“I was just on my way out!” Remembering Voyage of the Rock Aliens with Michael Berryman by Kent Hill

Voyage of the Rock Aliens German DVD

For those who were there…we can all remember a time when cynicism was nowhere to be found regarding our cinematic adventuring. Even during the age which saw the birth of the event picture; there were still fertile grounds from which material, attempting to ride the coattails of popular genre could grow into something that was more an mere homage. Indeed, it may very well have been just another amalgam of concepts, already witnessed by inquisitive travelers on the beaten track; the low-budget, video store self-fillers that are now, in some cases lost to history. Still, these movies were crafted with charm, professionalism and good intentions. No one sets out to make a bad movie, and the giants of the industry, no matter their field of expertise, all played in the same sandbox at one time or another – a pit rich with invention, ripe with interpretation and deep with heart.


So we come to the splendid curiosity which is: Voyage of the Rock Aliens – which is at once a musical, comedy, adventure, romance which doesn’t scrimp on the flavors you know and love when it blitzes together, forming a cocktail of joyous absurdity.

In brief: A group of music loving aliens are traveling through the galaxy, exploring and researching different forms of life and rock ‘n’ roll. After their on-board A.I. robot companion, 1359 (voiced by none other than Peter Cullin) chills out to a music video, featuring one of the film’s main theme songs featuring star Pia Zadora and a character named Rain, played by Jermaine Jackson, who take on a band of biker-nun looking cats, only to end with Zadora leaving Jackson in the dust as she takes off on the horse she rode in on. (This completely bizarre segue almost gives the entire plot of the film away, but, since you probably haven’t seen it…you’re safe.)

The aliens decide to focus their attention on the planet Earth. Soon after entering our world they meet Dee Dee (Zadora) and her boyfriend Frankie (Nightbreed’s Craig Sheffer) and his band, The Pack. These cats are gang-bangers from the eighties trapped stylistically in the fifties, and there is no shortage of that era’s nostalgia which seems to blend easily with the techno-pop styling of the Rock Aliens…?

Mysteriously it all turns out well. Frankie doesn’t want his band singing without him, so it is odd that we never get to see how devastating a musical talent Frankie actually is “with” the band. He does however manage to snag  himself a solo, show-stopping number which shows us how much Frankie identifies with big cats (specifically a panther) – but I won’t spoil that one.


It is a wild old tale, with all the talent and experience you could want both in front and behind the camera. For a film buried so deep in the 80’s VHS jungle, VOTRA had some impressive people working on it, for instance Director James Fargo had directed everyone from Chuck Norris (Forced Vengeance) to Clint Eastwood (Every which way but Loose); Gilbert Taylor was the director of photography on Star Wars and the film’s editor Malcolm Campbell worked with John Landis at the height of his powers. Yes everyone from Oscar winners (Ruth Gordon)  to horror film icons. That’s right, horror icons. The film stars the man who knows that the hills have eyes, Michael Berryman, as an escaping inmate from the Speelburgh State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Simply known as Chainsaw, Berryman is an amazing screen presence with comedy, terror and a beautiful moment of tenderness at his command.

OKAY! So, if I haven’t tantalized your taste buds sufficiently to want to go and check this baby out, we have Chainsaw himself, Michael Berryman, who kindly offered me a fistful of remembrances of a movie I believe should be a cinematic audience sing-along spectacular of Rocky Horror proportions.

Some will look upon Rock Aliens as everything that was wrong with the eighties. But, instead of counting cinema sins why not, I challenge you, to embrace the warmth by the vintage hearth in which burns this vibrant flame, the quintessence of what our innocent youth saw as an excellent adventure…well before the music of Wyld Stallyns aligned the planets in universal harmony.

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KH: First allow me to thank you sir. It is gracious indeed for such an iconic performer of your calibre to grant us your time.

