“The golden rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.”
- Frank (Keith David) in THEY LIVE
This evocatively titled horror indie boldly announced itself to the world in the May 9, 1979 issue of Variety. Sharing a full page ad alongside SLITHIS and HERE COME THE DELTS (CAMPUS CORPSE/THE HAZING being sold as a comedy), THE FLESH TWISTERS tried to entice readers with an indecipherable photo and the promise of “one of the most terrifying stories of the century.” The talent listed behind it included one Gary Fox as the director and one Rick Swan as the writer. Fox and Swan? To quote William Kerwin in BLOOD FEAST, this was going to be “one of those long hard ones.”
The original Variety ad:
Neither name registered on the IMDb and good luck weeding those names out via Google. Thankfully, amateur detective and crime fighter Bill Picard was on the case and soon established these weren’t just playful animal sobriquets. Gary Fox and Rick Swan were real and he had found them. After convincing them I wasn’t the world’s most inventive collections agent, Fox and Swan agreed to talk about the unmaking of their film, the story of how two ambitious young men decided to bend over backwards to try and make THE FLESH TWISTERS.
Believe it or not, the film’s genesis began in higher education. Gary Fox and Rick Swan were both pre-med students at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa when they first met and became close friends. While at school, both men were involved in the theater department; Swan penned an opera called THE COSMIC GOOSE that Fox had a role in and Fox later directed Swan’s play THE EGG AT THE END OF THE RAINBOW.
Drake University 1974-75 theater schedule:
Following their mutual graduations in 1975, Fox and Swan moved to Los Angeles to try to get into the film and music business. Their sojourn to the City of Angels was brief and soon both men were back living in Iowa, where Fox had enrolled into the MFA film program at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
|Scaring audiences is timeless|
And so the idea to make a horror film was born. Swan was the more astute of the two when it came to the horror and sci-fi fields, having grown up with a love for the genre and worked at a drive-in. He soon came up with the superb name THE FLESH TWISTERS, a title that could easily hold its own on a double bill with THE CORPSE GRINDERS or SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED.
|Typical creepy Midwestern town|
|Some flesh to be twisted!|
“So Rick finished the screenplay, he is a tremendous talent and a great writer. We broke it down and did a production budget. I came to Chicago. There is nothing, nothing in Des Moines, Iowa – maybe there is now – but at the time there were no kind of [film] facilities whatsoever. Not even a laboratory to develop rushes, not one place to rent equipment from. That had to be done from Chicago. So I made a bunch of trips, pretty much put together a crew – an editor, a director of photography, all that kind of stuff. Then we made a preview, a three or four minute trailer.”
|An early attempt to convince investors|
“We started a limited partnership,” Fox reveals. “We were the general partners and investors were the limited partners. We were selling units at $7,500 a unit.” They then began showing the promo reel to anyone and everyone who seemed like they could be a potential backer. “They would meet us and they would hear our pitch. Then they would say, ‘Yes, I’ll give you a check’ or ‘No, I won’t give you a check.’ The worst part about three years of raising money is not yes and no but maybe. Maybe is the worst answer you can get. If you can’t do it, I understand. I can cross your name off the list and go on. They never say no. They always say, ‘Let me think about it’ or ‘let me get back to you’ or ‘I’m not sure yet.’ It is like living in limbo in hell.”
|Dick Davis, right, promotes THE HAZING|
Davis did bring a certain level of film experience as he had recently been the partial money man behind SLITHIS and THE HAZING (the two films featured on the ad). While he did bring certain connections (more on that in a bit), what he didn’t bring was any real filmmaking sensibility. Swan amusingly recalls Davis trying to shoehorn some of his own ideas into their script. “Yes. Dick Davis – a zillionaire drive-in owner and producer of SLITHIS and main booster and mentor of this project – read the script and had several suggestions,” Swan remembers. “Any way you could work a rubber-suited monster in the story, so we could call it SON OF SLITHIS? No, sorry. Any way you could work in the military? A “prologue” was written set in a Pentagon office where guys in uniforms discussed the suspicious activities brewing in hidden Midwestern towns. Yes, it was a totally pointless and stupid addition, but what the heck. Any way we can make this a TV movie? Huh?”
A brief history of Dick Davis (click to enlarge):
1972 - "I promise not to show X-rated films."
1974 - "Yay, I can show X-rated films!"
Box Office mention:
|Gary Fox unaware of the dangers |
around him both on & off the screen
“Why it was the stupidest thing we’ve ever did is I’ve since found that if you have a hundred thousand dollars, start shooting. Once you’re in the middle of production, it is much easier to get the guy to pull out his checkbook and give you $5,000 or $10,000 more for finishing than it is if you haven’t started at all and you’re just some kids with a pipedream. We should have just taken the money and begun. But my father was an old school guy and he said, ‘It’s going to cost $150,000. You don’t have it. You can not go forward in good faith. You can not risk these peoples’ money. You need to give the money back.’” Swan again succinctly sums the budget situation up: “Money. We had some, but not enough.”
|THE FLESH TWISTERS |
died an ignoble, early death
|THE FLESH TWISTERS ghoul|