Rick Sloane Talks Hobgoblins
Many of you may not be familiar with the name Rick Sloane right off the top of your head. If you ever watched "Mystery Science Theater 3000" or USA Network's "Up All Night", chances are you're familiar with his work. Heck, without Sloane's cinematic output, the programmers of "USA Up All Night" would have had around fourteen empty hours they'd have had to fill with umpteenth repeats of Zapped Again!, Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell, Dr.Alien, and the (the title escapes me) one about the leprechaun that grants the horny teenagers wish about getting into the pants of the girl of his dreams only to find himself shrunk down to near microscopic size inside of her vagina clinging to her pubic hairs for dear life. You don't see stuff like that every day.
Throughout Rick Sloane's 25-year career he's done films with the likes of Martin Sheen, Wings Hauser, and Mary Woronov. But primarily Sloane is famous for two franchises: Vice Academy 1-6 and Hobgoblins. The Vice Academy flicks were essentially cheaper, sexier versions of Police Academy starring the likes of Linnea Quigley, Ginger Lynn Allen, and Elizabeth Kaitan. 1988's Hobgoblins dealt with ancient critters that look like fanged angora throw pillows from hell escaping from their film vault prison and raising hell as only one would expect from fuzzy murderous muppet monsters with hallucinatory powers that can make unsuspecting victims believe their wildest fantasies are coming true right before they fall prey. Both were staples of USA "Up All Night", and thanks to "MST3K", Hobgoblins has become Sloane's most infamous film. So much so his long gestating sequel that picks with the same set of survivors from the first film 20-years later arrives on DVD this week.
When Rick Sloane contacted me about doing an interview to coincide with the release Hobgoblins 2 and encouraged me to take a look at some other recent interviews he'd done in hopes that I could come up with some different questions to ask, I took that as my own invitation to make mischief - much like the fuzzy fiends of his most recent film. Hope you enjoy this lighthearted interview with a filmmaker most famous for making a film even he has labeled a "disasterpiece".
Foywonder: Let's begin with the most pertinent question I think most of the readers are asking themselves. Hobgoblins 2 ... Why? Let me rephrase it this way: Is the world really ready for a Hobgoblins sequel?
Rick Sloane: When the original Hobgoblins was released in 1988, it was extremely successful in foreign sales. More than fifty countries licensed the film; it was dubbed into numerous languages and became my first hit movie. I followed it a year later with Vice Academy. While I watched all the Gremlins clones have multiple sequels, such as Troll, Ghoulies, Munchies, Critters, etc, I started planning a second Hobgoblins. The plot involved McCreedy being committed to mental hospital for blowing up the movie studio, and Kevin and his friends have to break him free to save themselves from the puppet attacks.
Vice Academy was my first film to play on television and it became a bigger success than Hobgoblins. So instead of there being a second Hobgoblins, I made a second Vice Academy. There still might have been a Hobgoblins 2, but I continued with the Vice sequels all the way to a Part 6.
MST3K ran Hobgoblins ten years later and suddenly the film gained a fan base. Even after the show went off the air they released their version on DVD and it also sold very well. I remembered that I had once planned a sequel and decided why not make it now. I used all the same techniques from the original film plus I dressed everyone like it was still the 80's, (do a lot of coke and vote for Ronald Reagan).
I'm hoping there isn't a backlash of fans avoiding the sequel, but I think once some of them see it, word will spread and the curiosity factor will draw everyone to it.
FW: Given Hobgoblins greatest claim to fame has been its perceived badness, when you set out to make Hobgoblins 2 did you approach it from the standpoint of trying to make an all-round better film than its predecessor or attempt to make it even more of a trash cinema classic than the first time around? What should we all expect from this sequel?
RS: Hobgoblins 2 has better production values, (we actually had an art department), and the puppets movements are improved, (this time we finally had a puppet operator). I'm always embarrassed to admit this, but in the first film, the puppets were operated by a woman who just got out of a mental hospital. I think all the medication numbed her and all she could do was shake the puppets around. They appear slightly more lifelike in the sequel, though when the actors are rolling on the ground and fighting them, it's very similar to the original. There are ten times more stock shots in the sequel, the same green and magenta gels on the lights, Fantazia now does internet sex for Kyle, Amy is still frigid, Daphne is still a slut, Nick is dumber than before, and Kevin has to prove his courage once again.
