WINTERBEAST (1991). Director Christopher Thies knew the odds were stacked against him when working with such a low budget, so he managed to throw everything into his picture. It features demons, stop-motion monsters, zombies, nudity, clown masks, ever-changing mustaches, and more. While it will never be confused with a horror great, WINTERBEAST displayed enough creativity and “what in the world?” charm that we couldn’t help but like and admire it here at Video Junkie.
I contacted Thies on a completely unrelated matter and, after revealing my penchant for unfinished films, he informed me that he had his own “never got made” skeleton in his closet titled SEA OF SIN, a horror flick about killer mermaids. Color me interested. The project was supposed to be Thies’ sophomore feature, but never got finished. It also holds the distinction of being the only project we’ve covered so far that never got made…twice! “The project had a couple of false starts,” Thies explained via e-mail. “We almost started shooting in 1991, but eventually shooting ended up taking place in late September and October of 1993.”
|Michael Anderson reacts to|
the film's cancellation
|John Waterhouse's |
It was a wild subject, no doubt, and mermaids – long used in scary maritime folklore – have rarely been used as the subject for horror films (Curtis Harrington’s NIGHT TIDE being the most famous example). So where did Thies exactly draw his inspiration for this idea? The answer might surprise you. “The Bermuda Triangle,” he states. “Not the actual place, but an old amusement park ride at an oceanfront amusement park [Paragon Park] in Hull, Massachusetts. The whole place was torn down in the 80s but I went there a lot as a kid. They had what was originally an ‘Old Mill’ dark ride where the current would carry these boats through pitch black tunnels past a few black lit animated fiberglass dioramas. In the mid 70s they changed the theme from a jungle cruise to the Bermuda Triangle. They had these great set pieces of mermaids and King Neptune tormenting drowning sailors that were really amazing.”
The Bermuda Triangle ride at Paragon Park:
|Joe Pallister as Martin|
Ultimately, only 20% of the live action footage was shot. Not only was Thies dealing with the pressures of directing a film, he also had to deal with a low budget director’s worst nemesis – a disgruntled spouse! “I can tell you that my wife at the time was not happy with the whole idea,” he amusingly reveals. “It didn't help that on the fist day of shooting she came up to the location and some drunk checking into the motel we were all staying at forgot to put his truck in park and it rolled down the hill and smashed the back of her brand new car. I remember later that night we were shooting at a beachfront arcade and she was parked across the street glaring at me from her dented car.”
|Director Thies (in black) on location|
|Dina Dillon as |
The Good Mermaid
It was in the creatures that SEA OF SIN, like all good monsters movies, was going to shine. “Steve Fiorilla, who worked on WINTERBEAST, had designed some great mermaid creatures,” Thies reveals, “that I wanted to do in stop-motion. Each one was a different sea creature- one a crab, one an octopus, etc.” Here is his lone surviving design:
As evidenced by the above drawing, the mermaid monsters were truly unique. Alas, the killer mermaids drowned in a sea of debt, rather than a sea of blood. It is too bad as Thies liked the look of the footage he saw that did come out of the lab. Today, the project is lost and Thies owns none of the footage.
HOOKED. “Mark called me out of the blue about 5 years ago,” he discloses. “He was good enough to track me down and it wasn't long before we decided to self-release the WINTERBEAST DVD and launch into a new project. Not because it made sense, but just because that's what we love to do. I had written a number of scripts in that time and HOOKED was the first one I showed him. He called it JAWS meets PSYCHO meets PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE. It had plenty of animation and we've added more along the way. It was incredibly over-ambitious, but I think we've pulled it off.”
Telling the story of a man who begins to chew on the inhabitants of a fishing town courtesy of some shark teeth dentures, HOOKED delivers on the weird and wild promise previously seen in SEA OF SIN. Any chance it could have a killer mermaid in the mix? “There is a mermaid in HOOKED,” Thies reveals, “but she is an aquarium toy that comes to life and talks to the main character when he’s hallucinating. Other than that, it’s a different kind of film altogether.”