Monday, October 10, 2011

R.I.P.: David Hess

19 September 1936 – 7 October 2011

David Hess (homepage), a popular cult actor who tended to specialize is psychos and assholes, died of a heart attack at the age of 75 on October 7th, 2011, in Tiburon, California. He is survived by his wife Regina Mardek, three sons and a daughter, and a brother and two sisters.
The son of an opera singer, David Hess was born in NYC on September 19th, 1936. Prior to entering films, as a handsome young man he first tasted success in the music industry under the name of David Hill. In 1956, he recorded the first version of the perennial classic All Shook Up, which Elvis turned into a top ten hit the following year in 1957, the same year that Hess (as Hill) began working as a songwriter for Shalimar Music. He wrote songs for Elvis Presley (among others, I Got Stung and Sand Castles), Conway Twitty, Sal Mineo and the Ames Brothers. In 1962 co-wrote and released (as "David Dante") the original version of the classic song Speedy Gonzalez, which, when rerecorded by Pat Boone, went on to sell over eight million copies worldwide. Following two solo LPs for Kapp Records – and a top ten folk hit with the song Two Brothers – he became an A&R man at Mercury Records. Perhaps his most interesting project at this time of his life was the rock opera The Naked Carmen, which he wrote with the classical composer John Corigliano.
In 1972, however, Hess made his acting debut in the grindhouse classic Last House on the Left, and had he only made that film it would already be reason enough to pay our respects here at A Wasted Life. His performance – like the film – is unforgettable. But he did not stop with that film; instead, Hess went on to give a number of other memorable performances in a number of other noteworthy (and less noteworthy) films, mostly of the variety we here at A Wasted Life like to watch. And that is why we're paying our respects to him today here on A Wasted Life.
David Hess was a talented musician and actor, and by all accounts – and belaying his usual screen presence – a friendly and cultured man. We thank him for all he contributed to this world.
Below is a presentation of selected filmic projects he took part in – the good and the bad ones. Appearances on TV series are not covered, nor are those of which no visual information could be located on the web.

The Last House on the Left
(1972, dir. Wes Craven)

Hess made his film debut in this classic grindhouse production, the film that jump-started the careers of its producer, Shawn S. Cunningham, and debut director, Wes Craven. Inspired by the 1960 Ingmar Bergman film The Virgin Spring (in turn based on the 13th century Swedish ballad Töres döttrar i Wänge ("Töre's Daughters in Vänge"), Last House on the Left is a primitive and uneven but unforgettable piece of exploitation that remains far more effectively shocking and political than its unnecessary glossy 2009 remake (trailer). The film, which was banned in Australia for over 34 years, incurs strong reactions: one of the film's stars, Fred J. Lincoln, who went on to a long-lasting career directing and acting in porn (doing such fine films as Enema Obedience 2 [1994], The Enema Bandit [1994], The Enema Bandit Returns [1995] and Abducted by the Enema Bandit [1997]), has even gone on record as considering the film to be the worst movie he ever took part in. The plot: Two teenage girls on the way to a rock concert want to buy some pot and cross paths with a quartet of psychopaths who torture and kill them; a twist of fate brings the killers to the house of one of the girls, and when the parents figure out what has happened, they take merciless revenge. Hess stands out as Krug Stillo, the group's leader, in an amoral performance only matched by that of his costar Jeramie Rain (later and now former wife of Richard Dreyfuss) as Sadie, the killer bitch of the group. The clip embedded below (featuring stills from The Last House on the Left) features the original version of Wait for the Rain, one of the many songs David Hess provided for the film's soundtrack.
Wait for the Rain:

The Swiss Conspiracy
(1976, dir. Jack Arnold)
David Hess appears in this German/U.S. coproduction as the hitman Sando, and while he was hardly deemed worth naming on the poster of the film, he can be seen more than once in the film's trailer. The extremely forgiving blog Ninja Dixon – which supposedly once referred to me as a "retard" for dissing the crappy film Zeder (1983) – says the film is "a good little movie that fans of eurocult and seventies action-thrillers might enjoy more than they think". The second-to-last feature film of the great Jack Arnold, The Swiss Conspiracy has a fab cast (just look at the names on the poster!). The plot, according to Jeremy Perkins at imdb: "When a Swiss bank finds that the confidentiality of some of its more vulnerable customers has been compromised it calls in an American investigator, who soon uncovers a web of deceit and blackmail. With old debts being paid off his own health is soon in danger, but at least he starts to gets to know one of the bank's female customers pretty well."