MB: A pleasure…


MB: Yes, I was a patient at Speelbergh State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.  I had been a wood-cutter and chainsaw expert for many years before this film. Nobody knew this until I spoke up when I am to saw around one of the aliens. There was a 4×8 sheet of sheetrock between me and the other actor. He was to stand still while a real chainsaw cut around him.  I was asked to perform this feet. I refused. I told my director that if the actor moved, he could be fatally harmed. I asked that we use a green screen. The actor was ok with a chainsaw cutting around him through plasterboard. No way was I going to do this. So, they had a grip/prop manager do the sawing. Now I watched as he assembled a 4 cubic inch chainsaw and as he prepared to start the engine, I told him: ‘Do not pull the lanyard. If you do, the chain will jump from the bar, wrap around your wrist and sever your hand…you have put the chain on backwards!’ He then asked me to fix this mess. I secured the chain and wished him good luck as I walked over to the camera to witness an amazingly dangerous stunt. It was successful and we moved on.

KH: If you can recall, what did you think of Edward Gold’s script when you first read it?

MB: Edward Gold wrote a script that was, in my observation, a straight forward comedy/musical. I read it and found the references to E.T. and such to be ‘tongue-in-cheek’ humor. This film was designed to entertain, help you laugh, and the entire family could enjoy a great experience.

KH: You were just on your way out. I have had the privilege of having a former co-star of yours as a guest, Vernon Wells. When I spoke to Vernon, we talked about how (for a time) he hated the fact that he was type-cast. When Voyage of the Rock Aliens came along and you were tapped for the role of Chainsaw, were you content to play the part knowing you were perhaps cast as Vernon had been to be merely an incarnation of former characters?

MB: I was unaware of Vernon’s type casting…however, since I was in ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’, it seemed to fit that I play Chainsaw. I found it to be fun.

KH: You pass beneath the window of Academy Award winner Ruth Gordon after a Schwarzenegger Commando-style shopping spree for guns and grenades and such with Wallace Merck’s Breather, did you get to meet or chill out with Ms. Gordon or any other members of the eclectic cast?

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MB: I found Ruth Gordon to be an honest and total professional actor. She had the moxy that she was known for. It was sweet to watch her as our sheriff.

KH: Tell us about your battle with the Lake Creature?

MB: The battle with the Lake creature was simple, as I had to cut his tip off and then bubbles emerged…sweet and child-like.

KH: In the midst of the music and mayhem, you have a rather poignant and touching scene with Alison La Placa’s Diane in which she helps you fix your beloved chainsaw. It is capped with a moment of smouldering intensity on your behalf when you say, “For me,” allowing her to be the one to fire up the chainsaw following her service?

MB: Alison was a delight to work with during that scene…we had a sweet time with it. Chainsaw moved on and he leaves his ‘Excalibur’ behind! The passage through the portal expressed a positive exchange with her character and mine. We both made the decision to have her fire up the saw and discover a new beginning for us both. She was joy to work with.

KH: Do you think Diane and Chainsaw lived happily ever after, there relationship evolved after the two of you went for that walk?

MB: Of course, Chainsaw and Diane lived happily…forever!!       

KH: If you have any fond remembrances of tales from production, what would they be?

MB: One day we were at Stone Mountain. Pia’s husband arrived in a Bentley and had her try on 2 different mink stoles…some people mumbled about this but I saw her and him to be in an honest exchange…it was no one’s business but their’s. I found Pia to be a true professional and hard worker. She had no attitude or ego to complicate the day’s work. I was pleased to watch her performance. The shoot was a delight in every way.

KH: Thank you Mr. Berryman. From this fan of yours and the gloriously, toe-tapping, insane splendour that is Voyage of the Rock Aliens…I thank you again.

MB: Kent…Great memories! …Stay safe.


