A Chat with Bill Rebane (“Monster A Go-Go”)

Although the competition for the honor of being declared “The Worst Movie Ever Made” is one of the strongest in all of popular culture, there are some titles which continue to come up again and again. “Monster A Go-Go” is one of them…and, unlike “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” it’s a film so bad that even the man who directed it is willing to concede that it deserves to take home the win. Premium Hollywood had the opportunity to chat with Bill Rebane, who helmed “Monster A Go-Go,” upon the release of a special edition DVD, and even though 45 years have passed since the film’s original release, he still stands by his position on the matter.

Bill Rebane: Hello, Mr. Harris! How are you?

Bullz-Eye: I’m good! How are you?

BR: Hanging in there!

BE: (Laughs) Same here! Well, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. I actually just finished watching the special edition of “Monster A Go-Go” this morning.

BR: Oh, I feel so sorry for you…

BE: (Laughs) Well, it’s funny: at first, I wasn’t sure how I was going to broach the subject of the film’s reputation, but throughout the special features, you pointedly say that it is the worst movie ever made.

BR: Well, that was my impression when I first saw it. Three years after I gave it to Herschel Lewis to finish, the first time I saw it, I said, “Oh, my God, this is the worst picture I’ve ever seen.” That’s not exactly what we had in mind when we started…

BE: So to jump to prior to “Monster A Go-Go,” how did you get into filmmaking in the first place? Were you a movie buff as a kid and worked your way into the business gradually?

BR: Well, when I came to this country, I was obsessed with movies of that time, the old movies from Hollywood’s golden age, and I went to the theaters and spent maybe half a day…more than half a day…watching movies to learn English. I was a singer and dancer during that time. In fact, I actually started out wanting to make musicals. And then the occasion arose in Germany…I went back to Germany and worked with some filmmakers there, professionals, and learned a little bit, and came back to the States and started making short subjects.

BE: How did you make the move from short subjects to the feature-length?

BR: Well, it was timely. I was a realist. I was acutely aware of the marketplace, what was going, and it seemed very timely to do a science-fiction monster movie at that time for the drive-in theaters. We wrote a pretty cohesive script, a story-oriented project, and I dove into it. But I didn’t know that Chicago wouldn’t… (Hesitates) I made those short subjects with the union, and when they heard that I was making a feature film, they pretty much clamped down on me and said, “Yeah, you’re going to make it union, right?” I said, “Those were not my intentions.” And then they merrily went on to basically confiscate the whole budget, put it in Escrow, and they would take care of it. So we ended up with maybe two hours of good time of shooting, and the rest of it was spent on setting up heavy equipment. There wasn’t much of a break we got in those days. It’s not how independent pictures should be made to begin with. I lost the star, Peter Thompson, a week into production because of time constraints. And then I went on to a second part the same year, actually…1961, ’62…to do the rest of the picture with a non-union crew. And that’s how Herschel Lewis entered the picture. I hired him as a cameraman and a production manager, and we finished all the exteriors and everything that I thought we needed to do, except the actual final ending. We never got to that, which was about 10 minutes or 20 minutes of stuff, again running out of money. Herschel Lewis needed a picture for a double bill at drive-in theaters, and I turned the picture over to him for post-production, not knowing what he would do and what he could do. And about three years later, I looked at it. It was not the same title. It was now “Monster A Go-Go.” It had already run in some theaters in the South. And… (Starts to laugh) …I was more than surprised. I was a bit shocked. I said, “This has got to be the worst picture I’ve ever seen.”

BE: I love how, in the Wikipedia entry for the movie, they’ve got the poster with the (fake) quote from NASA, saying, “This picture could set our space program back at least 50 years.”

BR: (Laughs) That’s right. I must give Herschel Lewis credit for one thing. After all, once he took it over, I was removed from the project, because I had other things to do. I was chasing other dreams. But I have to give him credit for the title, because obviously that title made it the thing it is today. And since I was the one who came up with the line, “This is the worst picture I’ve ever seen,” I really can’t blame anybody for using it. It wouldn’t be fair.

BE: There’s a rumor about “Monster A Go-Go” that may or may not be true that I wanted to ask you about. Is it true that Ronald Reagan was originally supposed to be in the film?

