SOV Flashbacks Classics – Twisted Batman Theater

In 1998 coming off the short film Teen Suicide, another project was in the works that was being created by my brother Bryan called Twisted Batman Theater and this was so much different then Teen Suicide as this film did not have any live action actors, it was done completely with action figures with only two voice actors. But I am getting ahead of myself here so let’s take a look at the making of Twisted Batman Theater, the second film ever made in the world of Independent B Movie’s long and winding history!

In 1998 my brother Bryan was attending Sinclair Community Collage in Dayton, Ohio. He was taking a class about the works of William Shakespeare, and for one of his class projects he decided to do a video that would combine the Shakespeare stories Romeo & Juliet as well as Macbeth with DC Comic book characters Batman and Robin, more specifically the 1966 TV versions of the cape crusaders…and he decided to do the film using action figures and make it stop motion! So he spent a couple of weeks writing the script and taking elements from the plays and added in cheesy jokes filled with pop culture references as well as cameos from many super villains and actors. Before the script was done, he contacted our grandparents on my dad’s side and borrowed their VHS camcorder as it had some great built in effects and was perfect for what he needed. He also started digging through our old action figures using his Kenner Superpowers Batman and borrowing my Superpowers of Robin, The Joker and Penguin, my Catwoman figure from Kenner’s Batman Returns toyline not to mention my Toy Biz DC Superhero Figures of The Riddler and Mr. Freeze as well as many other figures from both of our old collections. And once the script was written, he asked me to run camera for him as well as voice a few of the characters and he created the production company Brass Bros, and with that, a second film was in my future.

My brother spent time building sets out of cardboard, construction paper, and we messed with the camera to make sure the angle and zoom was just right to pull off the effect of the figures moving, and of course like all good brothers we argued about many of the technical aspects as at the time of filming Twisted Batman I was also working with the Fairmont Production crew on a few ideas and we were talking about doing a sequel to Teen Suicide and was asked to help my fellow students on some class projects, that I was not fully involved in, but was happy to help on. And of course, this made me think I knew it all about making shot on video films…and of course I didn’t and this production helped me learn that as well as that when its’ someone else’s vision and film, you do what they ask to make it come alive for them. It’s not about me, it’s about them. My brother set up his “sets” in the basement and used the kitchen table we had down there as his base, and once the script was locked and figures selected to play the parts he needed, the true production started. It was a very time consuming production as it had to be done just right as the camera was not only for filming but was also his editing machine so I had to be on and fast moving on that record button. I remember that we did do some test filming, but I honestly do not remember what we shot or used to make sure that the stop motion movements would also be good for the film. Also to keep some figures in place my brother came up with the idea of using poster putty on the bottom of the figures’ feet.

It took several weeks to film it, and I had to film it between school and running around with my friends. What helped make the shoot smoother was that he needed it filmed in order so we started with the credits and with the lights off and a flashlight in hand we filmed the cast near printer paper that looked like brick walls while the classic Batman TV show theme played. It was a really cool opening credits and a great idea by Bryan. We next filmed Batman and Robin investigating the suicides of Romeo and Juliet, and they of course are bumbling around with cheesy dialogue as most of the characters around them were talking from lines from the Shakespeare writings, and best of all Bryan was also voicing the characters and even playing music cues from a boombox and all the while I had to man the record button to get it all just perfect. And even in the middle of this segment, we had to switch backgrounds to make gag that was tied into the 1997 film Titanic! After the case of Romeo and Juliet was “solved” Batman and Robin along with the Gotham Police head to investigate the murder of King Duncan and have to question Macbeth about it only to have run ins with Super Villains and even sinister witches. And after filming a shocking and cliffhanger ending, the principal photography was done and it was a wrap! And once done my brother took the footage and hooked up two VCR’s and editing started. It was a grueling process that took him a while to get just right, but finally the film was done, Bryan had me and my parents watch it as the test group, and it was lots of fun and even while stressful to make, as I have said we had lots of clashes that even had me quitting and coming back several times…the film was something I am proud of being a part of. Oh and on a very cool note, the end credits were written on paper and done INXS style from the music video for Mediate.