21 Hours at Munich
(1976, dir. William A. Graham)
A TV movie directed by the man who called the shots for masterpieces such as Return to the Blue Lagoon (1991 / trailer), Honky (1971 / trailer) and Elvis's wonderfully tacky nuns-in-love flick Change of Habit (1969 / trailer). In this film based on the true story of how, on September 5, 1972, at the start of the 1972 Olympics games, a group of Arab terrorists known as Black September took eleven Israeli athletes hostage, David Hess is seen as "Berger", one of the athletes that is killed.
ABC Sunday Night Movie – 21 Hours At Munich:

Montana Trap
(1976, dir. Peter Schamoni)
This film, a Eurowestern also known as Potato Fritz, is a rather odd outing for the director, who generally lensed more culturally inclined topics. Hess, as "Sleeve", makes it in small print onto at least one version of the film's poster. He can be seen, bearded, in the excerpt presented below. The plot, according to the Spaghetti Western Database: "Potato Fritz (Hardy Kruger) and his friends have moved from Germany to the American Wild West, settling eventually in the Rockies. They are besieged by what appear to them to be hostile Native Americans. Before too long, it becomes clear that the hostiles are in fact a gang of gold thieves. This movie is notable among German-made Westerns for its use of authentic period costumes and firearms." David Hess later coproduced the documentary film Niki de Saint Phalle (1976), the third-to-last film directed by Schamoni.
Excerpt from Montana Trap:

The Naked Prey
Aka Autostop rosso sangue, Hitch-Hike, and Death Drive. Supposedly based on Peter Kane's novel The Violence and the Fury, but the novel proves untraceable on the web. Hess, as über-nasty Adam Konitz, is the third lead in this depri Italo-crime film starring Franco Nero and Corinne Cléry as the unhappily married Walter and Eve Mancini. The plot, according to Matt Patay at imdb: "Walter Mancini (Nero) is an egotistical newspaper editor driving across California with his spiteful wife, Eve (Cléry), on a weekend getaway to save their troubled marriage. But things take a turn when they pick up a stranded motorist, named Adam, who takes them hostage revealing himself to be a fugitive running from both the police and his two accomplices after robbing a bank and making off with all the loot. But things are not always as they seem as Walter and Eve try to find a way to not only get rid of their unwanted car guest, but find a way to deal with each other when both see the tempting offer of the stolen $2 million in cash Adam always has on him." Anchor Films, which released the film on DVD, says The Naked Prey is "one of the greatest exploitation films no one has ever seen".

Avalanche Express
(1979, dir. Mark Robson)
Based on the Colin Forbes novel of the same name. Avalanche Express is the last film of director Robson (the director of such memorable films as Isle of the Dead [1945 / trailer], Bedlam [1946 / full movie], Valley of the Dolls [1967 / trailer] and Earthquake [1974 / trailer]), who died mid-film; an uncredited Monte Hellman finished the final release. Star Robert Shaw, also in his final film, died too soon to dub the flick. The plot according to TV Guide: "An all-star cast highlights this action adventure as a Soviet KGB agent (Shaw) attempts to defect to the West with important information. Both natural and man-made disasters threaten his passage to freedom aboard a train bound for Holland." Hess is there for the ride in a small part as "Geiger".

House on the Edge of the Park
(1980, dir. Ruggero Deodato)
Original title: La casa sperduta nel parco. One of the last truly memorable, grimy spurts of prime Italo-trash from the great exploitation master Ruggero Deodato, who had pretty much lost his touch by the time he got around to making Dial: Help (1988 / trailer). In this legendary "video nasty", Hess steals the show as yet another scumbag, this time named Alex, one of a duo who terrorize, torture and kill a variety rich snobs before getting their comeuppance. His first victim is no one other than his real-life wife, acting under the name Karoline Mardeck. The plot, according to The Terror Trap: "Two men (David Hess and John Morghen) disrupt an upscale dinner party by raping and torturing everyone there. The generally unconvincing story has a twist too ridiculous to believe."

