B-Movies in the '90s and Beyond Book Review
Written by ZigZag
Published by Tempe Press
Written by J.R. Bookwalter
1992, 213 pages, Reference
Book released on April 27th, 2018
In 1992, director J.R. Bookwalter penned B-Movies in the ‘90s and Beyond, an autobiographical chronicle on the making of his first ten features. The book is now in its third printing and arrives updated with some contemporary reflections and additional information. Bookwalter is an excellent storyteller and holds nothing back in this warts-and-all diary of sorts that chronicles both his greatest successes and most embarrassing failures with a balanced hand, checking his ego at the door. He is the first to admit mistakes made both on-set and in his personal life, but knows this knowledge will be beneficial to readers so he humbly shares the info, good and bad.
Bookwalter made a strong debut with The Dead Next Door (1989), the most expensive Super 8mm feature ever made, which took him four years to complete. He struck an early partnership with director Sam Raimi (Army of Darkness), who served as uncredited executive producer and helped shepherd the project. Bookwalter chronicles the experience of making his first film honestly with no details too small to overlook. The man keeps meticulous notes and readers should be grateful for the in-depth coverage.
The book opens with an introduction from director/producer David DeCoteau (Creepozoids), who appears a bit miffed at some negative reviews he’s been getting. He quickly gets back on message and readily encourages readers to pay attention to what Bookwalter has to say. Up next is a foreword by film critic Thomas Brown titled “At the Movies: J.R. Bookwalter”, a short piece giving readers a glimpse of the impact Bookwalter had on his local Ohio community. An all-new preface (March, 2018) by the author gives an overview of the material to come and explains how things have been tidied up and in some cases expanded in terms of re-issuing this 25th anniversary edition.
Chapter one reveals a bit of an origin story as we get some information on Bookwalter’s earliest days as an aspiring filmmaker making short projects with friends. The real fun begins with chapter two and the tale of how he connected with Sam Raimi. The next few chapters cover the making of The Dead Next Door in extreme detail from prep to the lengthy shooting process and eventual release. Some of the material is less than flattering but he quickly learns from these early errors and pushes through. This first film receives the most coverage in the book and rightly so considering that he is a huge proponent of the “learn by example” school of filmmaking. On more than one occasion Bookwalter points out boneheaded decisions that ended up costing him time and money in hopes that readers will avoid repeating his mistakes.
Subsequent chapters progress chronologically in time as Bookwalter partners with David DeCoteau, producing and distributing ultra-low budget, shot-on-video movies at a time when stores were hungry for product. He quickly moves into the market of self-distribution while helping fellow filmmakers realize their visions with a string of six movies that were each completed within a matter of weeks of starting production. Some of the films covered in this book include Skinned Alive, Kingdom of the Vampire, Ghoul School, Zombie Cop, Chickboxer and Humanoids from Atlantis; sadly the quality of the product declines with each title.
Bookwalter’s original release of this book ended on somewhat of a down note in terms of the caliber of his productions. This new edition carries a far more upbeat tone, as the author reflects on these challenges with the hindsight of a survivor. The work is tough, but nobody gets into low-budget filmmaking to get rich. Chapters that have been excised for one reason or another appear at the end of the book, including an overview of distribution tips that are now completely obsolete. I am glad to finally get my hands on a copy of this elusive tome and devoured it hungrily the weekend it arrived. I appreciate the efforts the author has put into streamlining the experience for readers and now actively hope he will pen another volume. This man has been in this game for more than thirty years, and he’s got something to say, so aspiring filmmakers would be wise to listen up.