MMI in Focus: Spellcaster / John Carl Buechler - Empire Studios


'Spellcaster' was in production pretty much at the same time as the Empire Pictures hit 'From Beyond'.
But Spell's budget was significantly smaller and its release was mysteriously delayed by years.
John Carl Buechler and his MMI Shop started doing some sculpting on the 'Spellcaster' creatures, 
in parallel with working on 'From Beyond', but did they start working on the latex appliances/masks too? 
Foam rubber has a life expectancy of not much more than six months, then the creatures lose 
their 'positive attitude and their agility' and they would have to be rebuilt.
Every film producer wants to avoid such unplanned extra costs.
Anyway, 'Spellcaster' was probably shot the summer after 'From Beyond' in about 3 weeks, 
and wasn't released until years later.
Maybe the film just needed a bit of post-production? 
'From Beyond' was big, possibly Charlie was afraid that 'Spellcaster' would be a bit too tiny.
Well, 'Spellcaster' offers everything a typical 80s horror flick should offer.
One key point is certainly the art of improvisation, which is used here permanently on all fronts!
A refreshingly cheesy, hardly existing script and intentional (let's hope) overacting of a bunch of stereotypical 
characters, reinforced by physical effects that are anything but special.
A bunch of young kidz stagger through the castle to find a $ 1 million cheque.
The cheque dangles from a clearly visible fishing line ... and the kidz are trying to catch the bait.
Uninvited guests take part in the wild chase through the castle, and they are not interested in all that money ...
Starting shot for a little bit of 'Ten little Indians' rock'n'roll.
And without exception all of us, no matter if you are yesterday's videotape buyer, or the blu-ray buyer of today, 
watch this movie just for one reason:
The quick-moving dance ballet of terrifying rubber creatures, staged by John Carl Buechler and his clubhouse gang.
And the troupe delivers a perfect show, in the spirit of Buechler's special method of the art of 
special effects makeup (his credo): "Do it fast, do it cheap and make it look better than it should".
Very, very well done!
'Spellcaster' is a pretty professional production that is often underestimated but has a lot of good vibrations!
Highly entertaining and fun to watch!
There is hardly any information or photos about the film to be found.
So I am all the more pleased that I can show you some cool stuff today.
Amateur filmmakers, Halloweeners and makeup aficionados will jump out of their seats and scream in fear!
Does that really have to be?
SPELLCASTER - A colorful retrospective to reveal the historical significance of this cinematic marvel ...
Where is the fast-forward button ...?

In the 1980s, Charles Band, the head of 'Empire Pictures' took over the renowned studio from Dino de Laurentiis 
in Rome, Italy, with the intention to produce his upcoming projects as cost-effectively as possible.
'Spellcaster' was one one of those Italian adventures.
Dino de Laurentiis was one of only a handful of true big scale movie moguls. 
In his Studio he produced great epics (The Bible...) and iconic cult movies like 'Barbarella' or 'Danger: Diabolik'.
He was a legend in Italy!
And now the 'Dino de Laurentiis cinematografica' sign has been unscrewed and replaced by a large, 
illuminated EMPIRE STUDIOS sign.
You can imagine that many of the Italian employees were not totally enthusiastic that a young B-Movie Producer 
from the USA is now taking over everything.
In the book 'It came from the 80s!', by Francesco Borseti, the director of the Empire schlock movie 
'Transformations', one of only a very few Empire flicks in which monkeys worked on both sides of the camera, 
Jay Kamen talks about the working conditions in the Empire Studios in Rome:
"Dino de Laurentiis, who was angry he lost his studio to Charlie Band, took all the heat and 
air conditioning. So it was freezing on the set, even with the lights."
Wait a minute, such devices cause a lot of costs, maybe Charlie has calculated everything and came to the 
conclusion that ...well, let's face it, adios heater!
Let's take over a Studio in Italy - A pretty exciting and impressive move by Charlie!
'Zone Troopers' was the first picture Charlie Band shot in Rome, with makeup FX work by John Buechler.
Now he was playing with the big boys and ran a large-scale studio for quite some time.
The Dollar was strong ...but not for long!

Having his own studio in Italy wasn't enough for Charlie, he also bought a well-preserved castle as an addition 
to the huge film studio.