FW: Let's backtrack for a moment and delve into how a budding young filmmaker came up with the idea to make a commentary on the vain wish fulfillment that our capitalist society fosters, driving people towards bigger and bigger fantasies that can never be attained in the real world and thus require small, hairy sock monsters that live in Hollywood movie vaults to show us the error of our desires?
RS: I went to junior college to learn the basics of film making, then spent three years unlearning their techniques, because none of them applied to how the real industry works. I did have access to free school film equipment, a sound stage and post-production, so they did come in handy. They discouraged me every step of the that I should find another career to pursue, but I became a working director and was back as a guest speaker by the time I was 23.
I had written Hobgoblins before Gremlins, but there were no cute puppets in it. They were going to look like the fireplace monsters in "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark." I skipped over the script and made "Visitants instead, (one of my personal favorite films), and it was unlikely I was ever going to make Hobgoblins. By the time Gremlins and Ghoulies were released, I changed the script so the puppets would look more like them and the film went into production.
I'm not certain where I got the "make a wish, then it backfires on you" plot line originated from. One running theme in many of my films is always, what's the worst thing that can happen next. I loved the idea of the characters enjoying the first part of their fantasies, then all hell breaks loose. I thought Amy's fantasy was classic, she becomes a slut while her boyfriend is mortified watching her do a striptease, then she's ready to have sex with the seediest guy in the club. Or Kyle finally meeting Fantazia, then she tries to push his and his car over the cliff.
FW: I've read you were a fan of the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" episode (at least until the very end when they began personally mocking you) and wondered if you'd ever been in personal contact with any of the cast of the show? For that matter, would you want them in one of their new incarnation (Rifftrax, Cinematic Titanic) riffing on Hobgoblins 2?
RS: None of them have any plans to riff the sequel anytime soon. I'm hoping that changes in the future. They gave the original film the "Rocky Horror" quality where you can yell back at the screen. My personal favorite line is still, "There's been an accident at the studio, we made Hobgoblins." Every filmmaker has cursed them for their insults; I still think they improved my film and I laughed at all their jokes, except the ones about me during the end credits. Having your film on MST3K is an honor, like being asked to guest host Saturday Night Live, and knowing at least one skit will be made at your own expense.
FW: Hobgoblins is currently ranked #25 on the IMDB Bottom 100 right between The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy and some Bollywood movie with a title I can't even pronounce. Does it ever annoy the hell out of you to know that people out there consider your film worse than such higher ranked stinkbombs like Car 54, Where Are You? (#88), Santa With Muscles (#84), Who's Your Caddy? (#36), and From Justin to Kelly (#29)?
RS: I'm surprised it slipped down to #25. While the film was airing on the Sci-Fi Channel, Hobgoblins had climbed the list to #2, right behind Gigli. My biggest fear is that it may drop below #100 and become forgotten.
FW: All-time favorite movie and the worst movie you've ever seen?
RS: Hard to pick just one. I loved Grindhouse, especially Planet Terror. It reminded me why I choose to be a filmmaker. Showgirls is also high on my list; my friends said it looked like one of my films if I had a bigger budget. And of course, Hollywood Boulevard, the film that inspired me make movies in the first place.
I have an odd choice for the worst film I've ever seen. It holds the record of being the lowest budget film to make the highest amount of money. I despised every second of The Blair Witch Project. That film caused me physical pain sitting through it. It wasn't scary, seriously, the characters scream in fear when they find some twigs tied together, it seemed like it lasted five hours long, the ending was a major disappointment, and the terrible handheld video was headache inducing. And worst of all, it wasn't even original. It was a terrible rip-off of Cannibal Holocaust, a very underrated film that was far ahead of its own time.
FW: Which of the Hobgoblin puppets is your favorite?
RS: The one that has the mouth that actually moves is my favorite. Today it would be the one that was the least damaged after the sequel. Let's just say twenty year-old latex doesn't hold up well when actors are rolling on the ground with the puppets. All the arms and legs were torn off the puppets and many of their mouths ripped open.
FW: If you ever fell victim to one of your own Hobgoblins, what would be your fantasy fulfillment and how would you anticipate the Hobgoblins to eliminate you?
RS: I'd want to make a big budget film, then it would be a terrible flop.
FW: Without you "USA Up All Night" would have had a whole lot of dead air to fill. Which host did you prefer and why: Rhonda Shear or Gilbert Gottfried?
