The last time I went to Danny DeVito’s house, I had trouble parking. There was a huge star-tour van blocking access to his home. DeVito is, of course, exactly the kind of Hollywood royal that tourists come to Los Angeles hoping to see. But in addition to the high-budget movies that have made him famous as an actor and powerful as a producer, DeVito has a fierce independent streak that has led him to projects that have changed the nature of the business.
Consider his project Splatter Cuts, a collection, currently in postproduction, of grotesque yet oddly humorous Webisodes sprung from the mind of writer John Albo in the nothing-is-sacred underground Cinema of Transgression tradition that claimed John Waters and Lydia Lunch as members. It’s not the films’ bloody effects that are game-changing; the evolutionary factor of Splatter Cuts emerges with its accessibility. DeVito says his major goal with Splatter Cuts is to get the material directly from the artist to the consumer. Instead of Dawn of the Dead midnight screenings, Blood Feast drive-ins or homemade Raimi VHS tapes, Splatter Cuts has been produced specifically to reach the audience immediately as Web content. Or as an entertaining break on your iPhone or other hand-held device.
DeVito doesn’t negate the importance of a night out at the movies — in fact, it’s just the opposite. During a quieter moment on set, he entertained his crew with stories about the movie palaces he frequented as a child growing up on the Jersey shore. “The establishment of the grande movie house,” he says, “like the Crest in Westwood, is threatened right now. I don’t think their importance should be negated. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a portable movie experience to send to yourself on the phone.”
Besides its direct-distribution model, the studio-free, alternative-media format gives Splatter Cuts room to breathe ... and bleed. The unencumbered marketing process enables DeVito and his team to forgo any sort of production-code censoring while fleshing out Albo’s well of Grande Guignol.
DeVito’s wife, Rhea Perlman, introduced him to Albo more than 35 years ago when Albo and Perlman were working together in New York. Pretty quickly DeVito and Albo found that they share a deep affection for the darkly comic side of human nature.
“Danny really gives me complete freedom as a writer,” Albo says. “In fact, the more extreme I go, the more he encourages me. There are no boundaries. Splatter Cuts is the ideal situation for me as a creative screenwriter.”
To flush the monstrous out of Albo, DeVito says, “I take John, put him in a blender and turn him upside-down. Really, I do chain him to that typewriter. He also buries himself in War and Peace.”
Tolstoy, however, never had 8-foot-long clit monsters (that’s right) fly out from inside a women’s negligee to strangle her lover to death. Knitting needles used as eye gougers, husbands chopping their wives to bits with axes, patricidal undead Siamese twins — these are all key elements in Splatter Cuts, alongside gallons and gallons of fake blood.
So where do these phantasms come from?
“I don’t know,” says Albo. “People say to me, ‘John, you must’ve had a very strange life.’ But that’s not it. Sci-fi, horror — they deal with universals, the absurdity of the human condition. And I love to go to the extreme. With Splatter Cuts, we’re definitely going to the very end of the style, satirizing the genre itself. In terms of revenge and death, these are things that I pull from my own unconscious. Every human being has a dark side.”
For DeVito, the project has turned into a family affair — daughter Lucy DeVito stars in at least one episode, as does Perlman. And with his company Blood Factory, he’s assembled a talented production and effects crew.
Cinematographer Anastas Michos, a Steadicam superstar who worked with DeVito on Death to Smoochy, Duplex and Man on the Moon, among other films, says, “While working with Splatter Cuts episodes, I constantly have to remind myself that the final image is intended to be viewed on a screen no larger than an iPod instead of the 30-foot silver screen.”
Happily, the absurdity of the material on set was a surefire reminder of the product’s final destination. There were several scenes during which the camera, the trolley, as well as Michos himself had to be entirely sheathed in plastic bags to block airborne blood splashes from bathing the equipment. This was not a downside for DeVito.
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“With this project,” he says, “we’re not working for the big cooperative. I have a core group of creatives. There are no superfluous influences, so we’re able to work freely, with Dada controls. Inspirationally, Splatter Cuts is absolutely for the new media.”
Pictured: The Blood Factory Scientists, from left, John Albo, Tkay Garcia, Danny DeVito, Amanda Dragon, Nick Bonamy and Josh Levinson.
Photo by Kevin Scanlon