BR: Yes, that was true. We met Ronald Reagan. There are several stories out about that meeting…it was printed in newspapers years ago, in fact, after his funeral…about how I met him and how we got into the subject matter. He was very intrigued with the project because June Travis was already committed to it, and I found out about six months ago that, in his radio days, he had kind of a crush on June Travis. So he was… (Hesitates) I can’t remember what caused the sudden interest in the project on his part, but evidently that had something to do with it. And when I went to my investors and said, “Listen, we can get Ronnie Reagan to star in it, and June Travis,” they said, “You’ve got to be crazy! He’s a has-been. He’ll never do anything at the box office.” So we opted for Peter Thompson, who was available at the time. He came off the TV series “Adventures in Paradise,” I think it was. So we proceeded with him, even though we only had about six days with him on the schedule. What I’m really puzzled about is that some of the footage that we shot, the action stuff and the production-value footage with the non-union crew, I have not seen in the picture. But it did start out with a very cohesive storyline, a good plot, a good ending. A happy ending. And it’s one of those examples of independent productions of what can go wrong and what will go wrong. Certainly nobody today could ever attempt to make a low-budget independent feature film with union personnel. That’s impossible. And the redeeming value might be that some film students and the young filmmakers today have a chance to learn the background story and learn from it.

BE: Well, it’s definitely one of those films that, uh, leaves you shaking your head at the end of it. (Laughs)

BR: Yeah, myself included!

BE: Does the original script still exist anywhere?

BR: Oh, I wish it did. Believe me, I wish it did, because that would be wonderful to publish…and to pick on. (Laughs) You know, frankly, years later, you look at your pictures, any of them, and you say to yourself, “How the hell did you do this? Why did you do this? Why did you do that?” I think all filmmakers go through that stage. Unless you have all the bells and whistles and everything behind you to do it right in the first place. That’s the easy way.

BE: My understanding is that you were not a huge fan of the narration…or, at least, it wasn’t your idea.

BR: No, definitely not.

BE: I’ve got to say, though, that the trailer…even if I’d heard it was the worst movie of all time, if I’d seen that trailer, I’d still want to go see it.

BR: Well, I think the trailer is sensational. (Laughs) I mean, it’s certainly an exploitation trailer, and Herschel Lewis is a very talented guy. What he had in mind at that time, you know, maybe he just didn’t care. He just needed a picture, he slapped it together, and then the question is, “What happens to the rest of the footage?” For all we know, it may be sitting in a basement somewhere. Bill Johnson, who was the assistant cameraman, was a collector of everything. Maybe it ended up in his basement and is still there. Now that would be a real find!

BE: Well, I see on your website that you…I guess you’ve actually self-released “The Giant Spider Invasion” on DVD.

BR: Oh, God. (Hesitates) The DVD version…?

BE: Yeah. Well, it’s available through your site, anyway. I figured you’d at least authorized it, anyway.

BR: Yes, well, going through the usual trials and tribulations of the distribution channels. It was, as you probably know, one of the 50 top-grossing films of 1975. Somebody made a lot of money on it. It had a few ABC-TV runs, network runs, and a lot of foreign distribution. We saw very little of that. So finally, when the contract expired, I re-released one version of it, then I did another version, a Director’s Cut. And I think we’re about to release a dual pack. That’s through Synergy Entertainment.

BE: I’m looking forward to that.

BR: (Uncertainly) Okay.

BE: (Laughs) Actually, when I told a friend of mine that I was going to be talking to you today, he told me how excited he was when “The Capture of Bigfoot” was made available to watch through Netflix.

BR: Tell me, what causes this excitement? I mean, what is it that people are looking for when they watch something like that?

BE: I think it’s partly memories of childhood, that they’re wearing their rose-colored glasses when they watch these things. I mean, when I was a kid, Bigfoot was all the rage, so any movie about Bigfoot, whether it would be considered traditionally good or bad, I would’ve been, like, “I don’t care, I want to see it, anyway!”

BR: Well, I attempted some things that we tried to do on low budgets, but that’s a challenge, a tremendous challenge, by itself to do something like that, especially when you’re not dealing just with a digital camera and easy equipment and experimental stuff. I mean, you had other actors to consider in production, the weighty equipment, locations, cast… (Trails off) Luckily, I’m very fortunate. I think that all the pictures that we made at my studio in Wisconsin did get international exposure and were all distributed successfully throughout the world, which maybe is one thing that I can happily say happened. In that respect, I’m very fortunate that that happened. And thankful!

