Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kamillions (1990)

... aka: Wingates, The

Directed by:
Mikel (Mike) B. Anderson

Little was known about the making of this very obscure film until the guys at Junk Food Diner hunted down and interviewed the director, so now there's a bit more background information about this one out there... and what fascinating (and amusing) background information it is! According to the director, who'd previously made and sold a low-budget comedy called Alone in the T-Shirt Zone (1986), an acquaintance of his got into contact with him about a directing opportunity. He then flew to San Francisco and met with a group of producers who'd flown in from Hong Kong. The group already had the budget in place (roughly a million dollars), the locations secured, a script and all of the monsters designed for a horror film. After a disagreement over the initial script, the original writers walked. Anderson then wrote a brand new screenplay in less than two weeks. While he was busy doing that, completely unbeknownst to him, the producers changed gears and wanted a monster-comedy film more in the vein of Tim Burton's then-recent hit Beetlejuice (1988). After reading Anderson's straight horror / sci-fi script, the producers attempted to fire him (despite the fact they hadn't yet told him they were wanting something else) and then re-hired him. Anderson and Harry S. Robins (who also plays a major acting role in the movie) then did yet another script rewrite to work in some comedy.

Filming took place at the Dunsmuir House and Gardens in Oakland, California. The familiar-looking home, which was built in 1899 in the Neoclassical style, was the same house previously seen in Burnt Offerings (1976) and Phantasm (1979). Post production didn't go smoothly because all the money ran out, so the score wasn't properly done. The first cut of the film ran over 2 hours, but much to the horror of the director and the co-writer, the Chinese producers (who didn't quite understand the style of humor) had it reduced to about 90 minutes and apparently chopped out whole scenes rather indiscriminately as they went along. Anderson claims that the film was “basically not finished” and that it's “not edited properly.” In fact, he had little to do with the version that eventually found its way onto home video. The 90-minute cut was released on a completely unknown label (SBM) here in the U.S. and it also popped up on video in a few other countries like Australia and the Netherlands. However, the overall distribution was pretty awful.

Loopy scientist Nathaniel Pickman Wingate (Robins), a graduate of Miskatonic University so we already know he has the highest of monster mayhem credentials, has established a contact point with a parallel universe occupying the same subatomic space as our universe. But before he can go down in the record books with some of the greats, first things first. He has a birthday party to attend... His own. Cheerfully aloof wife Nancy (Laura O'Malley) wants him to stop dilly-dallying and get ready and sends their teenage son Sam (Dan Evans) to prod him along, but Nathan just can't pull himself away from his work despite the fact he only has 4 hours of coolant left to safely operate his machinery or else he'll end up blowing up half the planet. While peering into the alternate dimension he's discovered, Nathan spots a bunch of unknown lifeforms. He's then sucked into the portal and two little insect-like monsters are spit out into our world.

Meanwhile, Nancy greets a succession of party guests starting with her snobby, bitchy sister-in-law Angelica (Kate Alexander), who isn't five minutes there before she's criticizing nearly every member of the family. Angelica technically owns half of the huge mansion but she's been unable to get her money out of it due to her brother and his family still living there, so I guess she at least has a reason to be bitter. Long-absent, extremely wealthy cousin Desmon (Christopher Gasti), who's a famous count in Liechtenstein, shows up next all the way from Europe. And then dropping by in is family friend Lawrence Newman (David Allan Shaw), who claims to have given up the bad life (like paying for escorts) to become a conservative (“Obviously the tragic result of a liberal upbringing!”) reverend but is actually just your usual greedy / sex-obsessed hypocrite in clergy's clothing. He also keeps trying to hawk some program called “Dynagetics” in an obvious dig at L. Ron Hubbard's “Dianetics,” which was all over the place at the time.

The two little creatures; one good, one evil, have the amazing power of mimicry and can rearrange their physical structure to become an exact duplicate of any organism or physical object. In other words, they can transform into whomever or whatever they want at will. They also have telekinetic abilities, can animate inanimate objects, read minds and possess many other abilities. The bad creature (which turns out to be a 10-year-old brat in the other dimension) ends up attacking and possessing Desmon, while the good creature (the brat's babysitter) sneaks into son Sam's closet, glances up at pin-up poster and transforms into the image of Sam's dream girl: a model named Jasmine (Dru-Anne Cakmis, who also starred in Albert Pyun's VICIOUS LIPS [1986] under the name "Dru-Anne Perry"). Sam, of course, falls hard for Jasmine even though he can't quite explain why she's suddenly materialized in his closet, while Desmon goes on a killing spree; gleefully offing various guests and family members in bizarre ways.

This plot seems to have been inspired not only by H.P. Lovecraft's writings but also Stuart Gordon's hit Lovecraft adaptations Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986). As for the rest, it appears they swiped elements from The Deadly Spawn (1983), Gremlins (1984), Weird Science (1985), Terror Vision (1986), Critters 2 (1988), the Nightmare on Elm Street films, Beetlejuice and numerous other then-popular films, put them in a blender and hit “Mix “ Thankfully, this is still filled with fun sequences that make the film worth a look. During one, a man's penis turns into a giant snake-like monster. During another, a woman's fox stole comes to life and attacks her before she's transformed into a cockroach. One guy gets electrocuted with jumper cables, the obnoxious daughter (Allison Rachel Golde) gets a telephone shoved down her throat and Sam's best friend (Andrew Ross Litzky) is squashed down to where he fits inside of a fish bowl. The bad creature takes on several forms throughout, including that of a chair.

Because this was clearly made in good spirits, isn't all that sleazy (there's no nudity, very little bad language and no real gore) and has a rather upbeat tone, it maintains a sort of innocent, infectious old fashioned charm throughout. The acting's mixed (and downright wooden in a few instances) but decent for the most part and the production values, photography, lighting, sets and all that are adequate. Despite what the director and co-writer have said in regards to the editing and score, I didn't notice any major problems with the continuity or flow of the film. I'm sure it's not the complete vision they had for it and they have every right to be disappointed, but what's here and how it's presented certainly isn't bad either. 

After filming was completed, Anderson returned home feeling bummed about his experiences, not to mention broke. The tide soon turned though when he got a job working on a little animated show that was still in its infancy back in 1990: The Simpsons. He worked his way up on the series, starting as a character layout artist and finally becoming a director, winning several Emmy Awards in the process. Robins would later become well-known in the gamer world for providing the voice Dr. Isaac Kleiner in the Half-Life video game series, while cinematographer Kathleen Beeler went on to a successful career working for Industrial Light & Magic. Assistant director William Rice co-directed his own weird horror flick, The Vineyard (1989), at the Dunsmuir House at around the same time.

Trivia Note: The was supposed to be called (the properly-spelled) Chameleons but one of the Hong Kong investors insisted that be changed to Kamillions because he feared people would mispronounce the title! Incidentally, this name change actually ends up suiting the film perfectly because of its comedic tone, the fact that these chameleons are from another dimension and it's how the dumb sister character spells it on a piece of paper.


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