Voyage of the Rock Aliens Patrick Byrnes Rhema Urinal


Nancy, it’s you!: An Interview with Nancy Allen by Kent Hill



There are actors that portray a certain kind of character. They fit so perfectly within the story being told that they appear to have been designed for just such a purpose. These performers often run the risk of being typecast – only wanted to fulfill similar roles for the duration of their career. Then you have actors who bring such a spirit to their parts that we, the viewer, find it difficult to separate the character they play with the actor in person. It is a performance so electric and all-consuming that the role will be forever theirs. And, though the part may be played by other actors – should the film in question be part of an ongoing series – their turn becomes the standard-bearer and the one to top.

I personally can’t imagine Anne Lewis being played by anyone else except Nancy Allen. The depth she brings to what on the surface might appear a mere formulaic character, if you look closer, is in fact the catalyst for change. Thus RoboCop’s central character, Alex Murphy, is, following his brief initial encounter with Lewis, on a mission to rediscover his humanity. The result rendering this simple concept of a kind of futuristic revenge-Western type tale a classic in the process, with more dimensions than first meet the eye. But RoboCop, though iconic, doesn’t define the truly stellar talent that is personified by Nancy Allen.

She again plays these deep, soulful characters in two other of my favorite films: Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (opposite John Travolta) and Stewart Raffill’s The Philadelphia Experiment (opposite Michael Paré ). With her evergreen beauty, lustrous smile and endearing tenderness, Allen carries all the hallmarks of a phenomenal actor who has graced our screens, large and small, for decades now. Still, acting is not all Nancy applies her gifts to. She is a passionate advocate for the preservation of our environment as well as a soldier in our species’ battle against Cancer. We can do so much by merely setting an example for others to follow, and it is by this method Nancy serves these causes close to her heart.

As we live in an age where everything old is new again, the film in which she played a pivotal role, RoboCop, is in line again to be reworked by a fresh creative team. Nancy herself has gone on record saying you shouldn’t or can’t remake a classic – lightning couldn’t possibly strike twice? But if it does, it is the cinematic prayer of the faithful fans that if they are going to try, go all the way, and then they need to make us remember why we loved the original in the place. They need a touchstone, a standard-bearer. I don’t believe they’ll win hearts and minds without one. So with that in mind, I say finally to the movie gods – they need my guest. They need Nancy Allen.giphy My sincere thanks to Eva Rojano, without whom this would not be possible. Please do, all you Robo-Fans, jump on the bandwagon and sign the petition (https://www.change.org/p/mgm-studios-inc-we-want-nancy-allen-to-play-a-role-in-robocop-returns) to get Nancy back into the Robo-verse.




















Actor’s Spotlight with DAVID CLENNON

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We have a very special guest, someone who needs no introduction. Our latest addition to the Actor’s Spotlight series is Emmy Award-winning actor, David Clennon. Mr. Clennon has a career spanning decades, working with such auteurs as Bob Fosse, Bob Rafelson, Phillip Kaufman, Stephen Gaghan, David Fincher, Paul Schrader, and John Sayles. He’s collaborated twice with Clint Eastwood, three times with Hal Ashby, and four times with Costa-Gavras. David memorably starred as Palmer in John Carpenter’s horror classic THE THING. He is also no stranger to television, with many featured roles in HOUSE OF CARDS, E.R., THE WEST WING, THIRTYSOMETHING, HBO’s seminal AIDS drama …AND THE BAND PLAYED ON, and an Emmy winning turn on HBO’s DREAM ON. Mr. Clennon’s most recent projects are the CBS drama series CODE BLACK, joining the new season as Colonel Martin Willis, as well as Joseph Culp’s new film, WELCOME TO THE MEN’S GROUP where he stars along with Stephen Tobolowski and Timothy Bottoms. The film is now On Demand.

Catch WELCOME TO THE MEN’S GROUP from your favorite streaming provider below:


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Being Hal: An Interview with Amy Scott by Kent Hill


There is no denying that a good percentage of the films we count today as iconic, came from the 70’s. With the birth of the easy riders and raging bulls, it would be the first and last time filmmakers would enjoy true creative freedom, as well as being able to present personalized films to the movie-loving audience at large.