So Bryan then took the film to show his class at Sinclair, and it went over very well with his fellow classmates and his teacher really liking it and of course he got a good grade for it, showing that all his hard work was worth it. The crazy thing was that Sinclair even asked Bryan if they could show the film on TV Screens in their newly designed media building for other students to see, and as far as we know, they played it for a few years. Once the film was done, Bryan donated it to the growing Independent B Movie film library and it became apart of the Indie SOV history for us. Bryan after making the film toyed with the idea of making a sequel as the original film ended on a cliffhanger and he figured it would be fun to mix Batman with a few more Shakespeare stories, but sadly it never went past just talking about it that went on for a few years after. The film would make its way to VHS and sold pretty well at conventions for Independent B Movie, but was done in limited amounts as the same thing could be said for the DVD that was very limited in release. Bryan would go on to make a short film called “Nightmare” in 2001 and that year also started a film called “The Kenny Rogers Project” that had stuff filmed but never finished…but more about those on a future update. On another side note, some time around 2006 my friend Joe Grunenwald and I were developing a spin off movie of Twisted Batman that would have been based around Superman and would have had him doing 12 Labors like Hercules in order to save his friends from such super villains as Lex Luther, Brainiac, Doomsday and King Shark, but sadly this film did not make it too far into creative as both of us were short on time. So while Twisted Batman at this point is not available on home media, you can catch it from time to time on the show “Moraine Playhouse Theater” with host The Creeper has hosted it and it plays on Dayton Public Access stations DATV and MVCC and online station The Monster Channel, and for some years many moons back DATV did play the film on air un-hosted.

So I am sure you toy collectors out there reading this are wondering what toys were used in this film and because I am not cruel, I will do my best to let you know! From Kenner’s “Star Wars: Power Of The Force” line he used Lando Calrissian as Lt. Bando the head of Gotham Police. Also used from Star Wars were Stormtroopers as Gotham Cops, Luke Skywalker was Romeo, Grand Moff Tarkin & Luke Skywalker played Romeo and Juliet’s Dad’s. Dengar played the Friar, Jedi Ghost Of Obi-Wan Kenobi played the Ghost of Macbeth, and from Kenner Return Of The Jedi series Princess Leia played Juliet with The Emperor playing King Duncan. From “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” figures from Matchbox, Pee-Wee played a Gotham Cop and from Kenner’s “Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves” line, Robin Hood played Macbeth. From Toy Biz line for “Hercules And The Legendary Journeys” he had Xena Warrior Princess play Lady Macbeth, Hercules played a dead guard and Iolaus played a cutthroat assassin. From the McFarlane Toys, KISS played the Witches from Macbeth. From the Toy Biz series “Spider-Man” he had Kraven The Hunter be another dead body for Macbeth’s segment. And he used the following Batman baddies from the following toylines: from Kenner’s “Batman The Animated Series” he used Bane, Kenner’s “Batman Returns” he used Catwoman, Kenner’s “Super Powers Collection” The Joker and Penguin, and from Toy Biz he used Mr. Freeze and The Riddler from “DC Super Heroes”. He also used a generic plastic boat that was bought from K-Mart to use for one small gag. So as you can see, many action figures made up the cast of this film!

In my long time in the world of shot-on-video filmmaking Twisted Batman theater has remained the only stop motion film I have ever made, and while I have said above Joe and I were working on a Superman idea and even at one point I had an epic Flash Gordon one in mind that would have had Flash Gordon mix with Star Wars, Star Trek, Wizard Of Oz, Saga Of Crystar, Buck Rogers, Battle Star Galactica and King Kong, they just never came to life. So I want to say that for these I.B.M films I will write about the plot, my thoughts on the film and will in the end give it a Report Card Grade on the classic A-F scale and will only be judging it on a scale that is ONLY for Independent B Movie/Bloodline Video films. Now it’s with great honor that I bring to you the 1998 short film masterpiece Twisted Batman Theater!

