By David L Tamarin

I’ve been busy with film work for the past few months, and for once it has not been as an actor or writer. I am the General Counsel for the film Profane Exhibit, and also the Associate Producer. The film is an international anthology featuring 11 films from notorious directors like Uwe Boll, Andrey Iskanov, Ryan Nicholson, Coffin Joe, Michael Todd Schneider, Richard Stanley, and more.

I was lucky enough to attend two of the film shoots, and can definitely say they were among the most memorable experiences of my life. I got an extra role in the short film, Manna, from director Michael Todd Schendier, a.k.a. Mikey Maggot, who directed and acted in arguably the most disturbing film ever made, August Underground’s Mordum. I was nervous about meeting him. If you’ve seen Mordum, you will understand why, as his psychotic performance and his vile acts of necrophilia and torture really push the envelope in terms of what is acceptable even in an extreme pseudo-snuff movie. I have no problem acknowledging the film disturbed me and affected me in a profound way. I would have been better off not watching it at all. But I was happy to meet a man whom I considered to be one of the most powerful directors in the history of film, and to see him at work. So I flew from Boston to Pittsburg for the Manna shoot.

I believe the gruesome castration will be the most memorable moment of Manna. I just found out some great news from my friend, who did the gory make up effects – she has been accepted into the next season of that reality show where they do horror makeup! She deserves to be on that show – the fake cock and balls she made were so realistic that I was shivering.

She worked on creating a set of testicles that were as real looking as possible, and then a penis to go with it. There were fake testicles all over the place and they looked pretty real. There is a slight possibility she was involved in black market penis because of the large collection of severed male genitalia laying around. But I doubt that. I’m not an expert in makeup effects so I am not sure what material she used, but the balls had a squishy texture that was oddly realistic and it really pained me to see the simulated castration. It was done well, and it hurt to watch! Had I been considering a sex change I believe I would have changed my mind.

Uwe Boll and David L. Tamarin

I can’t tell you all the behind-the-scenes details so I’ll fast forward about a month. Next up is the Los Angeles shoot, Basement, to be directed by Uwe Boll, who is responsible for some of my favorite films ever made about the nature of violence and its place in society – Rampage, Stoic, and Attack on Darfur in particular are three incredibly powerful examinations of violence that cannot be easily forgotten or ignored. Boll is on board with Profane Exhibit as director of a particularly disturbing sequence called Basement about a man who lives a normal family life, except for the sexually abused daughter locked up in one room in the basement she has not left in years. It is a story of hypocrisy, and a tale of people with public personalities that don’t match the horribly deviant behaviors that they commit behind closed doors. Clint Howard plays the father and Tara Cardinal plays the tragic figure of his daughter in this story that unfortunately is completely based on fact.

In contrast to the serious subject matter was our shooting location, which was a cheesy commercial porn set.

I had been told what time to be at the studio, but not when, so I showed up early to the Canoga Park address. I saw a model-type and began asking her questions about the shoot. Did she know what time it was supposed to start, when the others would be here, etc? She answered my questions and responded with one of her own.

“So, are you one of the transsexuals?” she asked me in a sweet but innocent voice. I may not be very big, but at least I’ve got something, and I double checked my crotch before telling her that “No, I was not one of the transsexuals.”

I asked her, “are you here for the Uwe Boll shoot? He’s a German guy who looks like a boxer?” She answered in the negative, and someone from inside one of the studios came out at the moment to help us. I informed the kind grandmotherly woman who ran the sets that we were both there for different shoots, and she asked me if I was one of the transvestites before I had time to tell her I was not there for a porno – at least – as far as I knew, it wasn’t a porno. She told me which studios I needed to be at and what time to come back. I wished the nice ladies good luck and then walked back to my motel room, passing six Indian massage parlors on the way.

I showed up an hour later and a very nice make up effects girl gave me a tour. The building had lots of tiny rooms, mostly secluded, and most with little more than a bed. Then she showed me the bathroom. This was a cheap studio, but the bathroom was nice enough to a big heart-shaped hot-tub in it. At this point it became incredibly obvious this was a porn set. The hot-tub had a sinister feature – it locked you inside of it. A couple of people walked into it to give it a closer look and found themselves unable to escape. It took their screams to alert us to the problem so that we could free them. Throughout the day, we would find ourselves short one actress or one crew person, then hear screaming and find them locked in the bath room.

What the hell kind of a porn set was this? Did they do rape and snuff here and make it impossible for the girls to escape? More likely it was just in disrepair.

The porn couch

In the room we ate in during the break I saw something that absolutely confirmed that I was shooting in a porn house. The furniture consisted of these awful bright pink couches. As I sat on the couch, I could almost feel all the sexually transmitted diseases walking all around, sinking though my clothes and into my skin. If the number one way to catch AIDS was through casual sex I was convinced the number two way was to simply be in the same room as this couch.

For a moment I wondered what one of those CSI devices that indicate the presence of semen, blood, and other bodily fluids would find on that pink couch.

Next time you’re watching a porno and you see some people getting it on, on top of a bright pink couch you’ll be able to say you know someone who caught a disease from that very same couch.

Of course, this is nothing compared to the day I did a film shoot at the K2U strip club in Woonsocket, Rhode Island only to learn the day after the shoot that a notorious local serial killer used that exact same bar to pick out the victims he would take to their death. All in all, an asbestos filled shooting location in a condemned Buffalo building was definitely the worst.