To All a Goodnight
(1980, dir. David Hess)
The only feature-length film Hess ever directed is an entry in the killer-Santa slasher subgenre; the script was supplied by Alex Rebar, who played the title role in the cult bad-film fave The Incredible Melting Man (1977 / trailer / full movie) and also wrote the forgotten nasty Demented (1980 / trailer). The relatively generic plot, according to Jean-Marc Rocher at imdb: "It's Christmas break at the Calvin Finishing School for Girls, and the students are planning a big party while the president of the school is away. A group of boys show up and the fun begins, until mysterious killer starts bumping off couples one by one. The police show up and promise to keep everyone safe, but they prove ineffectual against the crazed psycho. Could the killings have anything to do with the girl who was killed in an initiation stunt at the school a few years earlier?"
Review of To All a Goodnight:

Swamp Thing
(1982, dir. Wes Craven)
We here at A Wasted Life have a soft spot for this rather campy and cheap and fun version of the DC comic character, which in no way comes close to the quality of the original comics by Len Wein and the great Berni Wrightson (a review of the film is due to appear on this blog next year) but does have a naked Adrienne Barbeau. Hess has a feature role as Ferret, an underling of the film's main bad guy Arcane (Louis Jourdan), who also appears in Jim Wynorski's sub-quality sequel, The Return of the Swamp Thing (1989 / trailer).

White Star
(1983, dir. Roland Klick)
Aka Let It Rock. David Hess appears as "Frank" in this, the second-to-last directorial project (and possible worst film) of the unjustly unknown (outside of Germany) and forgotten (in Germany) art-trash director Roland Klick, who made the great German exploitation masterpiece Supermarkt (1974 / trailer) and the proto-postmodern Eurowestern masterpiece Deadlock (1970 / trailer). (Although officially retired from films, rumor has it that Klick is still active under an unrevealed pseudonym.) About this film, The World of Mr Satanism says: "This dude (Terrance Robay) just wants to play his shitty new age music [...] but his crazy producer (Dennis Hopper) keeps coming up with these ludicrous schemes, like booking him at a TSOL concert and then starting a huge riot so they get in the papers and shit. [...] Later this other guy [...] sends these punk rockers to wreck the new age dude's studio. The producer [...] ends up fighting them in a public bathroom with a pool cue. This might be the lamest fight ever filmed, by the way, and I'm even taking YouTube into consideration when I say that. The best part is the end though: the new age dude goes to the hospital to see this chick who got shot during a fake assassination attempt on him, but he's so stoned he pisses in a bottle right in front of everybody and then throws it at some photographers. [...] This is definitely the most punk rock movie about new age music ever made." David Hess makes it onto the DVD cover in small print.

Let's Get Harry
(1986, dir. Stuart Rosenberg [as Alan Smithee])
David Hess appears as a "Mercenary" in this feature-length miscalculation... he's not seen in the trailer... but then, everyone who is probably wishes they weren't. As Wikipedia correctly points out, "Almost all of the ensemble cast was famous at the time of the [making of the] film, and it is rare that a film with so many known actors is so forgotten." But then, it never made it to the theatres, and was instead instantly relegated to late-night local TV. The plot, according to Paul Brenner at Rotten Tomatoes: "[An] action film concerning a soldier of fortune sent into a South American country to rescue a kidnapped American during a revolutionary upheaval. Harry Burk Jr. (Mark Harmon) and United States Ambassador Douglas (Bruce Gray) are held hostage by Colombian drug dealers who demand the release of associates who are imprisoned in the United States. But the U.S. government refuses to negotiate with the drug dealers. In disgust, Harry's brother Corey (Michael Schoeffling) and three of his friends (Tom Wilson, Glen Frey, and Rick Rossovich), along with an adventurous auto dealer named Jack (Gary Busey), hire mercenary soldier Shrike (Robert Duvall) to sneak into Columbia and rescue Harry."

Armed and Dangerous
(1986, dir. Mark L. Lester)
This film is a true oddity: a (terrible) comedy directed by a specialist of exploitation and action (i.e., Class of 1984 [1982 / trailer], Commando [1985 / trailer] and Showdown in Little Tokyo [1991 / trailer]). Hess appears somewhere as "Gunman #4". A masterpiece of comedy.... NOT!!!!

