doing the movie on a non-Union basis. That's when Herschell Gordon Lewis stepped in. I hired him as a cameraman and production manager to go out and shoot the rest of it with me. We pretty much finished everything. Except the production value footage and the action footage? Most of that is not there. Lewis needed a second feature for a Drive-In double bill. In Southern theaters. I have a hunch that he went ahead and did what he thought was best at the time. He made fun of it rather than editing together a regular feature film.
The first run picture was Moonshine Mountain. Are you at all surprised that Monster A Go-Go went onto eclipse this other movie completely?
Bill Rebane: I was very surprised. I was very busy with all kinds of endevors when Monster A Go-Go came out. Both here and in Germany. I had distanced myself from it. When I made the deal with Herschell Gordon Lewis to take over the post-production and finish the picture, I turned my back on it. Three or four years passed before I saw the picture as Monster A Go-Go. That's when I made that statement: This is the worst picture I have ever seen!
Do you feel the overall movie has any redeeming value? Is there anything that you are proud of when you look back at the making of this film?
Bill Rebane: I was proud of what I was able to accomplish as a promoter. I was able to accomplish something in Chicago that had never happened there before, ever. Anyone that could get the first district police department to show up with all of their squad cars, and all of their defense units...All of the army vehicles, the extras...We had hundreds of extras working for us, and we were able to block off Michigan Avenue and Oak Street during rush hour. Something like that has never happened in Chicago movie history, ever. And, I should say, it was for free. It was made possible through cooperation. The first day of shooting was the candlelight scene. When we shot that, I thought we were off on the right track, and I was going to make a picture reminiscent of what Hollywood was putting out in the 50s and 40s, story wise. The dream was shattered after the money was gone in seven or eight days. Yet, we picked up another chunk, and we proceeded with Herschell's crew. It's a shame that some of that missing footage wasn't available. Or not used. I'm really not sure why that happened. Or how that happened.
That footage is gone forever? There was no way to get it onto this DVD obviously?
Bill Rebane: I have a hunch that it may be in one particular place. A gentlemen in Chicago was the camera assistant to Herschell and a good friend of ours. William Johnson, he is a collector and a pack rat. He saves everything. It could well be that some of this stuff is right there in his basement. I talked to him many times last year. He is around eighty-three or eighty-four years old. He wasn't sure what he had in his basement. To get him to go down and look in his basement? That would have been a big chore for him. But it would have been very interesting to see what is down there. My gosh, if we would have found some footage, we would have had that footage released.
What other kinds of stuff do you think he has down in that basement?
Bill Rebane: God only knows. He loves collecting. He's very proud of a couple old features that he did in the late sixties, which he is trying to restore. He travels a lot, so it was tough to get him ready to go down there and start digging.
For a title like Monster A Go-Go, there isn't a whole lot of actual Go-Go dancing in the movie. What did you think of this title when you first heard it? And how do you feel the movie would be perceived today if Hershel Gordon Lewis hadn't changed it from Terror at Halfday?
Bill Rebane: Terror at Halfday probably would have never gotten the notoriety and publicity that the title Monster A Go-Go did. Herschell was an exploitation producer. I was not so much at the time. I was just beginning my career then. I hit on the right subject matter. I was a realist, I knew what the market was looking for. Drive-In theaters were big. It was science fiction, on top of the fact that we'd started the space program. It was very timely. But Herschell gave it the exploitation title of Monster A Go-Go, and it seemed to hit a few nerves.
With the recent film The Happening, director M. Night Shyamalan wont admit that he's made a schlocky movie. Why do you think some directors are unwilling too admit that they've made something most people consider to be atrocious? Did it take you awhile to come to terms with the way Monster A Go-Go is looked at in the annals of cinematic history?
Bill Rebane: I realized the film was bad the first time I ever saw it. That had to be forty years three years ago. I knew what it was then, and I distanced myself from it for a little while. It took me some time. Until some distributors started calling me out on it, and started asking me about it. Some film fans out there saw it, and they felt it was worth watching. I have never really figured out the reason. It may have some redeeming values to the film students or filmmakers of today, but only if they know the background story on it. For instance, the size of the equipment we had to use back in those days. The fact that we were shooting on 35 mm film. Compared to shooting on digital cameras. The whole process was so much more cumbersome. And tougher. One really had to make an effort to put something like that together.
