Schmoeller debuted in film by continuing the fine 1970s tradition of Texans shocking the pants off folks via independent horror with TOURIST TRAP (1979), a feature length expansion of his thesis film THE SPIDER WILL KILL YOU (1976). Blending shocks with a surrealistic edge, the film was an assured debut and very effective (so much so that Hollywood ripped it off uncredited in the HOUSE OF WAX  remake). If he didn’t win any awards for his debut, Schmoeller should have been given a medal for his third feature, CRAWLSPACE (1986), as he survived a trial by hellfire in lead actor Klaus Kinski. Despite such behind-the-scenes insanity, the director managed to turn in an striking horror-thriller and later gave us the great short PLEASE KILL MR. KINSKI (1999) about his experience. And perhaps his biggest achievement was directing and writing (under a pseudonym) the first PUPPET MASTER (1989). The film’s miniature menaces (including one fashioned after Kinski) he created have become iconic and the series continues to line the pockets of producer Charles Band, who just made PUPPET MASTER X.
With a career spanning over three decades, there is no doubt that Schmoeller has worked on a number of projects for both film and television. Naturally, there were some unmade ones along the way and he was kind enough to talk with me about two of them via email.
#86 - THE 12 CADAVERS OF JOE MARINER (1980)
As you can probably guess from those few examples, JOE MARINER is a positively surreal novel. It features some scenes so bizarre that avant garde auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky might sit back and say, “What the hell is this?” Perhaps that is what drew Schmoeller to the project as he once spent a semester in Mexico City in 1968 studying theater under Jodorowsky. The real reason is far simpler though. “Dr. Weismann was a very influential professor of mine in graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin in the early 1970s,” he explains. “He was a painter and filmmaker and writer. I saw all his movies and read all his books. I was his student and friend when he was writing THE 12 CADAVERS OF JOE MARINER – and when the book was published, I optioned it for a short period for a dollar.”
|Schmoeller directs Chuck Conners|
on the set of TOURIST TRAP (1979)
In the end, Schmoeller wound up writing and directing the much more commercial THE SEDUCTION (1982), which turned out to be one of Avco Embassy’s top grossing films the year it was released. Surprisingly, the saga of adapting JOE MARINER to film didn’t end with Schmoeller’s participation. Weismann actually went about turning his novel into a screenplay with an old actor friend of his. Some guy named Lee Marvin. No joke, Weismann and Marvin pounded out a 147 page script with the intention of the gruff actor, who was a fan of the book, as the lead Joe Mariner. Unfortunately, despite Marvin trying to convince director John Boorman to helm the project, it didn’t get made before Marvin’s passing in 1987. For anyone interested in how it might have played out, Weismann republished the novel in 2002 and also included the complete screenplay he co-authored with Marvin.
#87 - HUNTRESS (1986/87)
As a film producer, Band continued the tried-and-true methods of 1950s B-movie producers who operated with an “idea/poster first, script later” method. Schmoeller outlined the process by which Band determined which productions his company was going to film. It started with title contests among employees with a bonus reward of $500 if the title was eventually used. “He would then send the best 100 [titles] out to poster artists,” Schmoeller explains. “Two or three times a year, Austin Furst from Vestron would fly in from the East Coast. Charlie would line these posters around his office – 30, 40, 50 posters maybe. Austin would come in, go around the room pointing: ‘I take this one and that one and THAT one.’ He would buy the films based on the title and artwork in blocks of 10-15 at a time. Then Charlie would bring us writers-directors into his office and say: ‘I want you to do this one and that one.’ We would go off and write a screenplay based on the title and artwork. They didn’t all get made, but most of them did. It was a lot of fun. Those were the days. HUNTRESS was just one of those films.”
Despite having written a full script, Schmoeller was juggling multiple projects at the time and ended up shooting CATACOMBS in late 1987 instead. So what kept the HUNTRESS project from being made? That answer is simple really. “The bank took over Empire and closed it down,” Schmoeller reveals of the studio’s collapse.
Empire HUNTRESS promo flyer
(courtesy of David Schmoeller)
In the end, HUNTRESS ended up being one of probably dozens of scripts that got written and then shelved at Empire. When asked if he would return to the material today, Schmoeller does have a certain affinity for the project. “I always liked that script,” he says, “despite the goofy way it came into being, written from a title and really goofy artwork. But I’ve been busy writing-directing-producing my own movies from scripts that I own.” Now teaching film at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Schmoeller has remained active in the last few years. He produced the comedy THOR AT THE BUS STOP (2009) and recently completed his return to feature directing with LITTLE MONSTERS (2012). You can read about both on his official website here.