With Dear God No! finally released on DVD and Blu-ray, director James Bickert is flying high on the nostalgic waves of drive-in cinema as he dives head first into making the second installment of his biker-exploitation trilogy, Frankenstein Created Bikers. Thrilled by the promise of a horror mash-up of historical proportions, I got a hold of Mr. Bickert to discuss his experiences, influences and endeavours, past and present.
So let’s start: why do you have such an affinity for biker flicks?
I grew up around drive-ins where it was common to see dusk ’til dawn blocks of repackaged biker films. Even years after the genre had died, they were still a box-office draw here in the South. I scoured the VHS shelves later in life to fill in the gaps. The majority of these films had a California setting so I wanted to create one with a unique Georgia identity. Something we always wanted to see as kids. By setting Dear God No! around 1973, during the downfall of the biker film cycle, I could also incorporate other genres such as horror and sexploitation. The freedom associated with bikers also lent itself nicely to my fears of parenthood that I wanted to explore as an underlying theme.
The film opens on a pack of bikers who’ve raped and killed a group of women. We follow these guys for most of the movie. Why make these guys so unlikeable when they are essentially the protagonists of the piece?
The A.I.P. [American International Pictures] bikers were always handsome, misunderstood anti-heroes so I wanted to sidestep that cliché and have viewers ride with a bunch of outlaw scumbags. I’ve never seen it taken to this level and I felt it was important to add something new to the genre. Sure, it’s been done with serial killers but not much with bikers. When I was a kid, my mom was terrified [that] she was going to be raped by a Pagan! Outlaw bikers were being sensationalized in the news and didn’t resemble Adam Rourke or Peter Fonda. That was the starting point, and villains are more fun to follow when you’re sitting in an ozoner [a.k.a. drive-in theatre] drinking beer with friends anyway. After the audience becomes part of this gang, we turn the gun on them as a reminder of who they’re riding with.
I had seen it but it wasn’t a conscious influence. Visually,Northville Cemetery Massacre and Werewolves on Wheels were influential with their gritty, stripped-down rat-bikes and grainy film stock. There is also a good bit of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Death Weekend, I Drink Your Blood and ’60s stag loops in there. You can also see my “leering for too long” fascination with Orgy of the Dead and Mondo Topless. My influences are all over the map but to tell this specific story, I needed to stay within the period visually. I felt strongly that it had to be shot on film, and avoid cranes, dollies and flashy edits. I wanted the illusion of a lost ’70s regional drive-in film, so we relied more on the camera lens. I did throw some French New Wave jump cuts into the film but I think that’s acceptable for the period. We basically shot everything in one take, which was more budgetary than aesthetic choice. It did help produce the right charm, like a Honky Tonk Nights or Tomcats.
It is a sequel with a natural progression in the underlying themes. We are taking the look and score to about 1976, with a heavy European Horror influence on the interiors. The exteriors will remain rooted in the Deep South. There will be heavier colour saturation, tracking shots and more takes! All I can really say is that it’s about being manipulated, feeling trapped, Sasquatch fights and blowing the shit out of some cars. It will remain deeply rooted in ’70s drive-in fare. This is all part of a planned trilogy, with Rebel Hell [not yet released] being the prequel to Dear God No! We shot a trailer for Frankenstein Created Bikers, which is a hidden Easter egg on the Dear God No! DVD. It reveals quite a bit.
You began making features in the mid-’90s with bondage-based flicks and then initially ended your run of films with 2000’s Dumpster Baby. After a ten-year hiatus, you came back with Dear God No! Why were you absent for a decade?
Oh man, you dig deep. After college, I hooked up with a dominatrix one night at a bar. She needed a camera operator so I got involved in these fetish productions. It was great money but not what I’m into. When I tried to inject horror elements into the videos, it pissed off the distributors. They wanted tied feet and I wanted a plot. With a gang of film students and friends, I set out to make a Luis Buñuel-horror hybrid [Dumpster Baby]. It isn’t anything you should seek out and it was poorly handled by the distributor. They sat on it for many years and when it was finally released, the replication was abysmal. The contract was shit, the artwork misleading, they sent out bogus financial statements and at one point there were more used copies for sale on Amazon.com than they claimed had sold. The whole experience just pissed me off so I quit. My partners-in-crime, Shane Morton and Nick Morgan, finally convinced me to make another film. I figured this time out I would make exactly what I wanted to see and not worry if it ever found an audience. If it did, well, fine. If not, I could watch it in my backyard, drink beer, smoke pork, and die a happy man. I’m thankful they got me out of my funk. I want nothing more than to make exploitation films. The response to Dear God No! has been great and the VHS addicts get that I’m not trying to make faux-grindhouse. I always considered grindhouse to be something you watch alone, wearing a trenchcoat, and to drive-in films you bring a cooler of beer, friends and your best girl. There is definitely a crossover and I like all the faux-grindhouse films. My mind is just in a world of showtime countdowns, trailers, BBQ and PIC mosquito coils.
A few of your actors in Dear God No! and Frankenstein Created Bikers have long CVs, yet others don’t have any credits at all. Of course, I’m speaking primarily about Jett Bryant and a few of the other Impalers. Are they actually criminal bikers?
I’ve known many of the people involved in this film for years. They’re not all criminal bikers. [Laughs] We’re mainly part of a close Atlanta scene centred around events at The Starlight Six Drive-in, The Star Bar and The Plaza Theater. Most of the actors are musicians or they work at local haunted attractions like the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Silver Scream Spookshow and Chambers of Horror. Paul McComiskey, Madeline Brumby and Olivia LaCroix were the real working actors who I hope forgive me for the lack of takes. Our whole community got behind this project. … I spent four months in pre-production and then we shot in seven and a half days, like an old Roger Corman quickie. Just about everyone in front of the camera was behind it. We made up names for a bunch of people to pad out the credits. Jett was in charge of continuity! He coincidentally is the lead singer for the band Bigfoot and one hell of a performer. He’s in the studio recording now.
Finally, I won’t give away how, but Sasquatch makes an incredible appearance in Dear God No! Do you have an interest in the Bigfoot legend or any Bigfoot films?
Thanks! That was the multi-talented Jim Stacy who runs The Starlight Six Drive-in. He has also played a Yeti! The Legend of Boggy Creek terrified me as a kid and [my friends and I] even tried making footprints to freak other kids out. I guess my interest has always been more cinematic than anything. My all-time favourite [Bigfoot film] is Night of the Demon. It’s a wonderful blend of monster and sleaze. Hell, Bigfoot is a Southern hero just like Billy Jack and Evel Knievel. When he rips up the screen, it’s just magic, and Big World Pictures is about to unleash an all out Biker versus Sasquatch war!
[Dear God No! is currently available through many major retailers and its official website deargodnomovie.com. Be sure also to keep your nose out for Frankenstein Created Bikers coming in 2013. Click here for info on Jett Bryant’s band Bigfoot.]
But wait, there is also a contest to win the soiled panties of Dear God No co-star, Madeline Brumby. By purchasing any item off the Big World Pictures Ebay store from July 23rd to September 23rd you will automatically be entered in a chance to get your grubby little hands on this terribly torrid bit of Exploitation history . You must be 18 years of age to enter and employees of Big World Pictures are not eligible. Contest is not associated with Ebay. This collectible piece of screen used memorabilia is stained with stage blood and comes with a certificate of authenticity. Garment complies with United States health and postal regulations.