But I work on horror films, and ones that tend to be very twisted horror films, so exposure to AIDS and asbestos is better than no exposure at all.

David L. Tamarin’s Notes from the Darkside


David L. Tamarin’s Notes from the Darkside

Break a Leg, My Life in Film

It was so cold that at the last moment the actor said he couldn’t do the scene. All he had to do was reach through a wall and grab a girl by the throat and pull her through the hole. Because he was a zombie, he had to be shirtless, with makeup on his arms. We were filming in the third floor basement of an abandoned gigantic train depository in Buffalo, New York, in the Winter. It was beyond freezing. One of the reasons the building was closed down was because it was filled with asbestos, which I inhaled regularly for two weeks on the set. We were restricted to the first three floors, so naturally when I wasn’t shooting I was wondering around the forbidden higher floors of the mammoth structure, where giant blocks would fall from the ceiling leaving a mushroom cloud of asbestos. I didn’t have anything to cover my mouth and filter my air, so if I get some type of asbestos poisoning at least I know I did it for art. For horror.

So I volunteered to play the Zombie Arms.  I took off my sweaters and jacket and was freezing, and when they began to apply the icy cold makeup I thought my blood was going to freeze and my fingers would fall off and shatter on the hard ground like icicles. For two miserable hours a team of make-up artists transformed my arms into hideous deformities. I’ve worked with makeup effects many times and these people were excellent. I was literally shaking and trembling from the cold, which didn’t make their jobs any easier. But this was easier than my ordeal several days prior to this, when I had played a zombie and spent 7 hours wearing just my boxers getting a full body zombie makeover, followed by an extremely long and cold shoot that lasted a full 12 hours, during which I shattered a toe, followed by two hours of makeup removal.

I was running, chasing after a scream queen, and we were in these very spooky tunnels underground that looked like they were part of a dungeon. I was barefoot, it was completely dark, and I kicked a rock. It was so cold I felt nothing, but the next morning I woke up several people in the motel screaming. The pain was massive, indescribable – and I had not even noticed on set because of the Arctic-like conditions.

On set at the filming of Prison of the Psychotic Damned (courtesy of David L. Tamarin)

When I did the zombie arms, my toe was broken, and had been three days, but I did not know it yet and the cold prevented me from feeling everything. Back at the hotel, alcohol helped. When I was ready they set up the shot in this underground sub-basement room that looked like it was an ancient execution site. It was the perfect environment for the film, which was a horror zombie gore-fest, but a terrible place to spend all of your time for two weeks. We would all hover around little gas heaters in between takes. Except me, because my makeup was highly flammable, so I could not even stand near the little heaters. Of course, no one told me I was flammable and I had spent a couple of hours by the heaters, almost putting my hands in the flames to gain some feeling back. Then the cinematographer went to light up a cigarette and someone screamed “Don’t light that! David is covered head to toe in flammable material!” I jumped back from the heater and stayed away for the rest of the shoot.

As instructed, I reached through the hole in the wall and grabbed the actress by the throat and began to pull her back.

It was at this point that I realized what a unique business this is. I didn’t want to hurt her, and wasn’t pulling hard enough, and the crew was trying to get me pumped up so they could get the shot and move on. So ten people started screaming at me. “Choke her!” “Squeeze her neck harder!” “Don’t worry about whether you’re going to hurt her you’re a zombie act like you want to fucking kill her!” I felt like I was re-living the scene in The Accused where a bunch of drunks cheered on a rapist. Everyone was screaming at me to choke this woman, choke her and yank her entire body through a hole in the wall. I can’t think of any other job where people would be screaming at me for not choking a woman hard enough, and would be critiquing my choking techniques.

It was only after the actress told me I was a wimp and to get over it so we finish and get out of this icy chamber before we started losing fingers to frostbite that I was able to give a satisfactory performance.

On set at the filming of Countess Bathoria's Graveyard Picture Show (Photo courtesy of David L. Tamarin)

Cut to six years later, in a Canadian barn. There’s this device you put cows in to get them pregnant, and my head was locked into one, my body twisted in a terribly painful position. Now the tables were turned. That same actress was now directing me in my own murder scene, and this time I was the one who was going to suffer. My head is knifed open by an evil doll, and my brains dumped into a plate, which she sips up with a straw. As with the other film, I was one of the writers and had a real emotional attachment to the film and would do what it took to let my words turn into visual mayhem and scare or repulse the audience.

The film debuted at Fantasia Film Fest, but there was one slight problem: someone called a bomb threat into the movie theatre and halfway through the film, a nervous woman came onstage and in a Canadian accent asked that we all leave the building as quickly as possible so that the police could search it for bombs. Feel free to add your own “that film really bombed” pun at this point, but trust me I’ve probably heard it. “I bet they were worried when they heard your film was a real bomb” is the one I hear the most. But luckily, it was a theatre full of devoted fans. And the vast majority waited outside in Quebec way past midnight for over an hour until they cleared the building and let us back in to finish the film. And far from being a bomb, the film kept the audience spellbound despite the bomb threat. As for why someone called in a bomb threat, that is another story for another column.

David L. Tamarin is an attorney, writer, and actor along with being a NEHW member.  This is his first column for the site.