‘Splatter’ is vintage Roger Corman, fresh on the Web

Oct. 29, 2009 | 5:00 p.m.

Contributor Susan King brings us some Halloween fun with this piece on the brilliant Roger Corman aiding Netflix with his cliffhanger genius. The result being an interactive three-parter, directed by Joe Dante, called “Splatter.”  — Jevon Phillips

When it came to making movies quickly and cheaply, it was hard to beat Roger Corman, who once joked that he could make a film about the Roman Empire with two extras and a sagebrush. He directed 1960’s “The Little Shop of Horrors” in two days.

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Corman started directing films in 1955 and, during his peak, could turn out seven a year. A true auteur of “B” movies, his films featured offbeat characters, dark humor, social commentary and a savvy use of special effects and sets — he would often simply shoot another film on the same sets with the same actors.

With its low-budget, fast-paced parameters, it’s no wonder that Corman jumped at the chance to produce “Splatter,” a three-part interactive horror Web series for Netflix that allows viewers to vote on which characters they want to see killed off in the subsequent installments.

“Who doesn’t love Roger Corman?” asks Catherine Fisher, director of publicity for Netflix, the company that offers mail-order DVDs as well as live streaming of movies. “What we wanted to do with this project was to bring to life the fact that Netflix delivers movies two ways to your TV.”

And you don’t have to be a Netflix subscriber to catch “Splatter”: It will be streamed beginning today for free at www.netflix.com/splatter.

Viewers will be able to cast their votes on the fate of two characters for the Nov. 6 episode. After that installment, they again can choose who meets their maker on the Nov. 13 finale.

“The audience becomes part of the screenwriting team,” Corman says.

Shot in eight days on digital video at the evocative Hollywood Castle mansion in the Hollywood Hills, the series was directed by Joe Dante (“Gremlins“), who cut his teeth editing trailers and eventually directing movies (“Piranha“) for Corman in the 1970s.

Another Corman/Dante veteran, Corey Feldman (“Gremlins,” “The Lost Boys“), plays Johnny Splatter, a goth-rock star who kills himself in the opener. Over the three eight- to 10-minute episodes, Splatter’s five friends get more than they bargained for when they arrive at his mansion for a reading of the will. Only one will survive the night

Corman, who produced the series with his wife, Julie, became involved for the challenge and fun of it.

Netflix’s timing was “incredible,” Julie Corman says. “We were just in the throes of moving into digital distribution, so this is on-the-job training. It has really been a dream project, I would say.”

Though “Splatter” is embracing the latest technology, the series is also a throwback to Corman’s early days as a filmmaker when he could direct a film in less than a week — in fact, Corman directed 1960’s “The Little Shop of Horrors” in two days.

Corman turned to veteran writer Richard Matheson, who has written such classic novels as “I Am Legend” and penned the scripts to most of Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, to see if he would write the script.

“Dick, as I am, is fairly old and said he was working on what could be his last novel and didn’t have time,” Corman says.

But he did recommend his son, Richard Christian Matheson, “who is starting to write in the same style. So I called Dick and we kicked around a number of ideas.”

Originally, Corman wanted to shoot the first installment and then wait a day for the audience votes to be tabulated before frantically beginning a six-day process of writing, shooting, editing and doing post-production on the next one.

“I wanted to see if I could do this stuff again,” Corman says. But he and Dante soon realized the logistics would be a nightmare.

His wife came up with the solution. “We would shoot the deaths of all five and then, as the votes come in, we may do a little pick-up shooting to tie things together,” Corman says. “Then we would edit the deaths in.”

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Still, the pace is crazy. “We have to have everything ready for when the first vote happens,” Dante says. “When the first vote happens, we have to have a rough version of all of these different possibilities and the same thing for the third week. You have to shoot everything three times. There are all of these logistical issues you have to carry around in your head.”

“This is guerrilla filmmaking at its finest,” Feldman says. “There are Web episodes and interactive stuff out there, but it’s never been presented in this format before. Everybody involved is skilled. It has the signature Joe Dante stuff as far as the dark, twisted humor, and it’s scary and gory, which is signature Roger stuff. It’s like ‘American Idol’ for the Internet.”

— Susan King

Photos: Roger Corman with wife Julie, who helped him produce “Splatter” for Netflix. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times. Netflix’s “Splatter” site. Credit: Netflix.com

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