Glen Coburn isn’t a name synonymous with independent horror movies from the 80s even though his directorial debut BLOODSUCKERS FROM OUTER SPACE can be categorized among “So Bad It’s Good” movies like TROLL 2, THINGS and ROCK ‘N ROLL NIGHTMARE. The film didn’t receive much success on it initial release back in 1984, but it found a rabid group of fans whom throughout the years have helped spread the word to make BfOS a sought after rarity. After years of being unavailable, Coburn has decided to release an independent Special Collector’s Edition DVD remastered from a virgin 35mm print bringing BfOS to a whole new generation.
Bavota San: BLOODSUCKERS FROM OUTER SPACE was your first feature film. How did it all come about?
Glen Coburn: I was always obsessed with making movies. From the time I was very young, I was running stories in my head in the form of mental movie sequences. Unfortunately, this passion did not lead to any pursuit that would actually prepare me to make a movie. Bloodsuckers From Outer Space was much more significant as the end of the frat party than it was a signal of any impending career for me as a filmmaker. Although I was journalism major first and foremost, I ended up taking on Radio & Television Production as my second major in the last couple of years of college. Life in the R/TV department was infinitely more exciting albeit less constructive than the dry, almost clinical atmosphere of the journalism building. I was already primed and when I moved into my new world, I crashed a party that lasted non-stop until well after graduation. One of our friends had a house across the street from campus. It may as well have had a revolving door installed. People were coming and going at all hours of the day and night. There was nothing really unsavory or seriously illegal going on, just a lot of heavy drinking and smoking. The town was about the size of a Cadillac Escalade so aside from hanging out in a couple of moldy bars downtown, there was nothing else to do. Upon being awarded our diplomas, my closest friend, Garl Latham and I moved back to Dallas with the idea of making corporate videos. Some of our party cohorts also landed in Dallas so we soldiered on and continued our college shenanigans in order to avoid the hard truth that we were supposed to be getting our acts together. I convinced Garl that we needed to make a movie. He was sympathetic to my cause and he scraped together the money to make it happen. A year after I graduated from college, I was making a movie.
BS: How long did it take to go from concept to finished film?
GC: I came up with the title a few years before we made the movie. For me Bloodsuckers From Outer Space was perfect because it sounded like a movie that could’ve been made in the 1950s or ‘60s. The filmmakers could have approached it with absolutely no sense of irony. But, it was also ripe for satire. I didn’t want to hit the audience over the head with something like, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or any of the titles that Lloyd Kaufman comes up with. I wanted to make fun of bad horror and sci-fi movies from that era. It was to have bad acting and bad special effects along with some sophomoric humor and cerebral dialogue. My goal was extremely foolhardy but I accomplished it and have lived to regret it. I wrote the script sometime at the end of 1983. I hammered it out, handwritten on Big Chief tablets, in three days. I used to say I did it on a dare but I actually have no recollection of why I wrote it so quickly. We shot it on weekends in the winter and early spring of 1984. The one thing I like about the movie is that wonderful backdrop of the bleak, vast, plains of Hamilton County, Texas. At least, we shot it at the right time of year. I can’t remember how many shoot days. After the last day of shooting, my friend Chad Smith (the Director of Photography) and I walked away. So, we had no involvement in post-production. All I know is that I sat down and watched it on video at the production office in early October 1984 and thought it was absolutely wonderful. The production accountant and the producer’s sister, who was the editor/production-coordinator/script supervisor etc., were there and they told me I had made a movie that was as bad as the movies I was making fun of. So, the whole thing (production/post-production) happened rather quickly.
BS: You cast yourself as Ralph Rhodes. Were you a difficult actor to work with?
