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Over the past 24 years, Terry Michael King has done just about everything that can bring in a buck in the entertainment industry. He began as a “gofer to a gofer” in Hollywood, then rose to become a syndication manager and film restorer for MGM. After a while, he quit and started over as a nonunion extra on a Paris episode of Beverly Hills, 90210, eventually moving into crew and stunt work. Once, he stuffed his pants with raw beef and was stabbed in the thigh for a fight scene with Christopher Walken.
Given how adeptly King has survived in the rough-and-tumble industry, you’d expect him not to die so damn fast in his own debut feature. But in the recently completed Brainiac, the director is the shortest-lived of the numerous victims who get mauled, decapitated, crushed, and, most frequently, brain-sucked by the movie’s reptilian star. As Murdered Motorist, King doesn’t have any lines except one uninterrupted scream, and the 13 seconds he’s onscreen before being clawed to death by a lab-coat-wearing monster with an outsized, pulsating brain don’t leave much opportunity for character development.
Of course, that isn’t what King was really after anyway. “I’m a pigeon,” he says; it’s the term the 54-year-old Arlington resident and his cousins coined for the clueless, disposable victims in the B- and lower-grade horror movies they grew up watching together. “I’m easy to kill, and I squawk a lot.”
King dies as if he’s been waiting to do it all his life: When the screaming and flailing is over, he lies battered on the pavement as the monster peels out in pursuit of another victim. Blood dripping from the mouth, King’s lifeless head twists toward the viewer for an extended postmortem close-up.
No one who’s seen Brainiac’s source material, a 1969 horror movie called The Brainiac, can quite understand why King wanted to remake it. “It sucks,” says King’s 54-year-old co-producer and cousin, Matt Bayan, of the original. “But for some reason, I don’t know why, [King has] always been really fascinated by the movie.”
One of the dozens of low-budget Mexican monster films trucked over the border and sloppily re-dubbed by schlock purveyor K. Gordon Murray, The Brainiac—original Spanish-language title: El Barón del Terror—features a suave, meteor-riding monster determined to exact his revenge on the descendants of the Mexican Inquisition by sucking their brains out in a very unconvincing fashion. “The monster’s tongue looks like a New Year’s Eve party blower,” King concedes. “It’s really fucking horrible.”
Coming from King, that’s an endorsement. He grew up in the golden age of creature features, when scores of hastily thought-up beasties piloted toilet-paper-roll spaceships and battled nightly at the drive-in. Murray, who produced more than 40 films between the late ’50s and the mid-’70s, competed with a host of like-minded movie moguls for the attention span of kids like King, a Maryland native who made visits to his cousins in New Jersey with copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland in tow.
“When a monster movie came out on the weekend, everyone in school would be talking about it on Monday,” Bayan recalls. “At least all the boys were.” Quality was not a consideration, and often the most outlandishly shoddy monsters were favorites. The Brainiac was among the worst.
“He has a silver chalice and a silver spoon,” King says. “And he eats brains like yogurt.”
Brainiac began a few years ago as a backyard homage to its namesake. At the time, King was managing a local lighting store and working on the side on documentaries, shorts, and talk shows.
He was also getting a little restless. “I’d always wanted to work on my own productions,” he says, “but when you’re doing Hollywood feature films and episodic television and tens of millions of dollars are swirling around, it seduces you away from your own projects.” He and Matt Bayan’s younger brother, Greg Bayan, started toying around with the idea of making a movie on their own.
“Our original conversations went like this: ‘Why don’t we create a monster?’ And then there was much laughter,” King recalls.
“All Terry originally wanted to do was get a home-movie camera, ham it up, and just have some fun,” Matt says. “And then it started to evolve.”
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But before he could make a serious monster movie, King needed to find a serious monster. An Octoman costume procured from a Halloween shop in Annandale, Va., was considered, purchased, and ultimately rejected. And CGI was out due to budget considerations—besides, King says, “we wanted to create something that existed in the real world, not on a computer monitor. Without sinking to the depths of Ed Wood Jr., we wanted to invent things using what we had available.”
In the spring of 2003, King and Greg Bayan went to a horror convention in Cleveland, he says, “to find out how plausible it was to get a real monster.” At the convention, Greg worked up the nerve to ask makeup-and-effects legend Tom Savini for help. The man behind Friday the 13th and Dawn of the Dead agreed, adopting the Brainiac as an educational exercise for students at Tom Savini’s Special Make-up Effects Program at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, Pa.