Twisted Batman Theater
Starring – Bryan Brassfield & Matt Brassfield     Directed by Bryan Brassfield
1998     Not Rated     38min     Independent B Movie     DVD-R     Full Frame

Movie: Detective Bando and the Gotham Police Force are at the site of a suicide of a young couple Romeo and Juliet, and they call in famed duo Batman and Robin to help solve the crime as it appears to be a suicide but Batman has his doubts as The Riddler and Bane are on the scene and he thinks they murdered the youths! And once the Friar shows up and alerts Bando that the youngsters killed themselves over their love, he is shot by The Riddler, and Batman and Robin take him and Bane down…but Batman also thinks he is still right and that The Riddler is the one who killed them. Bando gets a call that King Duncan has been murdered, and the Cops and Dynamic Duo rush to the castle to investigate the crime. While there, they meet Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who are acting strange and things get out of hand when The Joker is shown to be the Court Jester and the rock band Kiss are Witches who helped set the stage for why the King had to be killed! As Bando rushes Lady Macbeth to safety, she turns out to be Catwoman and knocks him out, as Batman and Robin are captured by The Joker who is joined by Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, Penguin and Kiss and are strapped to the big book of Shakespeare and when a gag trap goes off they will be crushed! And this is how this shot on video film ends.

Thoughts: This film is a true flashback of my early days of shot-on-video movies as it really was the first and only time I ever got to work on a stop motion film and is the only shot on video film that I worked directly with my brother on that was finished. When watching what Bryan and myself were able to pull off with a consumer VHS Camera and some old action figures is pretty great as while their movements are crude, they nonetheless are pulled off and it does make the toys feel like they are actors and not toys. Also I must say that Bryan did a great job of showcasing the stories of Shakespeare and while keeping true to the stories for the most part was also able to add a very cheesy 60’s Batman humor to them and have Batman being a goof and Robin and Bando being the true detectives doing the work to solve the crimes. The film’s backgrounds and “sets” are cheap looking yet charming and are clearly homemade but it really does add to the film’s charm. Over all this film is very dated in spots with dated jokes and lines, but it does do a great job of bring goofy laughs to viewers…not to even mention the classic music that he used was lots of fun and helped bring scenes to life, even if he had to rush and hit play on a boombox to make the cues happen. Also watching this made me laugh when I heard my voice doing Paul Stanley of Kiss as well as the laughs for Pee-Wee and The Joker…terrible! Also re-watching this made me remember how fun and stressful this film was to make and also made me really look back and think, man Bryan should have done a Twisted Batman 2 as I think he would have made it bigger, better and funnier!

Grade: B

While Twisted Batman Theater was going strong and wowing the people of Sinclair, at Fairmont High School two other films were being worked on by the Junior Media Class, and one would go on to be an adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story “Cask Of Amontialldo,” that by many of our original crew is considered one of the best films in our early productions and the other is a bit of a forgotten memory! You see many of my classmates were in other classes together and because most of Fairmont faculty hated me, I was only in a small amount of classes with them and spent most of my days in Media Class being a DJ and editing clips as well had many Study Halls. But for one of their classes, they all had they had to make short films and break into two groups to do so…and because my media teacher seen that deep inside my Metalhead Monster Kid attitude mind, there was an extremely creative person, he talked to that teacher and I was placed in a group to lend a helping hand. I was placed in the group alongside Matt Hoffman and Sarah McMurchy among others and I helped on a production that was based on a war story “Sweetheart Of The Song Tra Bong” that was written by Tim O’Brien, and I even played a dead body in the film killed in action and the worst part of it all is that the film is considered a “lost” film from us, but I am working on some leads to find a copy of the film and when I do, I will do a small update here on Rotten Ink about it. But while that one is gone, Cask Of Amontillado lives on so let’s talk briefly about this film from the early days of Independent B Movie.

