Flick Fixation

Gary Davis' cinéma is so vérité, sometimes it brings the cops rushing to the set

"The limo is taken care of," he says to the volunteer thespians. "But I need you all to buck up for a good tip. Really take care of this guy."

Pabon brings Davis back to the theater, which is now showing previews in both audio and video. "Oh, thank God," he whispers. "Once I see it on the screen and I can hear it too, I'll relax." Then he makes a confession. "I just finished editing this two days ago because of a whole list of personal things. I hope it isn't terrible."

By the time the movie starts, the theater is packed. An employee of the movie house, where some patrons are watching Alien vs. Predator, ducks in to tell Davis that both showings of his movie have sold out. He'll split the $10-per-ticket proceeds with the house. Like most of his movies, however, Davis will be lucky to come out even. For a self-described "no budget" moviemaker, the expenses of a grand opening can exceed those of the movie itself. After the limo, the light truck, the projectionist, the cost of his camera and editing equipment, Davis might walk away with dinner money.

At right, retired detective Duke Walsh barks out the part of the FBI head boss.
Colby Katz
At right, retired detective Duke Walsh barks out the part of the FBI head boss.
Davis' next movie, Jade and the White Tiger
Davis' next movie, Jade and the White Tiger

Turning out bad movies has always been a seat-of-the-pants operation for Davis, who started out shooting 9mm short films on his dad's camera in Camden, New Jersey. In those days, he used his sister and four brothers as actors. Young Gary was known as the eccentric neighborhood kid who always had a camera in his hand. He ignored just about everything but his movies, often forgetting to comb his hair, which led to the dreads. The kids called him "Sole Man" because he wore shoes so worn out he'd have to tape paper to the bottoms. "I was poor, but I could afford shoes," he says. "I just didn't want to buy them." He majored in music at Glassboro State College and married Sonia, his childhood playmate. He went on hiatus from the moviemaking business when they had their daughter, but he got back into it in the early '90s.

It's his all-consuming passion now. Anything he owns can be dragooned into a film. Shooting a movie at his home in rural Royal Palm Beach, he once dismantled his deck to build teepees.

Davis has never joined the Film Society or used the services of the county's Film and Television Commission. The county is willing to help Davis set up the filming of his shots. But the county requires all filmmakers to carry a $1 million insurance policy in exchange for its help, something Davis isn't about to pay for.

Davis isn't the type to go through official channels, Film Commissioner Chuck Elder acknowledges. "Gary Davis is the definition of independent," Elder says. "He does this on his own, and that's the way he wants it."

As the opening credits roll, groups in the crowd clap for each name. Each actor, it appears, has a little claque of friends and relatives to bubble with enthusiasm upon seeing their hero make it onto the silver screen. The plot is this: A vampire-hunting samurai from Japan has come to Mexico and teams up with a local to hunt down the undead; they end up at a couple of brothels, where vampire prostitutes feed on unsuspecting johns; fighting ensues.

This time, the shoots were on the up-and-up. For The Spanish Inn, the owners of Alleyda's, a West Palm Beach Mexican restaurant, let Davis' film crews in during Sunday-morning downtime. The rough stucco interior of the place was perfect for the movie, which is set in 19th-century Mexico, but sometimes diners would start filing in as Davis was shooting a vampire scene in the back corner.

The movie is brilliant. In spots. Slow-mo action scenes speed up Matrix-like, and some of the actors pull off the simple lines like pros. Other parts aren't so good. One vampire dies three or four times -- a persistence that seems unusual even for a vampire. One of the stars gets knifed in the heart only to resurface a few minutes later. While it's supposed to be 1850s Mexico, in the background in a couple of shots, a plastic Corona blimp hangs off a wall.

Still, the audience's reaction is extraordinary. During the bloodiest scenes, the crowd erupts in laughter. Audience members cheer wildly when one of the main characters launches into an unexplained guitar solo for several minutes. When the vampires attack, the crowd howls at the overdone sounds of bloodsucking and a drawn-out dying scene in which an actor kicks his legs wildly inches from the camera. In the front row, a group of teenagers cracks up every time the main star mispronounces "bampire" through his Spanish accent. It's unlikely the suburban Boynton Cinema has ever shown a movie with as much vocal reaction.

The soundtrack is... unusual. Davis cobbled it together himself, as he does for all his movies, and it tends to veer off into the esoteric, with whistles and bells going off at odd times. Whenever money makes an appearance, there's an exaggerated sound of coins falling. Then hip-hop tunes cue to action scenes.

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