Now. When we think of the 70’s, the new Hollywood, there are the usual suspects that come to mind. But, there is a name that, for whatever reason, has been absent from the list when it leaks from the tongues of cineastes the world over. That name is the name of Hal Ashby. One of the great individualists to come out of his era, Ashby’s cinema is at once quietly profound and intensely calm. He was an artist that saw the world for what is was – in its entire obnoxious, absurdist best, Ashby captured the beautiful frailty of the moment, no matter how strange, or violent, or sensual, or funny.


Still, with all the freedom they enjoyed, the filmmakers of the 70’s were far from immune from the ‘tampering of the suits’. Ashby, like his contemporaries, raged against the ludicrous interference and mindless nitpicking of the powers that control the content that comes to a cinema near you. And, in fighting for his vision, he was labelled troublesome, rendered weary and eventually would succumb to a career that watched him bravely, and perhaps at times foolishly, burn the candle at both ends.

Amy Scott has produced, at last, the grand portrait of a man who made some of the defining films of his generation – or any generation from that matter. With the blessing of Ashby’s estate she as unearthed a veritable trove of Ashby gold, from letters to recordings of the man himself – telling it like it is, or was, or perhaps someday will be.

Hal is a documentary that has been on the road to find out. I for one can’t wait for you to see it – I for one, am just glad it’s out…






Hal Ashby directed some of the best films to come out of the 1970s, exploding out of the gates with four motion pictures over five years. They were all quirky comedy-drama hybrids that, in terms of subject matter, couldn’t be more different and yet are united in the sense that they all feature offbeat protagonists. They focus on outsiders that exist on the margins of mainstream society, like the death-obsessed young man who falls in love an unflappable, optimistic septuagenarian in Harold and Maude (1971). In its own way, The Last Detail (1973) is a comedy tinged with drama and one that features marginalized protagonists in the form of two veteran United States Navy petty officers that have to transport a young sailor from Virginia to New Hampshire and end up learning something about themselves and each other along the way.

At the time, Ashby was coming off the commercial and critical failure of Harold and Maude when Jack Nicholson told him about The Last Detail. Then up-and-coming screenwriter Robert Towne had adapted Darryl Ponicsan’s novel of the same name with the actor (they were close friends) in mind. Nicholson was on an incredible run of classic film roles that started with Easy Rider (1969) and continued with two Bob Rafelson films – Five Easy Pieces (1970) and The King of Marvin Gardens (1972). His role in The Last Detail would yet again demonstrate his power and versatility as an actor, resulting in him being crowned Best Actor at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival.

Billy “Badass” Buddusky (Nicholson) and Richard “Mule” Mulhall (Otis Young) are assigned “chasers” duty, which involves taking a young sailor by the name of Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to Portsmouth Naval Prison. He’s been sentenced to eight years for trying to steal $40 from the Commanding Officer’s wife’s pet charity project. They have a week to do it, but Buddusky proposes that they can pocket more of the per diem and spend it on the way home if they get Meadows there as fast as possible. I like how the film settles into a character-driven groove with a series of colorful encounters that provide insight into these guys after efficiently setting up the premise.

Meadows is just a scared kid that did something stupid and pissed off the wrong person as a result. Meadows has hardly had any life experiences and will be denied the possibility of them for eight long years unless Buddusky and Mulhall do something about it. Not surprisingly, Buddusky’s original plan goes out the window as he and Mulhall bond with Meadows by getting him drunk, stoned and laid in one last hurrah before eight years of imprisonment.