GC: It was only natural that I would play a part in the movie. I’m fairly passable, as actor and many people have told me that I’m the best actor in the movie, which isn’t saying much. The truth is that Dennis Letts (General Sanders) and Pat Paulsen (the President) were the only two who came across as professionals. For me, Dennis will always be the centerpiece of the movie. He hammed it up and hit the nail right on the head. Dennis was an actor, a poet, a philosopher, and a teacher. He was big character in real life. He always loved Bloodsuckers. He went out playing a major role in a Broadway play, August: Osage County. Time magazine called it the number one play of the year. It won a Pulitzer and just won the Tony for best play. Back to the Ralph Rhodes question – I think we shot all my scenes on the last day of shooting. By then, everything had pretty much gone to hell. A couple of years earlier, we were playing “Hi, Bob” which was a game that consisted of getting the gang together, watching reruns of the Bob Newhart show on Betamax, and everybody taking a shot of tequila every time a character on the show uttered the words, “Hi, Bob.” The responsibility, pressure, and money-shuffling required in the filmmaking process were a dramatic about face from the big party that led up to making the movie. In any case, certain events of that morning had me pretty shook up. Everybody on the set was ill at ease. The make-up artist gave me a big hairstyle and two Valium so my performance was really driven by lots of hair and benzodiazapines. Even so, I was just about the only one who didn’t drop a single line. The worse thing about my playing Ralph Rhodes was that I was about twenty years too young to play the part.
BS: Did you have a grand world premiere when the film was completed?
GC: The movie premiered at Joe Bob Briggs Third Annual Drive-In Movie Festival and Custom Car Rally at the Inwood Theater in Dallas on October 23 (I think) 1984. It played to a standing room only audience in a small theater upstairs. People were sitting on the steps alongside the seats that ran all the way down toward the screen. The audience laughed a lot and got a real kick out of it. On Halloween night we had the cast and crew screening in the big theater downstairs, also at the Inwood. Several hundred people attended. Lots of friends, family, and a very random assortment of people. I don’t think anybody knew what to make of it. Other people have an entirely different recollection of the event. Emily Aronson, who co-wrote the theme song, remembers it being like a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. My impression was that the reaction to the movie was tepid at best. Of course, plenty of people in the audience were drunk or stoned. This sometimes works in the movie’s favor. I just don’t think the cast and crew screening tapped into the core audience for the movie at all. On the upside, my friend and fellow filmmaker, Matt Devlen introduced me to my future wife, Kay Bay that night, out front under the marquee. We’ve been married for twenty years now and have a fifteen-year-old daughter.
BS: What was the audience reaction to BfOS?
GC: I’ll have to approach the question of audience reaction from a long-term perspective. The movie legitimately enjoys a minor cult following. So, people have been watching from its video rental store heyday in the 1980s through the present. Since I’m sort of a one trick pony as a filmmaker, I haven’t really moved on to the distractions of making four movies a year so I have intermittently paid attention to the reaction of the die-hard Bloodsuckers’ fans. They have contacted me over the years by mail, telephone and of course email in more recent years. I’ve read all the user comments on imdb. For some inexplicable reason, there have always been people who really love the movie and watch it repeatedly. I’ve been to a couple of horror conventions and screened it and I’ve been tracked down through the MySpace site. It seems to appeal almost exclusively to kids – 18 to 25. It’s the same audience it always had but now the kids who are into the movie weren’t even born when it was made. They hang around me at the conventions and they email me all the time. I have a bunch of regulars. And I always write back. They tell me about having “Bloodsuckers Night” and inviting over the gang to watch the movie. I think it must be that it’s so much different than what they’re used to seeing. It’s shot on film in a very rudimentary style, although the compositions are very nice. It has its signature moments (throwing up blood, chainsaw decapitation, severed arm with machete, shower scene, bloodsucker kung fu, etc) and it has some funny dialogue. But as much as the fans love it, everybody else hates it. I’ve never heard anybody say, “That movie was okay.” Bloodsuckers was a big gag from the get go. And there are some people who honestly can’t tell that it was meant to be funny. Of course, some people who realize that it was meant to be funny think there’s nothing funny about it. I would honestly be afraid to meet some of the movie’s detractors in a dark alley. I’m afraid I would be beaten to death with clubs. Recently, DVD Drive-In reviewed it and it’s like the guy was judging it by the same criteria he would judge Shindler’s List. I mean really – DVD Drive-In? We’re not talking Vanity Fair or The New York Times. I was shocked. He was brutal. Come on. It’s just a stupid party movie. Then a couple of weeks later, there was review on Dread Central that gave it 5 daggers and referred to it as a “lost gem.” The reviewer summed it up with, “50 percent John Waters. 50 percent Ed Wood and 100% pure fucking entertainment.”