“As soon as Savini got involved, we had to fish or cut bait,” Matt says. “It just seemed like such an opportunity that they were going to produce a monster for us.”
The Brainiac team drew up an extensive monster wish list. “When they were asking for a design, they wanted it to have batlike features,” says Alli Amann, one of the students who designed the monster. “They wanted the brain to be exposed. And they wanted to have pulsating brain lobes. And they wanted some sort of sucker tongue that attached to the head like a leech. And claws.”
They got it all. The resulting creature, though a little pro-bono-ish around the edges, is thoroughly respectable: With mottled latex skin and deformed, meaty claws, the Brainiac can compete with any of the photogenic mutants that held audiences captive in the ’60s. “It is not a ridiculous monster,” King asserts. “It’s a good-looking monster.”
And unlike the reedy, halfassed proboscis the original Brainiac poked his victims with, the tongue Savini’s students created could credibly terrify an audience. “It’s really phallic and powerful,” King says admiringly.
Though they had originally planned to adhere to the original Brainiac’s script, the filmmakers found the demands of staging the extended 17th-century-Inquisition-trial scene to be overwhelming. With a simpler setting in mind, Matt and Greg spent two weeks revamping the script to focus a little closer to home—or more specifically, the home in Johnstown, Pa., Greg shares with their mother, Nikki Bayan.
They also gave the film a more modern pretext: Addiction drives their monster to brain-slurping, rather than occult gastronomic preference. The script opens when a Food and Drug Administration agent halts a pharmaceutical company’s study of Nirvana, a new breed of antidepressant that onscreen bears more than a passing similarity to Red Hots. When the supply of Nirvana is cut off, one of the study’s distraught participants resorts to murder—first of local loose women, then of Johnstown’s general population. “The monster has a sound genetic basis,” Matt says. “I did research on brain chemistry.”
Brainiac’s total body count is 11, though King prefers not to think in those terms. “I gauged it in how many pints of [theatrical blood] we used,” he says. “Four pints. That stuff was 30 bucks a pop.”
“I think the first murder took place in the living room, but it wasn’t bloody,” Nikki remembers of the 22-weekend shooting. “And the drug addict who rode the motorcycle dies in the cellar.”
As befits any self-respecting B-picture, there’s at least one bad girl on the cheerleading squad who totally has it coming. “You were so late on that catch, Tracy, Godot could have gotten there first,” the “Bling Bling, Bang Bang” Rayven tells a fellow cheerleader, a line her gruesome demise only partly atones for. King calls her “a pigeon you love to hate.”
While transplanting the Brainiac’s killing spree to Johnstown helped defray filming costs, financing the movie still wasn’t easy for the director and his cousins. “Our credit cards were at the ready,” says King, though he refuses to discuss exactly how much Brainiac cost: “Let’s just say it was a limited budget.”
An expenditure that the filmmakers have yet to make is paying their cast and crew. “We got [them] to sign deferred-payment contracts. If we make money, they get paid. If we don’t, well, they were working for free.”
So far, Brainiac hasn’t found a buyer, but that doesn’t mean it won’t: The movie’s connection with living legend Savini has given it a bit of buzz in the horror community, including a recent feature in gorehound bible Fangoria. King is confident that if it does get distributed, it’ll have an audience. If Brainiac had come out when he was a kid, he says, “it would’ve seemed like a total joy ride.”
King says he’s now “promoting the film full-time” and anticipates taking a job in Los Angeles this summer to make it easier to hawk the film. Meanwhile, Matt reports that he’s “already got a couple people really interested in a franchise” and has started working with his brother on the story arc for a sequel. “Everybody I’ve talked to isn’t interested in one movie,” says the elder Bayan. “They want five or seven. If you go in and say you want to make a movie, they say, ‘Screw you, buddy.’”
Should Brainiacs II through V come to fruition, King expects to have a problem on his hands: “It broke our hearts to kill off so many characters,” he says, adding that he was amazed by his cast’s innate theatrical instincts. “So we might try to resurrect a few of them.
“If [Alien: Resurrection scripter] Joss Whedon can bring back Sigourney Weaver after she makes a swan dive into a pit of molten steel,” he adds, “we can certainly bring back a few of our characters.”CP
Brainiac premieres at midnight Saturday, April 23, at the Bethesda Row Cinema, 7235 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda. For more information, call (301) 652-7273.