The 140-room 12th-Century Castello Orsini-Odescalchi in Bracciano, Italy, was now part of Charlie's Empire.
How was it all possible?
The B-movie sector is often dismissed as trash in the 80s, but had good numbers and a fast flow of new products.
Suitcases full of dollars were moved back and forth.
Check out the above press release from an old issue of Fango.
'Empire' was a serious company that did good business, with a lot of courage and thanks to some crazy visions.
Although the Castle expanded the possibilities, it also increased the running costs.
I can understand the idea behind of it, but such a huge stone box burns money ... every hour, every day!
The running costs are insane.
The wheel Charlie was spinning was way too big!
The Castello Orsini-Odescalchi was the main filming location of 'Spellcaster'.
Having your own studio, even a castle, impressed not only the young actors.
Many, if not all, Players of 'Spellcaster' have never been in Italy before. 
For some it was their first flight ever - A paid vacation in sunny Italy (many thought so)!
If you consider the optical and atmospheric possibilities, the old walls are of course pure gold.
The splendid structures, antique furniture, paintings and the well-preserved collection of knight armor 
have been appropriately used for 'Spellcaster'.
Most of the Makers and Players involved enjoyed shooting this quickie in Italy.
John Carl Buechler prepares a Zombie for its performance in a scene on the Set of 'Demons of the Dead', 1984.
He already had experience directing the second unit ('Hard Rock Zombies',...) and couldn't wait to take on a project 
himself as the main person in charge.
The hoped-for opportunity came from a phone call and meeting with Charles Band.
In the early 1980s, John Carl Buechler was an FX artist in producer Roger Cormans' colorful celluloid circus. 
Buechler produced special effects makeup for peanuts and on no time for flicks like 'Forbidden World', 
'Sorceress' and 'Deathstalker'. 
His outstanding ability to produce good makeup FX work on time and on budget was certainly hellish tantalizing for 
Producer Charlie Band and his Empire Studios.
Charlie offered him to direct a segment of 'The Dungeonmaster' with the premise that the 'short film' should be 
completed in one day.
The result was 'Demons of the Dead', written and directed by John Carl Buechler.
With quickly glued together special makeup effects by him and his MMI Crew (Chris Biggs, Mitch DeVane, Everett Burrell,...).
John Buechler:"Consequently, Charlie offered me a very good deal. 
He asked me to become involved with a picture called GHOULIES....".
Buechler became the close special makeup effects associate for the up-and-coming Empire Pictures of Charles Band.
The young 'Empire' mogul Charlie Band (32 years!) and 'Ghoulies' cult star Michael Des Barres in his 
devil worshipper Zombie makeup.
His truly hilarious performance is on par with the little Imps from hell, the creatures that crawled out of 
the shop of Buechler.
De Barres is an English actor, radio host and rock singer.
A crazy guy with an interesting career.
He has appeared in over 100 different TV shows with some glorious over-the-top supporting roles.
I remember his lively and amusing performance as Sir Guy in an episode of the legendary TV show 'Sledge Hammer'.
'Ghoulies' was a surprise, did well at the box office and has done huge videocassette business. 
A real career boost for everyone in the Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc. shop.
The fans of grisly shocks have to be patient until the first creature from Buechler's kitchen finally appears in 'Spellcaster', 
but then things go quickly. Rapid fire special make up FX.
The MMI boss designed and sculpted most of the creatures himself. 
His immensely creative and imaginative crew did almost all of the moldings, the appliances, texturizing, finishing 
and the mechanical inner workings of the creatures.
The wild horde of creatures that Buechler lets off the chain is once again absolutely awesome.
Cool and simple 80s mechanized rubber toys and not the hyper styled and overloaded figures full of electronics 
that can move each eyelash individually, which we are allowed to admire in the decades that followed.
Sometimes a hand puppet does more action than a computer puppet!
I like it simple!
And in my insignificant opinion, the Buechler creatures can easily stand up against recent makeup FX innovations!
This is the lineup of 'Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc.' for 'Spellcaster':
John Carl Buechler, Ken Hall, Joe Dolinich, John Criswell, Bruce Barlow, Ralph Miller the 3rd, Bill Butler, 
Mike Deak, Tom Floutz, Eryn Kruger, Scott Colter, Jeff Kennemore, Jeff Farley, John Foster, Greg Johnson and 
Andrew Kenworthy.
