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‘ON THE CHEAP: MY LIFE IN LOW BUDGET FILMMAKING’ by Greydon Clark (book review)

Review by Dean Galanis

Writer/director/sometime actor Greydon Clark was a prolific independent filmmaker in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

His output ranged from schlock like Black Shampoo (a race-change cash-in of the Warren Beatty hit, Shampoo) to, well, schlock like Without Warning and Joysticks. 

Which isn’t to say Clark was a no-talent hack just trying to slap something together to make a buck; he truly tried to make a good film each time out, while certainly doing his utmost to make a profit for himself and his investors.

On The Cheap: My Life in Low Budget Filmmaking, Clark’s new autobiography, charts the course of his career, from Satan’s Sadists to Star Games, in a most entertaining fashion.

He structures each chapter in screenplay form, as in:

     Gordon, you’re such a nice guy.
I’ll do anything you want.
     Jan, what I want is for you to show
up and be sober the whole day.

This somewhat unorthodox style keeps the book highly readable, even when it sometimes gets repetitive. (Certainly, in low-budget filmmaking, has-been drunk actors and shifty investors rear their ugly heads more than once).

As alluded to above, a cursory look at Clark’s filmography may belie the fact that not only did he do his best to make an entertaining, profitable film each time out, but he put his money where his mouth is.

Many, many times throughout his lengthy career he would put a lien on his and his beloved wife Jackie’s home to be able to finance his features. The profits would always go to his bank first; if anything was left over, he and his investors would split the rest.

One of the more surprising aspects of the book is how interesting the behind-the-scenes business negotiations turn out to be. What could be truly dry stuff elsewhere here oft times plays out in suspenseful fashion.  Friendships, homes, careers, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the line. Clark could be incredibly savvy and intuitive in these situations (his films rarely lost money), but occasionally gullible as well.

Historians of all things schlock should really enjoy the chapters on The Forbidden Dance (yes, one of two Lambada films that opened in theaters on the SAME DAY), Dance Macabre and Mad Dog Coll — all made for Menaham Golan. Golan, along with his cousin Yoram Globus (aka The Go-Go Boys), owned the infamous Cannon Films, which released many, many an exploitation film in the 80s (as well as a few arthouse hits).

By the time of The Forbidden Dance, the Go-Go Boys had had a terrible falling-out, and were competing to get their separate Lambada movies to the theaters first.  Golan hires Clark to make his entry; while his notoriously cheap ways are on display here, as well as his bluster and stubbornness, Golan is hardly depicted as a monster. In fact, Clark admits that despite the myriad issues he had working for Menaham, he genuinely liked the guy.

There are great stories and anecdotes about the likes of Jan-Michael Vincent, Joe Don Baker, George Kennedy, Tony Curtis, Martin Landau, etc., etc. Greydon has worked with a slew of interesting actors, both up and comers and veterans. He also gave famed cinematographer Dean Cundey (Back To The Future, Jurassic Park) his start, and worked with Janusz Kaminski just a few weeks before Kaminski flew to Poland to start work on Schindler’s List.

The great thing that shines through On The Cheap is Clark’s genuine love of film, especially filmmaking. He didn’t put a lien on his house every year or so in the desperate  hope of striking it rich; he just wanted to keep making movies.

And while he was hardly a great artist, Clark did provide some fun movies (and some that flat-out didn’t work, as he acknowledges). A personal favorite is Without Warning, with Kevin Peter Hall (later the Predator itself) as an alien who comes to Earth, battles wigged-out Martin Landau and Jack Palance (at his most Palance), and flings disc-shaped aliens at his unsuspecting victims (a goofy, but admittedly unique and nifty, gimmick). At times unintentionally hilarious, it’s still creative and achieves what it set out to do: entertain.  And it’s got Landau and Palance spouting some hysterical dialogue, Frisbee aliens…oh, and a young David Caruso in short-shorts. I mean, come on….!

I was also pleased to read Clark’s appraisal of Mystery Science Theater 3000’s shredding of his films Angel’s Brigade and Final Justice.

A seemingly nice guy to the core, Clark is still very candid in these remarks, and throughout the book.

All in all, recommended for casual readers, highly recommended for those interested in independent filmmaking, and an absolute must for students of exploitation cinema. 

And remember: “Aliens! They ain’t human, ya know!!”

On The Cheap is available at
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