By John Beifuss
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
As Art Linkletter never said, kids say the darnedest things about body parts.
"There was a brown fake arm and a lot of tan fake arms," commented 6-year-old stoic-on-a-scooter Julia Comes, unfazed after her recent discovery of a table of bloody severed limbs in her upscale Midtown neighborhood, where the cast and crew of the MTV horror production "Savage County" was in residency this week.
Inspired by the successful Memphis production of "$5 Cover," director Craig Brewer's music-themed MTV serial drama, "Savage County" has united local and Hollywood talent to create a multi-"webisode" online series that will eschew bumpin' beats to focus on things that go bump in the night.
As a result, a long-empty 19th century home on Cowden in Central Gardens is serving as host for a few days to rampaging rustics, lethal yokels and bloodthirsty bumpkins -- or "killer hillbillies," in the playfully exaggerated and less alliterative phrase of writer-director David Harris. (The story is set in the flatlands of Texas, not the hills of Tennessee.)
One of the homicidal hayseeds, a sort of perverted Boo Radley played by Jeff Pope of Memphis, was killed in front of the high-definition cameras Monday night.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Pope, 33, as he was fitted by makeup designer Sandy Andrle with a neck injury attached to a tube through which blood was pumped after Memphis actress Ivy McLemore, 19, "slashed" the actor's throat with a rubber knife.
Covered in stage blood ("We buy K.D. Extra Dark -- it's the best!" Andrle enthused), McLemore sported a branding-iron "burn," courtesy of the crazed Hardell clan of "Savage County": a stylized blend of the letter "H" with some Texas-style hook 'em horns. Said Pope: "I thought it was the Van Halen logo."
"(The special effects field) is heavy with people who love gore and Goth, but you really need to know your chemicals and your compounds, especially if you're working in the South, with all the humidity," said Andrle, 26, whose credits include the TV miniseries "John Adams," which she said was "really good for smallpox and yellow fever."
A tale of Texas teenagers whose prank-gone-wrong inspires the murderous vengeance of a rural tribe that proudly traces its "We Show No Mercy" family motto to the Confederacy, "Savage County" is a follow-up in production strategy if not theme to Brewer's 15-part "$5 Cover," which made its debut May 1 online and on the Music Television network.
"$5 Cover" demonstrated that a Memphis-based project with a local cast and crew could be produced with a New York or California level of professionalism. Plus, Memphis is cheap: The "Savage County" budget is a tight $250,000, about $50,000 less than "$5 Cover." Both are productions of Brewer's BR2 company, with longtime Brewer collaborator, Memphian Erin Hagee, 32, as producer.
"Savage County" likely will premiere online early next year. Like "$5 Cover," it will consist of 15 seven- to nine-minute episodes that will form a coherent feature film when viewed in sequence.
Harris, 33, a Texas-raised, West Hollywood-based horror fan with MTV New Media who was a producer on "$5 Cover," has gathered a mix of local and Hollywood cast and crew members for his "Savage" brainchild. McLemore and Ryan Carter, the Memphis actors among the lead teenagers, were discovered by local directors: McLemore has a large role in John Michael McCarthy's upcoming "Cigarette Girl," while Carter appeared in Morgan Jon Fox's "OMG/HaHaHa." McCarthy is script supervisor on "Savage County," while Fox is second assistant director.
The ruthless rubes are all Memphians, played by Pope; John Malloy (the patriarch of the clan); burly Patrick Cox (a veteran maniac in such local productions as "Live Animals" and "Night"); and well-known Memphis artist, musician and puppeteer Jimmy Crosthwait, whose signature demented Dumbledore appearance -- shoulder-length hair, bib of a beard and wild eyes and smile -- seem made to order for "Savage County."
The craziness of the role of Wilbur Hardell provided Crosthwait with a needed distraction following the death Saturday of his longtime friend and collaborator, music legend Jim Dickinson.
"Wilbur runs up and down stairs, at one point with an ax, at one point with a shotgun, and chases teenage girls through the boonies," said Crosthwait, 63. "I haven't had this much fun since sliding down a steel cable from the balcony to the floor in my clown suit at the Electric Circus in New York City in the summer of love, 1967. Forty years later, I'm getting another crack at fame."
The 18-day shoot will wrap Monday at the Shelby County Correction Center after two days in Crawfordsville, Ark.
-- John Beifuss: 529-2394
Photos by Alan Spearman for the Commercial Appeal