A Tribute To John Fasano
His name may not have been instantly familiar to the mainstream. For those who know, however, John Fasano left an impression that won’t soon be forgotten and a lasting legacy. John directed such cult classics in the 1980s such as Zombie Nightmare, Rock N’ Roll Nightmare, Black Roses and The Jitters. His films gathered a huge cult following over the years and an appreciation that has lasted decades. Later, he wrote the screenplays Another 48 Hours, Darkness Falls (which he also produced), and an early draft of Alien 3, among many others. He also served as an Associate Producer on the phenomenal western Tombstone, starring Val Kilmer. John had a hand in many films over the years and his influence will be felt for years to come.
(John on the set of Black Roses with Sal Viviano and Julie Adams)
John was due to be at a special screening of his film Rock N’ Roll Nightmare on July 19 at The Hollywood Theater in Portland, OR with the star of the film Jon Mikl Thor. John had previously graced the theater with his presence for a screening of another of his films, Black Roses earlier in the year. Sadly, it was not to be. John posted on Facebook about a week before the show that he would not be able to make it due to being sick. I thought it was quite odd at the time. In fact, I held out hope that he would recover from his flu, cold, or whatever it may have been and make it to the show. Days before the show, I reached out to him. The conversation was brief, but one I will always remember. He said that he indeed would not be making it to the showing. I expressed how sad it was that I wouldn’t get to finally meet him in person and show him my reviews and the interview I did with him in person. He made mention of plans for another screening coming up soon, this one for Zombie Nightmare, and that he would definitely be there next time. Next time, we said. Then, that was it. It was brief and didn’t stand out much at the time.
When we were at the screening (see separate article on screening coverage), the feeling all around seemed to be that everyone wished he was there. Greg Hamilton, who runs the event, even had the crowd record and send a video greeting to John before the show, wishing him well. The show went on and fun was had all around, knowing that John would be at the next one.
When I heard the news on the road the next morning, I thought it must be some kind of a sick joke. How could this happen? We were just at a screening for his film. We just spoke. No, everything must be okay. I waited until I got home hours later and checked the internet. Sadly, it was true. There it was on several pages. John had passed away during the night. He was 52 years old. It hit me hard and it took a while to gather my thoughts. I went on Facebook immediately where I was greeted to a friend request from John’s son, who I met and spoke with the night before. It all just seemed so surreal, so coincidental. As I scoured posts on Facebook, it seemed to hit many people hard as well. I offered my condolences to the family and immediately set about writing this article. I hope it’s a fitting tribute to one of Hollywood’s unsung heroes. He is gone, but his work will live on. He definitely left a mark on the movie world and I’m hoping that his films continue to entertain for years to come.
REST IN PEACE JOHN FASANO 8/24/1961-7/19/2014
Here is the interview that I did with John in full from my upcoming book on slasher films, Slashed Dreams. It was very informative. It also showcases truly how much he loved the film business and how down to Earth John really was and what a great sense of humor he had. This was one of my all time favorite interviews. I hope everyone enjoys:
Interview conducted in 2013.
RA- What inspired you to do the Rock and Roll horror films in the 80s?
I love horror; it’s the genre I only want to make films in. In the 1980’s I was living in NYC and was lucky that a friend of my ex-wife Cindy Sorrell (Cirile) was married to Thor, and he became the star of my first few films and brought with him the Rock!
RA- Were you a big fan of the metal scene back in the 80s? If so, what were your favorite bands? Any nowadays you’re a fan of?
This is the number one question I get asked! I was only a fan of the more “mainstream” metal groups like AC/DC and Motorhead, who we used for the title song in Zombie Nightmare I wrote and co-directed. These days I listen to 80’s on the 8 on my Sirus radio!
RA- Could you tell us what it was like filming Rock N’ Roll Nightmare? I read that the budget was very small and it was shot very quick. Was it a difficult shoot?
It was a seven-day shoot for a total of $53,000. It wasn’t difficult because before we went up to Canada, I story-boarded every scene, and then shot the entire movie in my house with a VHS camcorder and my family, and cut it together, so I know exactly what I had to shoot when I got there. The biggest problem was three groupie girls had been hired to show their breasts, and then refused when we were ready for them at 2am. So my regular cast had to go topless in a few scenes, which was uncomfortable because they were old High School friends of mine! Ironically, one of the groupie chicks who refused to show her boobs went on to be an exotic dancer up there!
RA- How was it working with Thor?
Thor is the BEST. He has a great energy and he is always in a good mood. I would use him in every movie I direct (and I have, mostly). He makes everyone on the set feel good, and he is my “go to” guy.
RA- How was Rock and Roll Nightmare received initially? How do you think it has held up over the years?
The video world accepted it pretty well, it made enough money for the distributor to go ahead with BLACK ROSES. Some people “got” that I was trying to parody all of the horror films of the time (we didn’t have the money to do it “straight”) and though I cringe at many parts of it, I think the ending and the music scenes (Energy!) make it a fun Saturday night watch.
RA- I absolutely loved Black Roses and it’s one of my favorites. It has many similarities to Rock N Roll Nightmare. What was the inspiration behind that one?