Camping del terrore
(1987, dir. Ruggero Deodato)

Aka Body Count. The back of the video description: "A fun-loving gang of college kids explore the Colorado wilderness during their long summer vacation. But at a campsite managed by the mysterious Robert (Hess) and his wife, Julia, they hear the old legend of the Shaman, half-man, half-beast. When strange noises in the night suddenly become terrifying reality, the campers realize that the legend is true. This horrifying tale of murder and mayhem twists and turns as fast as the bodies drop and the thrilling climax is guaranteed to make even the toughest squirm!" By all accounts found on the web, despite a cast that includes Hess, Charles Napier (R.I.P.), Ivan Rassimov and Mimsy Farmer, Body Count is just another latter-day dud by the once great Ruggero Deodato.
Great proto-techno title track by the great Claudio Simonetti, the original keyboardist of Goblin:

Buck ai confini del cielo
(1991, dir. Tonino Ricci)
Aka Bucks größtes Abenteuer (Germany), Buck en las alturas (Spain), Trustful Buck (U.K.) and Buck at the Edge of Heaven (U.S.A.) – inspired by the short stories of Jack London. The plot, according to Spaghetti Western Database: "Trapper Wintrop lives in a lonesome hut in the mountains, together with his father, son Tim, his wolf dog Buck and the dumb scout Matt. When a gang of villains robs and kills grandpa in their absence, they are determined to hunt them down." Hess has one of the main roles as "Dan". Followed in 1999 by the sequel Buck and the Magic Bracelet (trailer).
Six minutes of Buck ai confini del cielo:

Omicidio a luci blu
(1991, dir. Alfonso Brescia)
A search of the web reveals little to no information about this Italo crime film in which David Hess plays a lead role as "Sergeant Flanagan"... but thanks to the help of the website Nice Translator, we would hazard to say the plot is as follows: Jezebel (Florence Guérin) is the most famous prostitute of Cannibal Street; she specializes in satisfying the strangest requests of her highly particular clientèle. Starlet, a rather sophisticated woman who cultivates her privacy, is a highly demanded fashion model. In fact, Jezebel and Starlet are one and the same person: the reason for this duel lifestyle lies in the fact that the woman is hunting for a mysterious sex maniac who some months earlier killed and horribly mutilated her brother. The film's director Alfonso Brescia, who died in 2001, is perhaps better known under his anglicized pseudonym "Al Bradley"; among his numerous psychotronic films are Ator III: Iron Warrior (1986 / trailer), Beast in Space (1980 / trailer), War of the Planets (1977 / title track), Super Stooges vs the Wonder Women (1975 / trailer), and Battle of the Amazons (1973 / trailer). Since we couldn't find a clip to Omicidio a luci blu, we've embedded the following clip for eye candy: it features a variety of Florence Guérin's nude scenes from a variety of unknown movies – who knows, maybe from Omicidio a luci blu as well.
NSFW clip of nude scenes:

Jonathan degli orsi
(1995, dir. Enzo G. Castellari)
Aka Jonathon of the Bears. Hess, found on the poster but not in the trailer, appears as "Maddock" in this film shot in Russia (with an Italian, US American and Russian cast). Spaghetti Western Database says the film is "an unbelievable drag". The plot, also according to the SWDB: "Jonathan Kowalski (Franco Nero) saw the murder of his parents as a child, but was able to flee into a bear cave, where he was ultimately found by local resident Indians. The Indians adopt the boy and treat him like one of their own, but Kowalski is determined to track down the murderers of his parents. The arrival of money hungry oil baron Goodwin (John Saxon), who wishes to exploit the sacred land of the Indians, interferes with Kowalski's quest."
Italian trailer:


(2001, dir. Glen Grefe)
The plot: "It's another crazy Christmas and psychotherapist Dr. Carlton Fairfax Jr. is losing control of his patients and his sanity; especially when he encounters one particularly mysterious patient who sees to it that the good Doctor continues down the road to insanity." The "mysterious" patient is played by David Hess, who made the cover photo of at least one poster.

Zombie Nation
(2004, dir. Ulli Lommel)
How low can you go? Hess appears in a small part as "Aaron Singer III" in a film about which Absolute Horror says: "Ulli Lommel makes a zombie film this time around, and manages to do more damage to the genre than anyone before him." And that is about the nicest comment to be found on the web regarding this film. Lommel has sunk a long way since he made The Bogeyman (1980 / trailer), which is arguably his only passable movie. Plot: "A psycho cop with a weakness for killing his female arrests gets what's coming to him when a pack of zombie women rise from their graves in order to get proper revenge."

