On Thursday, March 12, The Trylon will present two feature films from opposite ends of my twenty-year filmmaking career here in Hollywood, Minnesota. The first, “Made in Berlin”, is a tribute to German expressionist movies of the 1920’s such as “Metropolis” and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”. It was shot on 16 mm black-and-white filmstock in the steamy confines of a since-closed Minneapolis hotel in the spring of 1997. The second, “The Tiki War”, is a “Mad Men”-era piece set in a tiki bar in 1961 Chicago that pays tribute to the days when the Rat Pack ruled the world. This feature was shot on high-definition Red Scarlet in the belly of Minneapolis’ Red Dragon in February of 2014.
Both movies are helping to get the cauldron boiling for my upcoming feature film production “Group Session With Satan”, slated to be made in Minnesota either this spring or summer. “Group Session With Satan” concerns four patients of a psychiatrist who each recount, in flashback, their equally rapid rises and falls in fortune thanks to four embodiments of Satan. “Made in Berlin” is an appropriate precursor to the new movie, since its story also centers around Lucifer, in the form of a mini-skirted femme fatale named Ilsa (Shyla Weaver).
Things unfold when Ilsa visits Michigan senator Rick Reinhardt (Thomas Nordyke), at his room at the Adlon Budget Inn in downtown Minneapolis. Rick and Ilsa first met, not in Casablanca, but at a political fundraiser a few hours before. Rick, who has a disturbed wife, Olga, back home in Lansing, is looking forward to some extramarital unwinding. Instead, he finds himself resisting the irresistible Ilsa’s advances thanks to her constant references to practicing black magic, throwing curses, merging magnetisms, and performing rituals at a club called The Blue 666 where she takes a live goat and rips open its intestines.
Rick and Ilsa are, meanwhile, spied upon by creepy, OCD-stricken night desk clerk, Gordy (Michael Metzdorff), a substitute for the regular desk clerk, Sally, who has suspiciously gone missing. Gordy interrupts Rick and Ilsa with courtesy calls and hospitality offers, when he isn’t recording their in-room activities from the hallway. Two guests in the next hovel, trailer-trash couple Carl and Greta (Scott Wacha and Sarah Phemister), are also intrigued by their neighbor, whom they see as a good mark for extortion that’ll pay for another vacation (“And one out of town this time!”, they belch). Blind guest Emil (Jay Blake) and room service steward Lotte (Dawn Akemi) round out the circle of intriguers who make it a long night for the good senator from Michigan.
“The Tiki War” also involves intrigue as well as bloodshed, gun play, rum consumption and heroin addiction. It unfolds at 3 a.m. on January 19, 1961, the eve of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Stan Ridgeway (Guy Messenger) and Ray Conniff (Scott Carson) are co-owners of The Tiki Room, a small nightclub and piano lounge in the heart of Chicago’s downtown. They are going over accounts after-hours when Ray is called away by his wife to be by the side of their young son, in the hospital following a car accident.
Stan is left to distract Dionne Belmont (Rachel Grubb) a lounge singer from a rival club, The Cha, who has come for her regular pickup of heroin provided by her dealer, Ray. Ray is expected back in an hour to give her the medicine she needs – drugs being one of many illegal side business he runs under Stan’s nose to keep the struggling nightclub in the black. In addition to hosting Dionne, Stan must fend off Dionne’s barnstorming boyfriend Dominic Frontiere (Steve Wothe), house pianist at The Cha, and Dominic’s Satanic fiancee Ruby Delgado (Helen Chorolec), owner of The Cha.
Both films on the bill have intriguing connections to real-life events in Washington and other hot spots. “Made in Berlin” prefigured the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal which would explode several months after shooting wrapped. The villain, deranged night desk clerk Gordy – who is in fact Otto Haarman, leader of the Michigan clean-freak cult Up With Purity – is modeled on the leaders of similarly freakish cults such as Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition and the Westboro Baptist Church. He also, in another lifetime, would have been an enthusiastic foot soldier for a certain führer.
The foot soldiers of “The TIki War” are refugees, in one form or another, from Cuba, when Havana was an adult playground for movie stars, mobsters and world leaders looking to “unwind”. Ruby Delgado, who wants to make the island safe again for all-night gambling and live sex shows, is the widow of Eddie Delgado, a Havana casino owner who had to flee when Castro and his forces ruined the party. Since arriving in Chicago, Eddie and Ruby set up The Cha, a much larger, more successful nightclub than the nearby Tiki Room. Ruby took over management of The Cha when Eddie was gunned down a year later, and now has designs on The Tiki Room.
Ruby is also a friend and former hostess to Jack Kennedy, whose inauguration she and Dominic have front row seats to, which is why she has come to the rival club to pick him up in time to make a morning flight to Washington. Tiki Room owners Stan and Ray are veterans of the Korean War who fought side by side in the 24th infantry. Stan saved Ray’s life in the battle on Pork Chop Hill, and Ray showed his appreciation by giving him co-ownership of The Tiki Room. This was no small favor, since, for many years after the war, Stan couldn’t find a job in his field of accountancy, due to a sexually transmitted disease he acquired in Panmunjom!
“Made in Berlin” and “The Tiki War”, in their own contrasting ways, give strong hints of the vision that will be sought after in “Group Session With Satan”. The forbidding, expressionist tone of “Made in Berlin” and the devilishly red texture of “The Tiki War” will be meshed for the new film, which will also be leavened with dark humor, unsavory characters – and, yes, intrigue. Those who choose to attend this double bill at The Trylon can consider themselves the first to get a look at what our state will be like when it becomes a vacation spot for The Beast. And no live goats will have their intestines ripped open during the making of this film.
The screening happens Thursday, March 12, starting at 7 pm. Doors open 6:30 pm. Tickets: $8 per person. For more information on “Group Session With Satan”, as well as “Made in Berlin” and “The Tiki War”, go to: https://www.facebook.com/groupsessionwithsatan