Thanks. Senator Al Gore (who was later Vice President under Clinton) and his wife Tipper were out making a lot of noise that Hard Rock should be banned because it was “the music of the devil” and made kids commit suicide. My wife Cindy at the time said that’s how we get monsters and music back together again. Julie Adams from THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON became the Tipper Gore character, and we were off. Sadly, I couldn’t get Thor to play Damian, because of conflicts with his wife. We could have finished the trilogy we started with Zombie Nightmare
RA-Did you feel more freedom with Black Roses, with a bigger budget, more time, etc?
Ha! Actually since it was ten times more than Rock N’ Roll Nightmare, I stupidly thought I could cram it with ten times as many characters, scenes, etc! A lot of the movie ended up being edited out, and if I had thought it through I could have just shot what ended up in the film for more time. We shot for 21 days in Hamilton, Ontario and it was fun to have stunt men, fire, cranes, etc., but a lot more responsibility and some LONG shooting days which I have NEVER done again. If I can’t get what I need in less than twelve hours, I don’t shoot it.
RA- With Black Roses, I see a huge connection with the PMRC thing going on in the 80s. Was that an inspiration and was there a message that you wanted to get across?
It just seemed stupid to blame music on people’s suicides. Like all High School kids, I got all depressed, and there was this song where a guy threw himself off a tower to make people notice him. I didn’t jump off a tower, so I knew music could only have some effect on us!
RA- How was working with Vincent Pastore? He had one of the best parts and lines in Black Roses.
The Big Pussy himself! I think this was Vinnie’s first role and he was fantastic to work with. Those scenes were shot in my living room in Bronxville, New York. He had a great chemistry with Tony Bua who sculpted and made the speaker monster and played his son. He really acted his heart out while the creature ate him, and in the room it sounded terrifying – and then the sound guy LOST the sound part and I think I had to dub his part while the monster was pulling him in, but Vinnie was fantastic on the day and it really sounded like he was shitting himself in terror as the spider thing went after him. And he gave his son a hard time so he deserved it, right?
RA- The creatures were similar looking in both films. Was the same effects personnel used and what went into making the creatures and filming them?
I had strong approval over the designs for all the monsters (I was the producer/ director!) The creatures in Rock N’ Roll Nightmare were mostly made by my friends and fellow cast members: Frank Dietz, Jim Cirile, his friend John Gibson. The only “Pros” involved with that film was a local FX artist Arnold Garguilo.
With more money, the monster and makeups in BLACK ROSES were made by young East Coast makeup men who went on the bigger and better project: Richie Alonzo (who went on to do OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, IRON MAN, TERMINATOR SALVATION) did the full size DAMIEN suit with the help of Andrew Clement (who now runs the Dick Smith Makeup school and did the new NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and CLOVERFIELD). Bill Basso (LAKE PLACID, JURASSIC PARK) and Dan Platt (TRON: LEGACY, I, ROBOT, FRIGHT NIGHT) did the opening scene Band Appliances and Dan ended up in the Damian creature suit, and Mike Maddi (TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE) did the Julie monster puppet from a sculpture by Tony Bua who played Tony in the movies and also did the zombie appliance I wore in ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE,
RA- How was Black Roses received and how do you think it’s held up over the years?
It was actually shown on the USA network in 1989. It’s a real solid film and it still plays well for a film made for $500,000.
RA- With all of the remakes coming out these days, how would you feel if modernized versions of either of these films came down the pipe?
As long as I was involved, I’d be happy. I think Rock N’ Roll Nightmare is the film is should be, down and dirty, but I would love to see even a slightly higher budgeted BLACK ROSES.
RA- You wrote and produced another one of my favorites, an actually legit scary film in Darkness Falls. What was the inspiration behind that?
I was at Comic Con in San Diego and met a young comic writer named Joe Harris through a mutual friend. He had made a short film about a killer tooth fairy. I looked at it and said, “Joe, that’s a great idea but it should be a feature film.” I took him and we pitched it to Revolution Studios (who did ALICE IN WONDERLAND) and they bought it in one minute. Joe and I wrote the script, using the names of all my High School friends and locations in my hometown of Port Washington, NY. I originally made the deal to direct the film, but they hired Jon Lieberman who went on to direct BATTLE LA and WRATH OF THE TITANS.
RA- I see that you wrote the original unused draft for Alien 3. I’m curious as a huge fan of the series, what was it about?
It was pretty much the movie that they made, only the planet was Luddite Monks, living in wooden buildings because they hated technology and loved their books. They saw themselves as the saviors of the written word. When Fincher came in he made them prisoners.
RA- What is next on your agenda in the movie world? Any projects coming up?
We start shooting Sony’s SNIPER 5: KILL ZONE after Christmas with Tom Berenger back as Gunny Beckett. Then we’ll be shooting my thriller EVIDENCE OF A GUILTY MIND for Lifetime.
RA- Do you have any final words you would like to say to the fans out there?
Yes! Accept the Challenge! Whatever you want to be, this country is the place it can happen! If it’s making a movie or starting your own food truck or getting a job in the Public Library – GO FOR IT – don’t believe the people who tell you opportunity is dead! Never give up on your dreams!