RS: They were both really funny, but I'd probably pick Rhonda because I actually met her and she reminded me so much of thee type of actress that I would normally cast. People don't realize that seven years before MST3K got their hands on Hobgoblins, that USA Up All night was already riffing my films.
FW: What's the secret to choreographing a kick ass garden tool fight?
RS: I've never admitted this because it is so incredibly embarrassing. Hobgoblins was my last film to still have film school influences. One common film school technique that everyone used is trying to imitate a scene from a big budget film and being clueless that you can't even come close when you have no money. I was a big fan of "Streets of Fire" in the 80s, and the finale is a lengthy fight between the two leads using pick axes. I figured I could capture the same tension, but it wound up being the worst scene I've ever done in any movie. Watch the ending of "Streets of Fire" if you want to roll on the floor of what I thought I could mimic with a rake and hoe.
FW: Most frustrating experience you've ever had with a producer or distributor?
RS: I produce my own films, so my only frustration is what a slave driver I am on set. I've had multiple foreign distributors who never paid me and kept all the profits. Hobgoblins made another $100,000 after I got paid that the distributor kept for themselves. I sued them, they went bankrupt and counter-sued me for malicious prosecution. It's a tough business to be in. You are constantly ripped off by one company after another. That's one of the reasons I took a long hiatus from film making. I couldn't afford to keep making films after being cheated out of my money so many times.
FW: You haven't made a movie in almost eight years. What were you up to during that period?
RS: I was still writing scripts and waiting for my comeback. I rent my house as a film location, so I have film crews here every few weeks. It's like I never left the business; my house makes all the money and I don't have to work. And I really enjoy being on a film set, so it's always is a fun experience to be asked questions on how to do something by other directors. I'm still amazed how many people know who I am, many times they ask to have their pictures taken with me.
FW: Any advice to budding filmmakers out there?
RS: Everything Robert Rodriguez says is his ten minute film schools is 100% accurate. Go out and make a movie now. If you have a credit card, you already have a budget. Don't expect to make money on your first movie, you won't be savvy enough to negotiate a contract that's in your favor, but the experience is invaluable and it will help you get your second film off the ground. Don't write a script and expect to sell it, you'll be waiting your entire lifetime. Shoot it yourself and have the respect to call yourself a filmmaker.
FW: So what's next for Rick Sloane? Hobgoblins 3? Given the current popularity of versus movies have you given any thought to doing a Hobgoblins vs. Vice Academy crossover?
RS: Vice Academy made it to Part 6. Unless USA Network resurrects Up All Night, I think that series has been laid to rest.
There is definitely a 50/50 chance of a third Hobgoblins, with the original cast returning. I'll give away a few spoilers. McCreedy dies in this one, and Kevin and his friends see each other for the first time in many years at his funeral. McCreedy leaves a video of how to kill the Hobgoblins once and for all, but Kevin makes the mistake of wishing McCreedy were still alive, and he returns from the dead. I'll know before the end of this year if there will be a third installment, but I'm really looking forward to a box set which reads, "Bad things Come In 3's!"
FW: Finally, at the end of the "MST3K" Hobgoblins episode Mike & the Bots whipped out a cardboard cutout of a guy that was supposed to be you and began asking it insulting questions, such as "Are you an idiot?" Since you were in no position to reply to their slanderous charge I figured I'd give you this opportunity to let us know how you would have responded if you had been standing there when a robot puppet questioned your intelligence for making a movie about fuzzy puppets.
RS: I originally had a gag in Hobgoblins 2 where the puppets pass by a row of chairs with the silhouettes of Servo and Crow. They instantly recognize them and beat them to pieces. I decided it's not good to bash your bread and butter, so I never shot the scene.
I'm still waiting for a fan to come up to me and quote the MST3K jokes, like "Are you an idiot?" Hey, I get paid for it and you just give it away for free.
I want to thank you for this interview. I frequently am asked the same questions, and you came up with some really good ones. Hobgoblins 2 debuts on DVD on June 23, so wish me luck!!
Wish Me Luck... I think that might have been the title of the film featuring the vaginal teleporting leprechaun. I really have to track that movie down.
Anyway, thanks to Rick Sloane for the interview and for being a good sport about his place in the hallowed halls of cinematic history.
Got news? Click here to submit it!
Play with fuzzy puppets in the Dread Central forums