The Last Detail continued Jack Nicholson’s fascination with angry outsiders that live on the margins. It was the start of a great run of like-minded characters, beginning with Easy Rider. It is interesting to watch the choices he makes as an actor in this role, from the way Buddusky seems to sarcastically chew his gum to the way he wears his sailor’s cap. Nicholson is equally adept at showing the anger that simmers under his character’s façade and the explosion of rage that occurs when provoked, like the famous scene where a bartender refuses to serve the three sailors, which is reminiscent of the even more well-known diner scene in Five Easy Pieces. Later on, there’s a nice moment where Buddusky explains why he gets so angry and how liberating he finds it to wail on someone that ticks him off. He even tries to pick a fight with Meadows. It gives us some valuable insight into Buddusky’s volatile nature. Nicholson also shows us moments where his character is a consummate bullshit artist, like when he, Mulhall and Meadows get invited to a party in New York City and he tries to impress a young woman (Nancy Allen) by romanticizing life in the Navy. He’s stoned and getting nowhere with this girl who looks like she’d rather be anywhere else. Nicholson effortlessly inhabits the role in a way that seemed to disappear through the late 1980s and beyond when he relied more and more on his movie star persona.

Fresh-faced Randy Quaid does a nice job of conveying his character’s clueless naiveté. He plays Meadows as a pathetic mess of a human being. With his young, soft face, the actor projects a kind of innocence, but his actions sometimes say otherwise. For example, on the train he tries to make a break for it and when caught breaks down crying. Quaid achieves just the right mix of awkwardness and an occasional sympathetic side to keep us interested in this bundle of contractions all the while holding his own against a flashy actor like Nicholson. Quaid exhibits character behavior that is intriguing to watch – so much so that we want to know more about Meadows. Why did he try to steal the money? Over the course of the film, Buddusky and Mulhall try to find out what motivates this kid. As they get closer to prison, Quaid shows how the inevitable weighs more and more on Meadows’ mind by facial expressions, which oscillate between contemplative and anxious.

Otis Young has the least flashiest role, but it is a crucial one as he provides the stable, calming voice of reason, trying to keep everyone on track. When Buddusky comes up with some wild idea or wants to diverge from their mission, Mulhall is the sober realist and this sometimes causes friction between him and Buddusky, but when they are presented with an outside threat they quickly close ranks.

Robert Towne’s script hits us up with salty language right from the get-go, but it never feels false or forced because it rolls off the tongue so easily off someone like Nicholson who curses as naturally as breathing. I also like how the film is set during the winter months and you can tell that they actually shot it during that time by how you can see the actors’ breath in outdoor scenes. It looks so cold that it is almost tangible, most notably in a scene towards the end when the three sailors decide to have a makeshift picnic out in a snowbound park. They stand around freezing their asses off while trying to start a fire to cook hotdogs.

Producer Gerry Ayres had bought the rights to Darryl Ponicsan’s novel The Last Detail in 1969, but had difficulty getting it made because the studio was concerned about all of the bad language in Robert Towne’s screenplay, asking him to reduce the number of curse words. Towne told them, “This is the way people talk when they’re powerless to act; they bitch.” The screenwriter had refused to tone down the language and the project remained in limbo until Jack Nicholson, who was by then a bankable movie star, got involved. Towne, who was good friends with Nicholson, had written the role of Buddusky with the actor in mind.

Director Hal Ashby was in pre-production on Three Cornered Circle at MGM when Nicholson told him about The Last Detail, his upcoming project at Columbia Pictures. Ashby had actually been sent the script in the fall of 1971, but the reader’s report called it, “lengthy and unimaginative.” After looking at it again, he had warmed up to it. Ashby wanted to do it, but the project conflicted with his schedule for Three Cornered Circle. However, he pulled out of his deal, impressed by Nicholson’s loyalty, with MGM and took Nicholson’s suggestion that they work together on The Last Detail.

Ashby and Ayres read Navy publications and interviewed current and ex-servicemen who helped them correct minor errors in the script. During pre-production, Ashby worked with Towne on polishing the script and with Nicholson on his character. Ashby wanted to shoot on location at the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia and the brig at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but was unable to get permission from the U.S. Navy. However, the Canadian Navy was willing to cooperate and in mid-August 1972, Ashby and his casting director, Lynn Stalmaster, traveled to Toronto to look at a naval base and meet with actors. The base suited their needs and Ashby met actress Carol Kane whom he would cast in a small, but significant role.