BS: The 80s were a great time for independent horror movies. Was it all champagne and wild parties like we’ve come to imagine it?
GC: I don’t know who’s imagining the champagne and wild parties. That’s what I was doing before I got involved in movie making. I will have to say that here in Dallas, there was a big marketing campaign referring to this as “The Third Coast.” One of the biggest developers in town sunk a ton of money into building the Dallas Communications Complex, complete with three soundstages and an office building. It was just this big bunch of stuff sitting out in the middle of the prairie in the vicinity of the airport. It seemed very remote to me. I remember this really huge party in the largest soundstage. It was 1984. Maybe it was a grand opening or launch party or something. The place was jam-packed and it was totally raucous. There was a lot of champagne drinking inside at the party along with pot smoking in the parking lot and coke snorting in the restrooms. I must’ve been uncharacteristically sober because I have very lucid memories of that party. A lot of people were banking on Dallas becoming a major filmmaking hub. But, there was really no evidence that the business would suddenly materialize. I guess Trammel Crow thought, “If you build it, they will come.” But they didn’t. Production companies, talent agencies, acting schools, and rental houses were springing up like Mesquite trees. It didn’t take long before everybody here realized that Dallas didn’t really have a coastline. That era is a very distant memory. The young kids have no idea that it ever happened. In a way, it was sad for a lot of people. It didn’t affect me. I have a finely-tuned bullshit detector. We did have the television series, Dallas shooting second unit stuff around town for a while and then there was the “Chuck Norris Show”, which had the distinction of being the worst show on television. Prison Break was shooting here until just recently. Now they’re gone.
BS: Was ushering in the age of home video as exciting as it sounds?
GC: At the time, I don’t think any of us knew that we were ushering in anything. We were just making a movie, which was exciting for the most part. Matt and I were up on stage at an event last September called, It Came From Dallas and Matt made the comment that I started the whole regional straight-to-video movement with Bloodsuckers From Outer Space. I don’t know if that’s true but if so, I apologize. From a distribution standpoint, ultra low-budget genre pictures moved from the drive-in to home video. I would’ve been just as happy making BFOS for the drive-in. I just hoped that the movie would find an audience. The distribution medium was not really foremost in my mind. I always say that Matt and Brett (McCormick) and I didn’t really come in with the birth of Home Video. We sort of came along with the afterbirth. In the beginning, home video was just a way to increase the market for porn. Porn theaters and peep shows were mostly the private domain of perverts who were bold enough to show up in those places. Home Video made it discretely available to everyone, especially for the audience that didn’t previously have local access. It brought hardcore sex shows into living rooms around the world, which was a remarkable breakthrough. You didn’t have to leave the house or be concerned about what you might be sitting on or stepping in. Stuart Karl really ushered in legitimate Home Video with the Jane Fonda workout tapes. Later, he sold Karl Home Video to Lorimar and that’s who originally released Bloodsuckers. That was in 1985 and the big studios/distributors were still just putting out new releases on Home Video after their theatrical runs had played out. They had not yet opened their vaults and unleashed sixty years of product that was sitting on the shelves. So, in the mid-eighties, everybody had a VCR and there was a voracious appetite for movies on tape. There clearly was not enough available material, so any movie that you could see and hear was fair game. Five years later, BFOS would’ve never been released at all. Although, because of its cult following, Warner Home Video did reissue it in 1993 and ’96.
BS: What lead you to putting together a special edition DVD for BfOS and releasing it yourself?