All creatures were built in the MMI shop, fully tested and put on a plane to Rome.
Probably the flight was more expensive than the puppets!
And that's why the wild guys only got a one-way ticket.
The creatures ended up in the Empire Studios storage room for leftovers of all kinds.
Frankenstein's lab, some were cannibalized, newly glued together and reused for other projects.
John Buechler in Fango #55: "I advocate speed. I like to go onto a set with everything built.
I take my creations out of a box, pull the cable and it works."
I wonder if it ever worked that way !? Hah, hah...
The castle/studio crew in Rome consisted mainly of John Buechler, Mike Deak and Bill Butler.
Bill and Mike even got small roles in the movie (see screenshot above).
On Set, while filming an effects scene, they always had a can of slime on hand, to brush the stuff generously 
over the FX puppets.
John Buechler shot the majority of all the puppet scenes (2nd Unit), and his two slime jockeys were 
on stand by for the finishing touches of the puppets.
Mike rigged up the gags needed and Bill did most of the makeup applications on Set. 
Bill Butler (on the excellent Vinegar Syn blu-ray):
"Spellcaster was one of the coolest moments from my twenties, I would have to say."
Buechler's effects company did an outstanding job on 'Spellcaster'.
Anything that was lacking in money has been made up for with real enthusiasm!
Now let's see what 'Buechler and the Miracle Makers' have designed for 'Spellcaster'.
After what feels like an eternity it finally appears, the first creature from Buechler's effects company.
A bronze of a creepy-looking gargoyle that suddenly seems to come to life ...
The little fellow, apparently capable of flying, moves his head and that's it.
The creature actually had a lot more to offer than just moving it's head.
We can also see the puppet at the end of the movie in the creepy chamber of Adam Ant.
Bruce Barlow with the Gargoyle creature at the 'Mechanical and Makeup Imageries' shop of John Carl Buechler.
The devilish little bat-gargoyle, obviously a male, looks pretty cool.
Nice head with the three spikes, teeth, overall well worked out structures, great!
Bruce Barlow and John Criswell were responsible for the all the inner mechanics of the cable-operated 
'Spellcaster' creatures.
Buechler didn't have the one person who paints, one who did the molds and one for the mechanics.
He encouraged everybody in his crew to do everything.
His crew learned all of the laboratory techniques and they all quickly became real all-rounders.
Bruce, for example, also did some sculpting and painting.
In the years after 'Spellcaster' he often worked with Buechler and Charlie Band on other crazy projects.
2003 he did the makeup fx for 'A light in the Forest', directed by John Buechler.
Even in 2010, more than two decades after 'Spellcaster', he was working with his old boss 
on a film called 'Neowulf'.
As far as I know, Bruce enjoys life, paints a lot and runs his own art gallery at the moment.
I really wonder why the didn't use this little imp more effective for the show.
Obviously he would have had the necessary power.
Well, he won't win a beauty contest, but his teeth are well cared for!
The little guy could have smiled wonderfully into the camera ... cut ... and bang, 
one of the actors is missing his nose.
Didn't they re-used the puppet or parts of it for one of the Ghoulies sequels?
The next one was new for me. A chair kills a super model. Wow.
The ceremonial chair looks a bit clunky and cheap, that could certainly have been made more elegant.
You can see immediately that something is wrong with this bulky chair.
It is a large foam chair, that should look like a real antique wooden one.
The lion face (plate) was sculpted by Bruce Barlow.
On Set in Rome, our two slime jockeys, Bill & Mike, gave the chair its drooling patina.
A carnivorous chair.
The beautiful Traci Lind is in the chair and on-set makeup fx rigger Mike Deak is sitting behind of it, 
with his arms in those 'vacuum cleaner hoses', squeezing her booo...
It's always good to be in the right place at the right time.
A close-up of the soft rubber teeth wasn't the smartest decision.
All in all, the thing is a good idea.
The Zombie cave. 
A pretty atmospheric scene with Bunty Bailey stumbling into a forgotten basement room of the castle.
Bad mistake!
Some horny, starved rags are lurking there.