Nicholson was set to play Buddusky and so the casting of The Last Detail focused mainly on the roles of Mulhall and Meadows. Nicholson and Towne were friends with Rupert Crosse and felt that he would be perfect as Mulhall. Bud Cort, who had worked with Ashby on Harold and Maude, begged the director to play Meadows, but he felt that the actor was not right for the role. Stalmaster gave Ashby a final selection of actors and the two that stood out were Randy Quaid and John Travolta. Quaid had the offbeat and vulnerable qualities that Ashby wanted.

Shortly before principal photography was to begin, Crosse discovered that he had terminal cancer and Ashby delayed production a week so that Crosse could come to terms with the news and decide if he still wanted to do the film. However, a day before filming was to begin, Crosse had to pull out and Ashby and Stalmaster scrambled to find a replacement, quickly casting Otis Young as Mulhall. Ashby had tried to get Haskell Wexler, Nester Almendros and Gordon Willis as the film’s director of photography, but when none of them were available, he promoted Michael Chapman, his camera operator on The Landlord (1970). Ashby and Chapman worked together to create a specific look for the film that involved using natural lighting to create a realistic, documentary style.

Ashby decided to shoot The Last Detail chronologically in order to help the inexperienced Quaid and the recently cast Young ease into their characters. Quaid was indeed very nervous and wanted to make a good impression. Ashby kept a close eye on the actor, but allowed him to grow into the role. With the exception of Toronto doubling as Norfolk, the production shot on location, making the same journey as the three main characters.

The day after principal photography was completed; Ashby had his editor send what he had cut together up to that point. The director was shocked at the results and fired the editor. The director was afraid that he’d have to edit the film himself. Ayres recommended brining in Robert C. Jones, one of the fastest editors in the business and who had been nominated for an Academy Award for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967). Jones put the film back into rushes and six weeks later had a first cut ready that ran four hours. Ashby was very impressed with Jones’ abilities and trusted him completely.

However, the studio was not happy with the length of time it was taking to edit The Last Detail as well as the amount of bad language in it. Columbia was in major financial trouble and needed a commercial hit. Jones called Ashby while he was in London meeting with Peter Sellers about doing Being There (1979), telling him that Columbia was fed up. The head of the editing department called to tell Ashby that a studio representative was coming to take the film away. However, Jones refused to give up the film and Ashby called the studio and managed to smooth things over with them.

By August 1973, the final cut of The Last Detail was completed and submitted to the MPAA, which gave it an R rating. Columbia was still not happy with the film and asked for 26 lines with the word “fuck” in them to be cut. Ashby convinced the studio to let him preview the film as it was to see how the public would react. The film was shown in San Francisco and the screening was a success. Columbia decided to give the film a limited release to qualify for Oscar consideration with a wide release in the spring of 1974. Both Nicholson and Quaid were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.

For all of their fun and wild times – including picking a fight with some army soldiers in a train station washroom – Meadows’ fate hangs over them like an ominous storm cloud that occasionally makes itself known. While Mulhall wants to take Meadows straight to prison, Buddusky wants to show the kid a good time because it will be the last one he’ll have for eight years. Even though, by the end of The Last Detail, Buddusky and Mulhall do their job, you can tell that Meadows got to them, past their hardened Navy lifer exteriors. For them, Meadows represents how fucked up the system is – that someone could get punished so severely for such a minor crime. It’s not right, but there is nothing they can do about it, which ends things on a rather melancholic note of resignation that is refreshing for a film that started off as a comedy.

The Last Detail performed well at the box office and it has gone to become an influential film, representing one of Nicholson’s finest performances of the ‘70s. It was an excellent early role for Quaid and was also part of a fine run of films during this decade for the character actor. And finally, for Ashby it marked another great effort in a decade chock full of classics as he would go on to make, including Shampoo (1975), Coming Home (1978), and Being There.