GC: That night at It Came From Dallas, which was put on by the Dallas Producers Association, was really the launching pad for the project. They were featuring movies made in Dallas in the 1970s through the mid ‘80s. A film archivist and a local film critic were on hand to host and to do Q&As with the “notables” who showed up to represent the movie clips. Most of the screen time was devoted to Hollywood projects that were shot here, like Logan’s Run and some Chuck Norris movie called Silent Rage. I think a lot of people associated with the local films were either dead or wished they were so they didn’t show up. The evening was mostly pretty dry. The people that got up on stage were often people peripherally associated with some really shitty projects. They told stories that were supposed to be funny about things like how flies were swarming around the fake blood when some guy got an axe to the head. Honestly, Matt coerced me into going to this thing. I had no interest. I hadn’t seen BFOS in 17 years. And on the way, I was seriously sick to my stomach and having a panic attack, my wife and I almost didn’t go into the theater. Fortunately, I took a Klonopin before I left the house. It calmed me down but it made me forget some of my canned cerebral comedy bits and made it difficult for me to speak intelligibly. As it worked out, we sat there for a long time before I had to go on stage so I became relatively coherent. Everybody laughed so hard at the clips from Bloodsuckers and Baby Born With Full Beard (from Tabloid!) that you could only hear the first line of dialogue in the clip. Then I starting talking and got non-stop laughs. I totally overshadowed Matt and basically stole the microphone and they couldn’t get me off the stage. The next day, an entertainment reporter said that I was the highlight of the show and that I should be a stand-up comic. I started to prepare material for my new act but my wife put her foot down and said that it was just one more thing for me to fail at. In any case, at that point I was hooked. Coincidentally, during the following week I was contacted by a couple of fans from other states who knew nothing of It Came From Dallas. Predictably, when these guys contacted me, they ask when I’m putting out the movie on DVD. The snag was that Warner Home Video was still listed as the distributor. But, BFOS wasn’t listed in their catalog so I called up the legal department and quickly found out that they had not renewed the license. So, for me at that moment, the whole thing was kismet. Since then I’ve come to the conclusion that the universe was playing a trick on me. The process of putting the DVD together was disastrous. I set a deadline so that I could launch the new DVD at Texas Frightmare Weekend at the end of February. First, I didn’t think I had a print. Chad Smith, the D.P. (also the only one from the Bloodsucker movie who is still a close friend) somehow ended up with a print. I think he borrowed it from the production company and never returned it. When I called him about the print, he told me it was in great shape so I sent it directly to the transfer house. A week later, I got a check disk. There were emulsion scratches throughout the whole print. The soundtrack was basically just snap, crackle, and pop. I paid for the transfer and then beat my head against the wall a few times. I spent a week researching software that could fix the scratches and I was going to use the sound from a clean VHS copy that I had. Then, I decided to scrap the whole project all together. I was not going to release a sub-standard product.
BS: The print of BfOS is pristine and the DVD looks great. How did you get your hands on such an undamaged print?
GC: Several years ago, Garl Latham got sick of storing all the various cans and cases of Bloodsuckers stuff at his house so he told me to come pick it up. I’ve had it in a closet in my office ever since and my wife has complained continuously because she didn’t have a place to hang all of the clothes that she would never wear again. In my desperation, I pulled all the boxes, cans, and cases out and started rifling through them. I didn’t know what I had. I was pretty sure that it was junk because I didn’t think Garl would actually give me anything valuable. I didn’t find the negative or a 16mm print. I found a bunch of sound rolls, a color reversal interpositive and surprisingly a 35mm print. I had only seen a blow-up print of the movie once and Chad and I were sick about it. The cropping was terrible. But, as a last resort, I sent the 35mm print I found in my closet to the transfer house. As it turned out, the blow up was composed 4:5. The Inwood Theater projected it 1:1.85 which looked ghastly. And even better, I found out that this particular print had never been run through a projector. It was a 23-year-old print so the colors had shifted. I ended up having a five-hour transfer done with scene-by-scene color correction. The resulting sound and image quality were terrific. Then, Terry “Nail Gun Massacre” Loftin turned me onto some guys who were doing authoring in the back room of a house. They were nice guys and they worked really hard and did a great job. But, they were a little eccentric. There was no company name and the head guy (we’ll call him Bob), who was a man in his fifties, slept in a sleeping bag in one of the bedrooms. One time I was there at ten in the morning and he and the other owner had already had a few Bloody Marys. Bob talked for about an hour and a half about a new invention of his and at some point pulled a handgun out of a drawer and started waving it around. I was totally composed and just reacted as if I was accustomed to this sort of thing happening all the time. I took Matt there once and he described the scene as a Disney version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Terry also took care of the replications and the printing. He offered me an incredible deal and he delivered a good quality product. I’m also graphic artist so I designed the sleeve for the case and the image for the disk imprint, which saved some money.
BS: What was it like gathering everyone together for the reunion?
