A crappy Dennis Miller vampire movie inspired the best film podcast of 2022
A widely forgotten entry from 1996, the Dennis Miller-starring vampire movie Bordello of Blood was a box-office bomb, one whose disastrous production is remembered with a shudder by many of the principals involved, not least the film's director and producer Gilbert Adler. In the years since he made the movie, Adler would go on to better, and certainly bigger things, producing 2006's Superman Returns and 2008's Tom Cruise-starring Valkyrie, while his directorial debut about vampires who pretend to be sex workers dimmed in both his memory and that of the collective culture.
So when his Bordello of Blood co-writer Alan "A.L." Katz approached Adler about collaborating on a podcast which would detail every catastrophic behind-the-scenes twist and turn of the movie's making, you can understand the director's reluctance to take part.
"I was like, 'Uh, I don't know if that's a good idea,'" says Adler. "I don't know if I can go through that pain again. That was really painful."
Fortunately for fans of tales about Hollywood fiascos, Adler eventually agreed to take part and the result is How Not to Make a Movie, whose initial ten-episode season premiered this summer. The podcast finds the pair reminiscing about the miserable time they endured bringing Bordello of Blood to the screen while inviting input from other key behind-the-camera players who mostly back up Adler and Katz's memories of this being about as misbegotten a production as is imaginable.
Katz explains that making the podcast has been therapeutic for both himself and his former collaborators. "As much as I was need of a catharsis, it turned out everyone in this creative group had been seeking the same catharsis," he says. "If anything, the podcast is a celebration of collaboration, and what happens when good collaboration goes bad, and that's what happened with Bordello of Blood."
Adler and Katz met in the mid-'80s and formed a successful writing partnership, mostly in the horror genre. They worked on the A Nightmare on Elm Street spin-off series Freddy's Nightmares and then the HBO anthology horror show Tales from the Crypt, whose EPs included Lethal Weapon producer Joel Silver and Back to the Future writer-director Robert Zemeckis. Along the way, the creative partners became best friends. "We were together all the time and never even thought about it," says Adler. "We used to play Pictionary and our wives were convinced we were cheating because I would draw a line and Alan would say, 'Oh, that's Gone with the Wind.'"
In the early '90s, the Tales from the Crypt team signed a three-film deal with Universal. After 1995's Ernest Dickerson-directed Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight was a hit, Adler and Katz got the go-ahead to make a script called Dead Heat, which Adler planned to direct in New Orleans. "Alan and I found this script that we really liked and they said, fine let's go," says Adler. "We went down to New Orleans and [were] scouting with the art department and we got this call from Universal saying stop. So we came back and we were like, What do you mean stop?"
The pair soon got their answer. Universal had bought the rights to an early script by Zemeckis and his Back to the Future writing partner Bob Gale and insisted that become the second Tales from the Crypt film. The movie's title? Bordello of Blood. The situation was a heartbreaking one for Katz and Adler. "Dead Easy, for us, that wasn't just a horror movie," says Katz. "We really wanted a complex psychological thriller. I had Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now in my [mind]. And then suddenly we weren't making Dead Easy, we were making a thing called Bordello of Blood."
While Adler was the film's hands-on producer, Silver cast the movie's lead roles and insisted on having Dennis Miller play the film's hero, a private investigator named Rafe Guttman. Miller was a famous face thanks to his to his years anchoring Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live but he had little acting experience and, according to Katz, was unenthusiastic about the project.
As Katz says on the podcast, "I would say where Dennis is concerned, he took it because we offered him $1 million, which is $1 million more than anyone had offered him really to do anything, where feature films are concerned." As the film's head vampire, meanwhile, Silver cast model Angie Everhart. Everhart had almost no acting experience but was dating Sylvester Stallone, who was then starring in the Silver-produced Assassins. As that film was being shot in Seattle and Bordello of Blood would be filmed in Vancouver, the casting of Everhart mean that she could easily visit her beau at weekends. "Stallone wanted his girlfriend to be in the movie, [because] he wanted her close by," says Adler. The cast also included Chris Sarandon, Corey Feldman, and Baywatch star Erika Eleniak.
Katz and Adler did their best to rewrite Zemeckis and Gale's youthful work but it rapidly became clear when shooting began that the production was a disaster. Asked over Zoom to name a low-point of the shoot, Adler looks visibly pained. "Oh, God — how much time have you got?" he says. "On Friday nights, Dennis Miller had to do his show, so he wanted to leave at noon, so that was always a problem. In the summertime in Vancouver, you have, like, five hours of nighttime, yet a lot of our movie was nighttime. We'd be shooting and I'd be looking up at the sky going, Oh, my god, the sun is coming up! The flies were as big as your fist and they were all over us. There were issues with the physical production, there were issues with the actors. Everywhere we turned, we had issues."
Critics were for the most part unimpressed by the finished film. Washington Post reviewer Richard Harrington complained that Miller was "simply doing his stand-up." In Variety, Joe Leydon described Miller as the "saving grace" but suggested that anyone who wasn't an adolescent boy "will avoid this tawdry opus like the plague." Released in August 1996, the film placed a lowly ninth on the box office chart and ultimately earned just $5.7 million in the US, less than a third of the money raked in by Demon Knight. The second Tales from the Crypt movie would also be the last, and Adler hasn't directed a film since.
Not long after the release of the film, Adler founded Dark Castle Pictures with Silver and Zemeckis, and produced a clutch more horror movies: 1999's House on Haunted Hill, 2001's Thirteen Ghosts, and 2002's Ghost Ship. Katz found it less easy to bounce back. He drifted away from both the film business and from his friend as became overwhelmed with mental health issues. "I went through the better part of two decades of deep depression which took me further and further away from the thing that I loved, which is storytelling," says Katz.
Eventually, the writer crawled his way back to a personal equilibrium. "I was lucky enough to bounce," he says. "I rediscovered a passion for storytelling I don't think I even had back then. And one of the healthy things I latched onto in rediscovering my passion for storytelling is that my own story suddenly had value. I had been telling the story of the making of Bordello of Blood to everyone in my social circle to the point where, they'd see me walking in the room and [say] 'Stop talking.' But this was a story that obviously was important to me."
After Katz guested last year on the Tales from the Crypt podcast Dads from the Crypt he pitched Adler on the notion of relating the pair's Bordello of Blood woes on a pod of their own. "The only way to really tell this story was with Gil," says Katz.
Having detailed the Bordello of Blood production in season 1 of How Not to Make a Movie, Katz and Adler plan to expand their horizons in a second season, which launches Sept. 21. "All the stories we're going to tell in season 2 of the podcast [are about] when the collaborative creative process goes bad, it just won't be so much about us," says Katz. "It'll be other people baring their soul. When you get creative people to talk about when the creative process goes bad, then you tap a vein, and we are evidence of, I hope, the richness of that vein."
Despite his initial reservations, Adler reveals that he has enjoyed reconnecting with Katz and working on the podcast with his pal. "One of the benefits of doing the podcast was really reconnecting with somebody who was like a relative to me for all those years and now it's like it never stopped," he says. "We didn't talk and then, x number of years later, boom, it's back to when we did it all those years ago."
Remarkably, after a quarter of a century apart, the pair have even started writing together again. "It's been like regaining a limb you forgot you had," says Katz. "We started toying with one or two things and Gil and I stepped right back into that creative back and forth. We're well on our way down the road to developing what I would describe as a show that's not Tales from the Crypt but has got that same kind of wicked fun."
And if the series turns out to be a total disaster? Well, they can always do a podcast about how not to make a TV show.
Watch the trailer for Bordello of Blood below.
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