F13 Hall of Fame: John Carl Buechler

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If anyone has a reason to hate Harry Potter, it’s John Carl Buechler! Back in 1986, a low budget fantasy called Troll was released and enjoyed minor success at the box office. Its protagonist was a young man named Harry Potter Jr., portrayed with wide-eyed innocence by Noah Hathaway, previously known for his roles in Battlestar Galactica and The Neverending Story. Some eleven years later, British author J. K. Rowling became an overnight sensation with her novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which was adapted into a successful feature four years later by Chris Columbus (Home Alone) and would earn Rowling a fortune of an estimated £560m. Troll, meanwhile, had slipped into obscurity and reduced to the label of ‘cult.’ Over twenty years later, Buechler plans to take back his most famous creation with a big budget remake of Troll.

Buechler was first introduced to cinema at the age of three when he fell in love with King Kong. He began experimenting with special effects by sculpting clay and playing with latex, whilst reading various magazines about monsters and fantasy. It was here that he first discovered Rick Baker, who had begun as an assistant to make-up legend Dick Smith on The Exorcist before finding acclaim with his own work on the likes of It’s Alive and John Guillermin’s 1976 remake of King Kong. After corresponding with Baker, Buechler was invited for a short apprenticeship, where he learnt the basics of special effects within the film industry. His first work as a make-up artist was on Jason of Star Command in 1978, a Saturday morning show for CBS that ran for twenty-eight episodes. He then worked alongside rising artist Stan Winston on The Island and provided the make-up for a low budget movie called Mausoleum.

Soon afterwards, Buechler was invited by legendary producer Roger Corman to join his FX team at New World, creating the special effects for such cult favourites as Android, Sorceress, Forbidden World and Deathstalker, the latter of which he would also perform second unit directing chores on. After finally running New World’s make-up department, Buechler eventually parted ways with Corman and soon joined Empire, a low budget production run by producer Charles Band. It would be here that he would first develop his filmmaking skills and receive major acclaim for his work as a make-up artist. Aside from directing a segment of The Dungeonmaster in 1984, much of Buechler’s early work with the studio would involve creating the impressive make-up for a variety of cult classics, ranging from Re-animator and Ghoulies to From Beyond and Prison.

It was around this time that he started his own FX company, Mechanical and Make-up Imageries (later renamed Magical Media Industries Inc.), which would handle all of the effects for Empire. Having previously attempted to convince Corman to produce a script he had written entitled Troll, he decided to pitch his idea to Band. Whilst he was intrigued by the concept, Band felt that the story was too elaborate for the kind of budget that would be available, and so Buechler was forced to scale down his vision and instead set the action in an apartment block, with just brief glimpses of the magical world of the evil wizard Turok. The enclosed environment allowed Buechler to show an array of weird and wonderful creatures and demonstrate his company’s impressive talents. Incidentally, a few years later two Italian movies were produced that were released under the titles Troll 2 and Troll 3, neither being official sequels or relating in any way to Buechler’s movie.

Troll would make enough of an impression on Frank Mancuso Jr. at Paramount that he would offer him the director chores on the latest sequel of the long-running Friday the 13th franchise. Initially intended to have been Freddy vs. Jason (a crossover with A Nightmare on Elm Street, that was eventually released in 2003), Paramount and Elm Street‘s owners New Line Cinema were unable to come to an agreement and so the story was instead adapted into a Jason vs. Carrie-like tale, in which a teenage girl with telekinetic powers accidentally resurrects Jason Voorhees from the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake and is forced to use her gift to defeat him. Knowing Buechler’s background as an effects artist, Mancuso Jr. was confident that the inexperienced director would be more than capable of handling elaborate set pieces and action sequences.

One decision that Buechler would make with the movie that would have a profound impact on the subsequent sequels was with the casting of Jason. Although C.J. Graham had been a popular choice after his work on Part VI, Buechler insisted on stuntman Kane Hodder, whom he had previously worked with on Renny Harlin’s Prison. Mancuso Jr. was unconvinced, claiming that he lacked the physical requirements for the role, and so Hodder performed a test screening in full make-up (which would include segments of flesh missing to reveal the spine beneath) and gained Mancuso Jr.’s immediate approval. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood was released in 1988, and whilst it may have failed to impress the critics, the fans were more than happy with their new take on Jason, although the film would prove to be the least successful at that time (a trend that would continue until Freddy vs. Jason fifteen years later).

Over the next few years, Buechler and his company would provide the special effects for a whole host of successful movies, including A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Bride of Re-Animator, before returning to the director’s chair once again in 1991 with Ghoulies Go to College. Having been the one who had created the creatures for the original movie back in 1985, and its sequel two years later, Buechler would take the series in a more comedic direction, even allowing his antagonists to spout out one-liners (as had happened with the Gremlins sequel the previous year). The movie was originally scheduled to have been released theatrically but Vestron Pictures, the company responsible for its distribution, suffered a great loss and were unable to back the film.

In 1993, Buechler would collaborate for the first time in a decade with Corman, working on the fantasy Carnosaur. This would lead to several more projects together, including Piranha (a TV remake of the Joe Dante classic, also produced by Corman), Inhumanoid and Watchers Reborn, another directorial effort from Buechler. He would also continue to work alongside Band, whose defunct Empire had been replaced by his straight-to-video company Full Moon. Over the following years the two would work together on such projects as Evil Bong and The Gingerdead Man, which would produce the humorously titled sequel Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust. After completing work on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 2006, Buechler would finally get to produce his goriest work since The New Blood (which had sadly been neutered by the MPAA prior to release).

Adam Green was a thirty-year old horror fan who had written a script that was intended as an homage to the old school slasher films of the 1980s that he had grown up on. Hatchet would boast a selection of recognisable faces from within the horror genre, including Robert ‘Freddy Krueger’ Englund, Tony ‘Candyman’ Todd and Hodder, once again teaming up with the man who made him a horror icon as Jason. The special effects on display in Hatchet were extremely gruesome, specifically one scene in which a woman is brutally hacked in half by the antagonist, Victor Crowley (Hodder). The movie would unsurprisingly encounter issues with the MPAA, who wanted much of the violence removed, but the film eventually found its audience on DVD, courtesy of an unrated cut.

In 2007, Buechler announced his plans to remake Troll as a big budget fantasy adventure. The project was conceived with the help of producer Steve Waterman (Casper, Stuart Little) and was to star Hathaway as Turok, whilst a casting call was put out for young actors to audition for the role of Harry Potter Jr. (Buechler refused to change the name of his hero, despite the success of the Harry Potter franchise). Whilst all had been quiet on the project for some time, occasionally Buechler issues an update stating that production is set to commence, with the possibility of cameos from Anne Lockhart and Phil Fondacaro, both of whom appeared in the original. Finally, after over twenty years, Buechler will get the chance to bring his original vision to the screen. He had previously stated that he also intends to adapt a new version of Frankenstein, although the fate of this project is unclear.



Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (Deluxe Edition) (DVD)

Director: John Carl Buechler
Starring: Kane Hodder, Lar Park-Lincoln, Susan Jennifer Sullivan, Kevin Blair, Terry Kiser
Rating: R (Restricted)

List Price: $10.01 USD
New From: $8.68 In Stock
Used from: $0.82 In Stock
Release date September 15, 1988.
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