GC: When I decided to do the DVD release, I immediately knew I had to do Bloodsucker Reunion. In my mind, it was the missing puzzle piece. I felt like if I could pull it off, I would have a fully formed product and that the value of the special feature would make the DVD worth owning. In terms of value vs. cost, Bloodsucker Reunion was the only economical part of the project. I did all the legwork to track everybody down. A friend of mine owns a production studio so I shot it there for free. Another long-time friend, Russell Blair who just happens to be the Cinematographer on my new film, ran camera, sound and lighting on the documentary. I edited it. So, essentially it cost nothing except for the sandwiches that my wife bought for Russell and me and the Bloodsucker cast and crew who showed up for the interviews. Tracking everybody down was not easy. It was just me and anywho.com. I scoped out the surrounding areas and called a lot of wrong numbers. The biggest disappointment was that I couldn’t find Thom Meyers, who played the lead. Kay and I ran into him late one night in New York years ago. We went to a coffee shop and talked for a bit. Then he had to hurry off to catch the subway from where we were in the Village all the way up to Washington Heights where he and his girlfriend lived. We walked out onto the street and said good-bye and I never saw him again. I contacted anybody I could find associated with the Film Actors Lab, which was one of the businesses that sprung up during the “Third Coast” era. Thom was closely associated with the school for a few years. Adam Roarke who starred in such movies as Hell’s Angels on Wheels, The Savage Seven, and Beach Girls was the acting teacher. I never found Thom. Terry Loftin said Thom was dead but that was never confirmed. One of Thom’s former cohorts at the acting school said that Thom had fallen on hard times, he went back to his original name and became a truck driver. Working under an unrealistic, self-imposed deadline, I was a wreck trying to get everybody together. I was in major travel mode, shooting architectural photography all over the country and I had a narrow window to get this done. I was surprised at the number of people who showed up. I did have to get someone to shoot the interview with Dennis Letts in New York. I’m very glad I pulled that off because he passed away six weeks later. And, Kris Nicolau, who played one of the research scientists and is now a casting director in L.A., just happened to be visiting Dennis so I got her interview at the same time. I talked to Dennis on the phone a couple of times before the interview and that was terrific. It was also great to see Robert Bradeen who played Uncle Joe. I can’t hear his voice without thinking of Uncle Joe. When he calls me up, I always get it a kick out of it. I had lunch with him a few weeks ago. He’s a great guy. During the taping, it was odd for me because I felt like I was hearing all these stories for the first time. I saw everything in the context of the big picture but each individual had specific memories of their on little part in it. Everybody had a good time and had fond memories of working on the movie. I was the only one who slammed BFOS repeatedly in the interviews. Some critic seemed overly derisive of the fact that the interviewees seemed happy that they were in the movie. I think he needs to pull the stick out of his ass. I don’t understand why anybody would be embarrassed or unhappy. We had fun. We all enjoyed working together. At Dennis’ memorial someone mentioned that they once asked him how it felt to be in a bad movie. Dennis replied, “I think it’s great. It’s an honor. How many people in the world get to be in a bad movie?”
BS: After BfOS, you went on to direct TABLOID with Bret McCormick and Matt Devlen. How did that come together?
