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Exclusive photos/comments, plus teaser trailer & poster: indie horror veteran J.R. Bookwalter returns with “SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY”

Thursday, October 19, 2023 | Exclusives, News


And he has brought back a number of past collaborators as well.

Filmmaker J.R. Bookwalter, creator of the Super-8 zombie epic THE DEAD NEXT DOOR, SOV favorites like POLYMORPH and OZONE and many more, has jumped back into the game after more than 20 years away with SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY. The gruesome medical shocker reunites him with several past cast members, including James L. Edwards, Floyd Ewing Jr., Tina Krause, Sasha Graham, Brinke Stevens, Tom Hoover and Michael Todd, plus a voice cameo by Debbie Rochon. Drew Fortier also stars; the synopsis: “With the world gripped by a deadly pandemic, science denier Glenn Rollins [Edwards] turns to an experimental vaccine as treatment for a lingering sickness. Much to the surprise of his doctor, wife, and friends, the remedy immediately fixes what ails him. But Glenn will soon discover the only thing more fatal than the virus…is the cure.”

“After my last movie for Full Moon–the ill-fated STINGERS, a.k.a. DEADLY STINGERS, a.k.a. MEGA SCORPIONS…ugh!–wrapped in 2002, I stepped away from the director’s chair and spent more than 20 years telling everyone I would never do it again,” Bookwalter tells RUE MORGUE. “As I slowly worked my way through restoring the older movies for Blu-ray, a little voice in my head would occasionally chime in: ‘Gee, this might be fun to do again.’ Then late last year, I listened to the audiobook version of Charlie Band’s memoir CONFESSIONS OF A PUPPETMASTER, where he proclaimed that when you stop making movies, you die. So I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to die just yet.’ [Laughs]

“One of the people who regularly attempted to get me back in the saddle was James L. Edwards, who started with me as a production assistant on THE DEAD NEXT DOOR and has since directed three features of his own. We went to lunch one day where I told him I was ready to do it again, and a few weeks later, we had the screenplay for SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY. It was one of the quickest, most rewarding collaborations I’ve ever had.”

A key inspiration behind SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY was the 1977 shocker THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN, featuring early makeup effects by Rick Baker, which was a childhood obsession of Bookwalter’s. “There are hundreds of movies with zombies, vampires, werewolves, and the like, but no one has ever really attempted something like MELTING MAN again,” he notes. “So I took it upon myself to do just that, substituting a space virus for an experimental vaccine. It’s a homage to the ’50s movies I watched on television as a kid, but instead of atomic hysteria, the subject is a fictional pandemic. There’s quite a bit of social satire too, both about how we as a society act as well as how corporations take advantage of such situations. But at its core, this is just a dumb, fun, icky throwback to the kind of monster movies I grew up with.”

Promising “plenty of Easter eggs throughout for fans of my older flicks,” Bookwalter says he was more hands-on with his new movie than he was on many of his past productions. “Not content with simply directing and editing, I made the decision early on to light and shoot SIDE EFFECTS as well, something I hadn’t done since the ’90s on OZONE and POLYMORPH. The last time I shot a movie this way, I was only 30 years old, so it was occasionally a challenge doing it again at age 57 [laughs]! My objective was to make a better-looking movie than the old stuff, which meant re-educating myself on modern technology like LED lights, which are so much lighter and more efficient than the old days. As on my early efforts, most of the crew had never worked on a movie before, so it was often a real seat-of-your-pants experience!”

Staying true to his inspirations, Bookwalter made this a practical effects show, with special makeup handled by Emily Sammons and David Milchick, with assistance from Sarah Crowder. The two-week shoot was divided into two portions, with Bookwalter lensing the interiors during spring break in late March (“so my wife and kids could pitch in”), followed by exteriors in early May. “I’m thrilled with the end result,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun, with interesting characters, looks and sounds like a much bigger movie than it is and certainly delivers the goods. It’s actually much gorier than I originally planned, so I don’t think fans of my old flicks will be disappointed. We’re hoping to have it shown at a few festivals and do a grassroots theatrical roadshow early next year, so I hope folks will take the opportunity to get off their couch and see it on the big screen if they have a chance.” And for those unable to do so, “SIDE EFFECTS was shot and mastered in 4K HDR, so a 4K Blu-ray release is planned for sometime next year.” We’ll keep you posted on the release as it gets closer!

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and in addition to his work for RUE MORGUE, he has been a longtime writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. He has also written for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM, MOVIEMAKER and others. He is the author of the AD NAUSEAM books (1984 Publishing) and THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press), and he has contributed documentaries, featurettes and liner notes to numerous Blu-rays, including the award-winning feature-length doc TWISTED TALE: THE UNMAKING OF "SPOOKIES" (Vinegar Syndrome).