Cask Of Amontillado was the second film made at that time and was done by the second group and was of course based on the classic 1846 short story written by Edgar Allen Poe. The film was directed by Rion Neeley, and the group cast Dave Wean as the drunken wine lover Fortunato and Dan Salter played the revenge driven Montressor with Brandon Womeldorff on camera as well as editor, graphics and co-producer. The rest of the crew was made up of Josh Razauskas, Linda Webb and Kelly Ramage, and they filmed many scenes at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base Carnival as well as Woodland Cemetery (that they snuck into at night) both places in, of course, Dayton, Ohio! The climatic end of Fortunato being bricked up was done in the basement of Rion’s home and pulled off with a handful of bricks and some cardboard boxes, and the effect looked great for a bunch of High School Media students. The film of course got the group a high grade in the class and the short film would be watched for years at gatherings and parties. I sadly was not involved at all with the making of this film besides releasing it on home media and allowing Horror Hosts to host it on their shows. The short film that was a Fairmont Production had a run on VHS and sold okay for Independent B Movie. It also was released as an extra feature for the DVD release of the 2002 Brandon Wolmeldorff film Razor. It also got the T-Shirt treatment when Independent B Movie decided to celebrate some of the films with shirts. This short film for me also proved that when Brandon Womelforff teamed with Dan Salter, Dave Wean and Rion Neeley, a team like that could not be beat in the world of shot on video films, oh and the film was shot on Super-VHS.

So just like before, for this I.B.M short film I will write about the plot, my thoughts on the film and will in the end give it a Report Card Grade on the classic A-F scale and will only be judging it on a scale that is ONLY for Independent B Movie/Bloodline Video films. Now it’s with great honor that I bring to you the 1998 short film Cask Of Amontillado!

Cask Of Amontillado
Starring – Dan Salter & Dave Wean       Directed by Rion Neeley
1998     Not Rated     14min     Independent B Movie     VHS     Full Frame

Movie: A carnival is going on and Fortunato is drunk on wine and is stumbling around when he runs into Montressor, a man who unknown to the drunken fool has a taste for revenge in his heart as he feels that Fortunato has disrespected him and his family name. Montressor tricks the drunken fool to follow him with the promise of tasting some wine that he is thinking about buying and the pair leave the carnival and start the journey to the wine cellar. Fortunato follows Montressor across a cemetery and finally they arrive at the wine cellar that is empty and Montressor chains his “friend” to the wall and then bricks him up leaving him to die…before blowing out the candle and ending the feud forever.

Thoughts: Edgar Allan Poe is a master of gothic style horror stories and it was a great choice for Rion Neeley and his crew to pick to do as I know that Rion along with Dave, Dan and Brandon all loved the work of Poe and this was one of his short stories that they could easily pull off with the no budget they had. Rion was also super smart to ask Brandon to step in and be the cameraman as Brandon always had a great eye for shots as well as using his surroundings and even slow motion to build up the tension. The fact that they were able to get night shots at Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio also in my opinion built up the foreboding gloomy fate of Fortunato. I also like how they were able to get Wright Patt Air Force Base Carnival to allow them to film as it added that mood of a festival and why Fortunato was so drunk when he meets his “friend” Montressor. They also did a great job casting as Dan Salter pulls off the moody and broody Montressor who has only revenge on his mind and Dave Wean did a great drunk Fortunato. While sadly I did not get to work on this film and only got to see the finished short film, it is a great little student shot on video film that pulls off an entertaining watch.

Grade: B+

1998 was a great year for Independent B Movie as not only was it the year of Teen Suicide but also Twisted Batman Theater, The Cask Of Amontillado and the The Things They Carried (the only lost finished film in our history) and this was only the start of our long legacy in the world of backyard cinema. When we next take a look at a film from I.B.M’s past, it will be Suicide 2 and good news for you readers that update will be coming later in 2021 so make sure to keep your eyes open for that! Our next update will bring us to our Christmas Eve update and will take us to the jungle to meet the Lord Of The Jungle the man named Tarzan! So until next time, read an indie comic or three, watch an indie film or two and as always support your local Horror Host. See you next update wait listen “Aaaaah-ah-ah-ah-aaaah-ah-ah-ah”!

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