An easily but effective show, standard job for the Buechler effects company.
The guys probably used some old leftovers from ...whatever... Dungeonmaster?
Pull-over masks and gloves.
Bunty, this little rascal has an eye on you...
AaaaHHHHHHH ... pure B-movie style at its best!
I do know the shirt. Mmh,... Bruce Barlow! 
Bruce, what happened? - Asleep in the tanning salon again?
The king-size gloves are pretty groovy!
The production of makeup fx stuff for this flick must have been real fun!
The suckling pig!
The guy more interested in his meals than looking for that $ 1 million check will get into trouble next.
"You are such a pig!"
Diablo (Adam Ant) and the magic of his Christmas tree ball is turning the boy (Michael Zorek) into a wild boar.
Sculpted by John Buechler.
The ragged fur with lots of bald spots looks good.
A shaggy boar is looking for tasty food.
The poor guy's arms and hands turn into pig's hooves.
Sculpted, cast and pulled by Bruce Barlow. 
He made both arms out of poly foam and also painted them (airbrush).
Kim Johnston Ulrich discovers an unusual painting in her room.
A hint to the next creature effects scene...?
The devilish creature suddenly disappears from the picture and materializes on the windowsill. 
Pure magic!
Is that awesome! Look who comes to visit!
Panic in the bedroom! Santa is here ...looking for his cookies.
Perfect B-Movie design ...this is what I want to see in an 80s horror quickie.
Looks like an old Star Trek monster made by master sculptor Wah Chang ...and with Janos Prohaska in the suit.
Definitely a great 'man-in-suit' creature made by Buechler's effects company.
Joe Dolinich and Bill Butler (?) checking the functions of the mechanical head of the monster.
There are some nice mechanical surprises hidden behind the mask with its fiberglass underskull.
A bunch of cables is trailing out from the back of the monster suit. 
Look at Joe, I can't help it, but on those old photos he always looks like a porn star of the 70s!
What happened to him?
He was part of Buechler's effects company for some years, working as modeler/creative fabricator, 
but at the end of the 80s he disappeared from the radar!?
And by the way, who is the guy in the creature suit?
Not here at the MMI shop, but on set in Rome?
Mike Deak?
The suit may look a little too small for the tall makeup artist.
Mike really enjoyed his little career as a creature suit performer and slipped into lots of 
brightly colored rubber costumes.
He was playing the monster in 'Cellar Dweller', directed by John Carl Buechler, and played Braxus, 
the evil monster in 'Beastmaster III'.
Screenshot - I'm so pissed! Where are my cookies?
Kim Johnston Ulrich dances with the suit.
The monster delivers a good show, well staged action scenes.
Whoever is in this suit, he or she feels the rhythm and shows some cool dance moves.
But now the fun is over, it's feeding time!
Test run for the mechanical functions and the overall look of the monster in the Buechler shop.
Then everything was well packed and sent on a plane to Rome.
Summertime, yesterday at John Carl Buechler's Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc. shop.
Panic on the parking lot! 
Bruce Barlow goes for a walk with the monster.
Of course he keeps the beast on a very short dog leash.
Bruce mechanized the head of the creature.
At the end the monster is back on the painting, but now its holding Kim Johnston Ulrich in his arms.
Nice idea for a poster.
Now NOT in the Empire fan shop: The Beauty and the Beast poster.
I would have bought one.
And now it's time for a special scene, my favorite creature of the whole show.
The Crocodile Bat!
But step by step. Completely unexpectedly, a knight attacks Richard Blade.
The Knight Armor might be a real thing they found in the castle or in the Studio.
When Charlie was able to take over the de Laurentiis studio, countless storage rooms were 
still well-stocked with costumes, props and much more. 
Charlie in Heaven! A king for a day.
Richard was able to stop Lancelot by knocking off the knight's head.
The curious Richard is not going to ...don't look into the hole, don't do it!
It seems to be hollow on the inside, but a few fangs sparkle in the dark...
As if out of nowhere something pops out of the hollow knight armor.
Yeah, it's Crocodile Bat!
Look at this, I love it! - CROCODILE BAT!
The whole thing looks deranged in a brilliant way. Lovecraftian horror.
This little comrade has that certain something!