GC: Matt is a real go-getter. He called me up and introduced himself while I was shooting Bloodsuckers. He came to the location to meet me. Unfortunately, I think it was that last shoot day so I was sort of distracted. But we kept in touch and became friends. For the cast and crew screening, he enlisted my wife (whom I’d never met) as a drug/cake mule. He had her pick up a joint, which she is still furious about and he had her bring a huge sheet cake decorated with a very primitive depiction of a bloodsucker. I don’t think I got any of the cake but Matt did give me the joint and as a result, I have practically no memory of the rest of the evening. The screening was sort of a melee. Everyone was in costume. I remember Brett being there so I must have already known him at that time. Matt and Brett and I were sort of hanging out together after that (I think). It was only a few months before they came up with the idea for Tabloid!. And because I had written and directed a movie, they had the impression that I knew what I was doing. This, despite the fact that they had seen Bloodsuckers. Their concept was very good – filmed stories out of a tabloid with a wrap-around concerning the magazine being put together. They asked me to write and direct a segment. My immediate impression was to come up with something that was totally bizarre and over the top. It had to be completely outrageous – like Bloodsuckers except with a much faster pace, shorter scenes and some real action. I asked my wife (then girlfriend) what the title should be and she said, “Baby Born With Full Beard.” So, basically, I decided I needed a white trash couple living in a mobile home – a drug dealer, his nine-month pregnant wife along with her haggard mother who hated her son-in-law. I wanted a drug deal gone bad, a car chase, a shootout, an exploding truck and at the end, a baby born with a full beard. It was eighteen minutes of non-stop hillbilly hijacks. I think we shot it in three days. I really like it. Kay told me recently that it’s my best work. Matt even told me about a year ago that my segment was way beyond the rest of the movie. So, I think I did something that really should have been seen and would’ve been a big cult hit except that it was buried in the rest of the movie. People did show up at Cinema Wasteland with VHS copies for me to sign. And one guy referred to me as “Dub” throughout the entire convention. Years ago, he rented Tabloid! and only taped my segment. He quoted a lot of lines from it. At a party one night, his wife told me he had watched it at least 40 times. I really want to do a follow up. A friend of mine who’s a film/video guy wants to do it right away. Kay and I played the leads and we’re both ready. Kay thinks it should be a series. I think maybe a series of webisodes would be good. Anyway, the rest of the movie…Brett’s segment started out absolutely terrific. When I saw his opening, I gained respect for him as a filmmaker. He definitely had talent. Unfortunately, it settled into a heavily lit night scene with actors wearing thick dead-people make-up (100 times better than the Bloodsucker make-up). Dennis Letts was one of the dead people. They started philosophizing about being dead and the meaning of life, etc. I couldn’t figure out what Brett was thinking. He started out with a home run and it digressed into an ultra low budget, My Dinner With Andre. Brett was definitely the most passionate filmmaker of the three of us. He was absolutely gleeful about making movies. He was like a kid playing with G.I. Joes. He would do anything to make movies so he ended up being wrung out making no-budget movies so that Roger Corman could go out to dinner at the Ivy. It was unfortunate the talent that was wasted. He ended up getting out of the business entirely. Matt’s segment of the movie was about a vacuum cleaner that caused a tornado. I think he had people working twenty-four hours a day on that thing. I can’t do that. After ten or twelve hours, I’m ready to go home. The wrap around was the worst part of the movie; long, boring segments with lots of dialog and mostly amateurish performances.
BS: Did you know that a VHS copy of TABLOID sells for $100 online. Any thoughts of doing a DVD?
GC: I haven’t seen a VHS copy of Tabloid! listed on Ebay for $100. I asked Matt about it and he didn’t know anything about it either. He was pretty dubious about the veracity of that claim. If that did ever happen, it can only be because of the rarity of it. It’s like if Divine ate the only piece of dog shit actually produced by the dog in the closing scene of Pink Flamingos, c’est la vie. But if the dog shit twice, that extra piece of dog shit might be worth $1000 on Ebay. If the dog was really sick and shit 100 times, each piece of shit might only go for $10. Who knows how many copies of Tabloid ever existed, a couple of thousand? Lorimar and Warner Home Video delivered tens of thousands of units of Bloodsuckers on VHS so there are still quite a few floating around. I’ve seen VHS copies listed on Ebay for $30. Now that I’ve released it on DVD, those VHS copies will probably be worthless except for the fact that most people don’t know about the DVD release. I’ve tried to make it known to all the hard-core horror fans through all the usual websites. But, most of potential buyers of the new DVD don’t look at those websites. As long as I’m self-releasing, it will be difficult to get the word out and with DVD sales in the toilet, it’s doubtful that any distributor will give Bloodsuckers a chance. A DVD release of Tabloid! is certainly an interesting idea. Matt and actually talked about it but Brett has the rights to movie so he would have to come on board. Matt and I haven’t talked to him in years. I would really like to find out where he is and what he’s up to. Brett is a really cool guy who got screwed around by the business. Matt of course, has gotten screwed around too. He has produced, co-produced or executive produced about 18 films. A couple of years ago, he produced a movie called G.I. Jesus, which won the Grand Jury Prize at CineVegas. He and I are currently working on a feature called, Hollywood Deadbeat.