Zodiac Killer
(2005, dir. Ulli Lommel)
One assumes that Hess and Lommel got along, for after taking part in Lommel's filmic fuck-up Zombie Nation, Hess also appeared (as "Mel Navokov") in Lommel's next direct-to-video cinematic abortion, Zodiac Killer. Obviously too lazy to create – or perhaps simply incapable of creating – a new film, Lommel even cannibalizes footage from his a variety of his earlier films for this non-film about a young guy working at a nursing home who kills using the Zodiac Killer's m.o. Over at Obscure Horror, they say the obvious: "This is a really bad film by a really bad director. [...] It's nonsensical [and] all over the place... Don't waste your time. Ulli Lommel definitely ranks with Uwe Boll [...] as one of the worst [directors] of all time." We here at A Wasted Life are still unsure whether Lommel is seriously delusional and actually considers his product as films or whether he actually considers himself as some sort of conceptual artist playing an obscure intellectual joke on the film-going public, but either/or, his "films" (including this one) remain unpalatable.

Fallen Angels
(2006, dir. Jeff Thomas)
Aka Seven Deadly Demons. David Hess appears as "Kajal" in Jeff Thomas second film, a direct-to-DVD horror film which, according to Jeff Thomas himself, tells the following tale: "When a turn of the century prison reformatory is slated for demolition, a grisly discovery is made. Hidden deep underground beneath the west cell block is a sub-basement structure that has not been entered in 100 years. Inside are the skeletal remains of several brutally slain children. As a CSI team arrives at the prison, an even more disturbing discovery is made that will eventually unveil a legion of seven demons and their even more chilling origins: each demon is responsible for one of the seven deadly sins. Seven deadly sins...Seven deadly demons...Seven more deadly ways to die..." Cult-heavy cast includes names such as Ruth Buzzi, Christopher "Peter Brady" Knight, Kane Hodder, Michael Berryman, Michael Dorn, Bill Moseley, Kevin McCarthy and more.

The Absence of Light
(2006, dir. Patrick Desmond)
Another direct-to-DVD directorial debut with a cult-heavy cast, this time around including (aside from David Hess as "Whiplash"): Tom Savini, Caroline Munro, Michael Berryman and Tony Todd. Plot: In the near-future, two warring corporations vie for control of North American politics. One corporation, 'Plague', run by the sinister ex-government operative Whiplash, consolidates its power by creating chaos and discord. The other, 'Section 8', is run by someone called the Higher Power. Two burnt-out agents of Section 8, the professional Puritan and the newcomer Sultan, are sent by the Higher Power to protect a corrupt U.S. Senator named Criswell seeking re-election, leading Puritan and Sultan on various missions across the USA; other employees of both Plague and Section 8 also have adventures of their own in this episodic story featuring everything and but kitchen sink.

(2007, dir. Rob Nilsson)
Image above taken from the blog A Filmmaker's Life. David Hess goes art film and plays "Aldo Modisco" in this film by independent director Nilsson. Plot, according to Anonymous at imdb: "Certain he's been betrayed, Malafide leaves his lover and hops freights to Reno to find a Cherokee healer he met in prison named People T. Joined by a black homeless man named Johnny, they set out into the desolate beauty of the Nevada desert." One of the 9 films of Nilsson's series 9@Night films.

Go Together
(2007, dir. Rob Nilsson)
Hess returns as Aldo Modisco in another film of Nilsson's 9@Night films. Plot: "The culmination of the series takes self-referential and expressionistic curves, as a couple (Denny Dey and Michelle Anton Allen) struggle with the survival of both their marriage and the failing Oakland art cinema they own… ironically showing the 9@Night movies. Homeless gather in the alleys, and the theater itself wants to speak to them."

Smash Cut
(2009, dir. Lee Demarbre)
Another intentional cult film by the intentional cult-film maker Demarbre, who also made the less professional cult film Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001 / trailer). Hess stars as film director Able Whitman, who will do anything to complete his latest film. Smash Cut also features the eternally hot Sasha Grey – but not enough of her, going by what Dr Gore has to say in his review of the film found here.

Aside from his movie roles, he also appeared on a variety of TV series, including Baretta, Manimal (ranked 15 on TV Guide's list of the "50 Worst TV Shows of All Time" list in 2002), Knight Rider and The A-Team. At the time of his death, David Hess was involved in four film projects in various states of production: The Beautiful Outsiders, Manson Rising, The House on the Edge of the Park Part II and The House That Wept Blood.

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