What are your feelings about a group like Rifftrax of Mystery Science 3000 making fun of the movie? Do you enjoy that kind of ribbing? Are you able to sit and watch that, and laugh with it?
Bill Rebane: I can handle that. I try to have a really good sense of humor. I think that is essential. The movie is what it is. Yes! I did it. I got into it. A lot of dreams get shattered when things go wrong. But you can't change that. You have to look back on it as an experience. It gave me an education, and it helped me in the future. I don't have any animosity, or great, tremendous dislike, to a degree. I don't understand the eagerness by some to watch the movie again. If someone knows the background of the story, it makes more sense. And then it does have some redeeming values. How did we get the cooperation in Chicago? How did we get those things for nothing? Including the airplane that we used. There are stories behind each one of these little situations, which are worth telling. For instance, there was a General who offered his uniform. Talk about worrying about not messing things up. That same General was able to get the airplane for us. The production value scenes that are in there, and there are very few...Those were shot in a five day period. Reducing that to hours, we are looking at ten hours of shooting. Not counting the set-up time and the Union crew.
We have directors like Larry Blamire with Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and R.W. Goodwin with Alien Trespass, who are obviously using Monster a Go-Go as a springboard for their own projects, basically trying to recreate what is so interesting, watchable, and bad about a film like Monster A Go-Go. What do you personally think of these director who are setting out to purposely capture that spirit which your film carries by accident?
Bill Rebane: I would say, they have to be nuts. I have to ask the question, "Why would they do that?" What propels them to do that? (Laughs) Were they poking fun at bad movies? Comedy is a hard thing to do, and a take-off on something else is even tougher to do. If they are making movies like Monster A Go-Go on purpose, I think that they have a problem. I get a lot of independent films sent to me for distribution purposes. I haven't seen one yet that I would try to pass onto mainstream distributors and foreign distributors and buyers. I have a couple of film students as well who I keep telling to start with a good story. If you can't do that, don't make the picture. You need a cohesive script. A character driven, story driven script is unheard of. Even in mainstream channels. I see a lack of good story material. It's a crime, because I am sure there is a great deal of talent out there that could do it. Maybe something in their learning cycle went wrong. The universities don't have any clue on how to teach film today. They put you through the motions, they give you the appreciation classes, yet when it comes to making their experimental projects, they are so void of cohesive, good story material. There are no character driven stories. It's really a shame. I know a lot of young people who are extremely talented, yet they decide to go with blood, guts, and gore. And sex. They think if they can throw all of that on screen, they can make it. But that doesn't make it.
Has there ever been talk of updating or remaking Monster A Go-Go? Do you think you could take the core concept of the title alone, and make something that today's audiences would want to see?
Bill Rebane: I don't think it would be impossible. You are giving me something to think about here. As we are talking, my brain is working. Yeah, I think it would hold up today. We've progressed tremendously in space over the decades, but there is always room for a good science fiction monster story. It depends on the budget, the stars, the effects. You have to give it a sense of reality. The story we started with, if polished, could fly today. I am sure of that.
What can you tell us of the person grilling you on the audio commentary? Because he has a very unique way with questioning. I'll just say that it fits in with the tone of the film.
Bill Rebane: That is Corey Udler, one of my film students. He is a very talented young man who made a picture that is the classic example of me saying, "Don't do it!" He made a picture called Incest Death Squad. I said, "Why do you want to use a title like that?" He said, "Because it sells." Then I saw the picture. He did a hell of a nice job directing. He made a very commendable effort. It cost him all of about ten thousand dollars. Yet, he had to use profanity and sex, and gore to try and get this thing across. I lined him up with a distributor in New York. Troma. I am sure you are familiar with them. The founder, Lloyd Kaufman, was in the picture. I found the whole thing revolting. I told him a hundred times, "Reedit this thing. Make it more mainstream. Stick to the story!" Which wasn't all that bad. It was a very commendable effort. Corey Udler turned out to be a very good interviewer. That is why he did this commentary.
The Monster A Go-Go Special Edition DVD is in stores now.