A touch of nonsense, lovingly glued together from leftovers (?).
It's not much more than a hand puppet, but ingeniously effective!
I still wonder how this beast could jump out of the tiny hole in the knight armor.
It's a B-movie, you don't ask such questions, amateur.
The wings are evidently moved via rods.
Bill Butler was puppeteering the crocodile bat, he did the flapping of the wings, on set in Rome.
Isn't that Bruce Barlow's shirt again?
Crocodile Bat - Attack of the hand puppet.
John Carl Buechler (1952-2019), the boss of the Mechanical and Makeup Imageries shop, 
had his busiest and most prolific years in the 1980s.
Many smaller FX shops were in the market, but MMI stood out and was on the way 
to compete with the big-shot FX houses.
Buechler and his high-spirited crew had the time of their lives in the 80s.
Everything was possible.
Charles Band (Empire) and John Carl Buechler (MMI) produced some excellent funky beats in those years.
'Spellcaster' belongs right in there.
A forgotten surprise, with nice rubber FX and good vibrations.
But that's not it yet, there is still something lurking in the dark.
What the hell is this ...grrr..grrooaaarrr..
The light flickers and the trigger-happy bitch loads again.
She has already killed Pig-Head and wants more.
Indoor big game hunting in dark hallways.
The Big Five of the Castle.
Martha Demson seems to see something through the rifle scope of the weapon.
Is it a hyena, a wolf or a white killer bunny?
No, it's...
A Klingon pet!
A mechanized wolf with some action in his mouth.
They only built half the wolf with its two front legs.
No paws, no claws.
This beast in the dark, flickering light and suitable sound FX and off you go the scary fun.
Martha, honey, of course you should have used silver bullets.
Thanks to our slime jockeys Bill & Mike, the angry beast is drooling cheerfully on Martha's face 
as it takes a closer look at its prey.
We can hardly see more of the sweet Klingon pet than this fast close-up.
As a filler, they filmed a real dog running down the hallway.
Of course, the real dog bears no resemblance to the puppet, 
but that really doesn't surprise anyone, right.
Pluto the dog. He has the nose!
A vicious little pet wolf that first eats the metal bowl and than the food.
A lot of effort for the few seconds in the film.
The Klingon Wolf is a wonderful final actor in the brilliant Monster Parade in 'Spellcaster'.
Nobody expects much from the actors in an 80s horror film.
Most likely, Bunty Bailey and Richard Blade are the only ones to be remembered.
Bunty really goes up with the revs sometimes and has some funny moments.
Bunty's best scene.
Pure B-Movie Style - A running young girl with raised arms who screams violently in fear ..hah..hah.
I haven't had to run from so many horrific creatures before, thank God, except recently when I was attacked by a starving, 
greedy mosquito.
In the end I won the fight ...but that night his buddies came to visit ...ouch!
Actually, you don't raise your arms when you're running away in a panic, 
unless you want to wave a friendly goodbye to the monster ...!
The special guest Star of 'Spellcaster' is Adam Ant, one of the biggest pop stars of the early 1980s.
I don't remember much of him except his unique hit 'Stand and Deliver', which was a big one.
He came to Rome for one shooting day in the Empire Studios and never saw the castle, 
even though he played the spooky host there.
Bill Butler did the makeup on him and has a nice story to tell about this adventure.
Check out the extras on the prime blu-ray release by Vinegar Syndrome.
I can't remember where it came from, but it looks like an article from a magazine.
Two small pictures on the right show Bill Butler working on Adam Ant's prosthetic appliance makeup.
In the end, Adam Ant held his devilish head in the picture for only a few seconds.
Special makeup veteran Bill Butler will release a book soon about his life as FX lab's favorite rubber rat. 
That could be a very interesting read.
Hah... hah... hah... haaaaahhhh!

'John Buechler and the Miracle Makers' - Fast tempo Thrash Metal of the 80s. 
I will make further reports on old and rather unknown Empire films and show you some interesting 
makeup FX projects that circus director John Buechler supervised.
The best is yet to come!
Any help and helpful information are always welcome!
Please contact me here:
spacevampire@moon-city-garbage.agency
(The vast majority of the photos shown here are 35 mm transparencies from the moon-city-garbage archive.)

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