BE: With “The Giant Spider Invasion,” that was your most recognizable cast, I guess you’d say, between Barbara Hale and Alan Hale, Jr.

BR: Yeah, I don’t know if you know that, but that was basically shot without a screenplay.

BE: I did not know that.

BR: There were lots of problems between the original writer and Robert Easton, who was hired by the distributor initially, to do a re-write. And they didn’t get along, so they fought like cats and dogs, and I would get two pages, three pages at a time while we were already shooting! I never knew how that picture was going to end or where it should go!

BE: Did that make it fun, or was it just annoying to try filming it that way?

BR: When you’re young and aggressive and you’ve got a lot of guts, it’s fun. As you think back, you go, “Oh, shit!” It was pretty cumbersome and pretty aggravating sometimes, but, yeah, I look back on it as a fun experience.

BE: You had the pleasure of working with Tiny Tim on “Blood Harvest.”

BR: Oh, yeah, and that truly was a pleasure, working with him.

BE: I’m a big fan of his music. I think he’s very underrated. People don’t realize quite what a vocal range he actually had.

BR: Very much so. And, also, he was very misunderstood. He was a terrific human being. He loved the part. He was strange, to say the least… (Laughs) …and couldn’t remember lines very well. He was very shy. I was working with him constantly. A lot of coaching, a lot of working things out before shooting and getting him ready. But once he started to sing or started to do something musical, which I think he did twice in the movie, oh, he just shined. I think we have a special with him, where he did a non-stop show of about an hour and a half or two hours, some of which is in the new release of…it’s “Nightmare,” by the way. The title has changed to “Nightmare.”

BE: Oh, okay. By the way, on the IMDb page for the movie, it says that he ended up in the film mostly because you were in the audience at an appearance he made in Wisconsin.

BR: Well, yes, he did a concert for me a year prior. I just had the brainstorm that he might work perfectly for this part. And he did.

BE: Which of your films would you say is the most underrated? I mean, is there one in particular that you think worked better than the others?

BR: Probably “The Alpha Incident.” That’s kind of a mainstream drama. It was a challenge to try and make a picture that was all contained in one location with a handful of people and sustain it for over 90 minutes. That was a challenge when we started that. I loved doing that.

BE: That was the one with Ralph Meeker, right?

BR: Yes.

BE: What was it like working with him? I mean, he was a pretty established actor, as far as, like, film noir, with “Kiss Me Deadly.”

BR: Oh, it was wonderful. All of the old-time professionals, they’re so professional. And cooperative. It’s a real pleasure and a joy to work with them. And Ralph had just…he was recovering from a stroke when he did that, and we had to write the part for him, actually, to reduce the lines. Because it’s very noticeable, even in the film, that his role was not very strong or very extensive.

BE: One other thing I wanted to ask about “Blood Harvest”…sorry, “Nightmare”…is something else that’s mentioned on IMDb. Is Peter Krause really in the film in a small role?

BR: Peter Krause! Yes, that was a very, very funny situation. We had cast everybody except that young man’s part, we called the agency in Minneapolis and told them what we were doing and said, “We need a kid right away,” so they sent somebody. I’d never seen him or auditioned him before, but he came on the set, and the first day on the set…the schedule was such that the love scene was right on the first day of shooting for him. So he was kind of taken aback by that, thinking, “What are we making, a porn picture?” (Laughs) He was totally dumbfounded! I had to talk him through, but he got right in there and did it. I think he was on Jay Leno’s show and…he never talks much about it. He likes to forget it! But he was a great kid and a good trooper.

BE: Well, I’ll go ahead and wrap up, but I was wondering if you had considered trying your hand at directing again in the future, just because of how much easier it’s gotten with technology to make films.

BR: Well, yes, I am considering it. I have a book out right now called “From Roswell with Love,” which was written as a screenplay first, and after the screenplay, I wrote the book. It’s picking up a bit in sales, and, yes, we do want to shoot that, possibly at the end of this winter or the beginning of spring. I’m not a lover of the digital medium, so to speak, although I do a lot of documentaries on the digital medium. But I would do it in either 16 or 35.

BE: Well, I’ll keep my eyes open and my fingers crossed. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Bill…and, like I said, I’ll be picking up that 2-disc “Giant Spider Invasion” set!

BR: (Laughs) Thanks a lot, Will! I appreciate it!


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