In a previous blog post, I spoke of a public access television show I used to watch called Attack of the Killer B’s.
Back in 1992, my Friday night ritual was to run to the gas station just off base and grab a pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk and a can of Cheezums. I’d then get back just in time to settle in and watch the most glorious Public Access Television show ever created… Attack of the Killer B’s. It was like some kind of mad experiment resulting from a twisted tryst between Elvira, Svenghouli, and a voyeuristic MST3K poking its head in and seeing just what the hell was going on.
I ended up with about 8 VHS tapes filled with static’y episodes (all I had was rabbit ears and tin foil!), but I’d watch those tapes over and over again for the next decade.
Let’s flash forward 25 years… a friend and fellow classic sci-fi/horror fan, @CultCredentials , sent me a message that he may have well found the man himself… Dr. Reek Amortis, Bryan Sisson. I immediately got in contact with Mr. Sisson and lo-and-behold, Mr. Credentials was right. I now know how Chewbacca felt. Thanks Mr. Credentials for your black belt Google-Fu. I am forever in your debt! If you are a fan of cult and horror media, please check out his blog full of reviews of movies, TV, comics, and books. You can also find him on Twitter at @CultCredentials.
So now… two and half decades later, I am finally able to bring you the man himself… the Mad Scientist of the Macabre, the Hero of Horror, the Champion of Camp! Let’s give it up for DR. REEK AMORTIS!!!!
… er, BRYAN SISSON!!!!
First off, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me, Bryan. It’s been 25 years since I watched your television show on Pueblo Public Access. Could you tell me a bit about your passion for classic horror and why it appeals to you so much?
I have had a deep and consistent horror/sci-fi obsession for as long as I can remember. I have tried to figure out exactly when and why this happened… I think I liked the thrill of “safely” being scared; the excitement of being scared yet knowing that everything was going to be OK… the monsters will not win and goodness will triumph.
When I was growing up I would scour the TV guide looking for every horror, science fiction, and fantasy movie and marking it so I could try to watch it. If you missed a movie then you never knew if you would ever see it again! The Classic horror movies were from a time where kids could watch and not be bombarded with realistic ultra-violence or nudity like most of the modern era relies on. There was a good scare, creative monsters, and they usually had the morale of good win out, which was comforting. Today’s movies are much more mean-spirited and rely on the one-upping of gore and cruelty. Not really what kids should watch.
One of my favorite memories was sitting with my mom on the couch watching Invisible Invaders during a huge thunder storm! I was watching torrents of water flow down the street with lightning flashing, all while the invisible dead tried to break into the underground laboratory!!! Exhilarating!!!!
Wow, very interesting! I really appreciate how you feel about the effects of today’s horror on children. I see that you’ve met some very well-known and amazing folks that have worked in the Horror genre. Care to let us know who they were? What was it like meeting them?
My brief venture into film making, while leaving me “underemployed”, did give me some experiences I will never forget! I and the director of our first feature film, “Curse of the Blue Lights”, were out in California trying to find a distributor for our completed film. We sent promotional materials out to every studio and distributor, big and small. We had meetings with 20th Century Fox and Universal even!
They would all eventually say “too bad, you didn’t have a big name talent involved that could sell it”. Truth is it was way too small for them and frankly not good enough!! Thank god for the then huge VHS direct to video market as we would eventually get worldwide distribution with Media Home Entertainment.
Well, during this month-long trip to Hollywood, we were able to go into Amblin Studios after following up on an invitation from Steven Spielberg’s personal assistant! Amblin is buried deep in the Universal studios lot. After going through the second set of security gates, we pull up in the Amblin lot right in front of the building. Mark Marshall, who was Spielberg’s assistant, is standing outside to meet us when the two kids, Short Round and Chunk from the Goonies, come running up to greet Mark as they also just arrived on a visit. It was a very surreal experience indeed!
We got to tour the entire Amblin studio, including a meeting room with TV’s that would rise out of the tables and saw the theater he had set up to watch any format of film possible. As we walked down a hallway in the Mexican style compound, we passed an indoor paseo area where only 10 feet from us a photographer was taking pictures of Spielberg for a magazine. While we did not meet him, he did turn and smile at us as we passed! Again exhilarating!
On this same trip I called up “Uncle” Forry Ackerman, whose name and number were listed in the phone book. I was bummed out that I only got the voice mail as he was off at a convention. Two days later, my phone rings and I can’t believe it but on the other end is Forry inviting me to the Ackermansion that weekend! We pull up and I can see the submarine from Atlantis the Lost Continent just sitting in his backyard! He gave us a wonderful tour of his house when Ron Borst (huge movie poster collector and expert) stopped by, so they invited us to eat lunch at Forry’s favorite place, Sizzler! Well, I was in heaven as any horror fan can understand. I treasure my pictures with him in front of Maria the Metropolis robot.
I have since become an avid convention attendee and have had the pleasure to meet and talk to many of my heroes like Barbara Steele, Stuart Gordon, Clive Barker, Bert Gordon, Lamberto Bava, Ruggero Deodato, Dick Smith, Rick Baker, and many others. I really like getting original posters signed by the cast and crew! One of which is a Godzilla Vs The Thing one-sheet signed by Godzilla actor Haruo Nakajima!
You got to meet Forry and see Short Round, Chunk, and Spielberg?! That must’ve been a Holy Grail moment! I’d really like to know about the genesis of Attack of the Killer B’s (AotKB’s). What was your motivation to create it and was it difficult to get on television? What was it like to film an episode? I’ve got an ongoing wager with myself that your name was Dr. Reek A. Mortis, and not Dr. Reek Amortis. Who wins? Who ends up being the one who was wrong for two and a half decades?
After trying my hand at film making and finding myself rather unemployed, I went back to the University in Pueblo to get an engineering degree. I got a work study job at the University’s PBS station editing commercials and TV spots. One day I was talking to the station manager, Greg Sinn, and found out he was a monster kid too! He even still had some of the Famous Monsters paperback books from when he was a kid. I asked him if he ever thought about using the station equipment to make a low budget movie. That must have gotten his mind going because a month later he called me into his office and said he would be able to get a package of old B horror/sci-fi movies and asked if I was interested in coming up with an idea for a horror host to introduce them. That was all I needed to hear! I immediately told him that I would and that I wanted to bring a friend of mine, Sonny Theis, in so we could incorporate silly songs into the sketches.
The University had a fairly large TV studio where they would film fund raising events and some student game shows. They had professional grade cameras, editing equipment, and could do large scale green screen effects shots. I was a kid in a video candy store! This was very small scale… like really small scale… no one was paid and no money was spent. I had to come up with everything that would be on camera. The first thing I did was build a small dungeon-like set complete with a small window that we could look out of or just have fog roll in from.
I spent a few days carving, gluing, and painting styrofoam to give the look. Next, I had to think of a way I would start each movie, so I built a large switch that I could pull down. Now Sonny was up for being my side kick and was for doing the music with me, but he was not really one to act very silly, so I knew we would be a little straight man/funny man, Abbott and Costello like.
I was working in the pharmacy at a local hospital so I had access to medical gowns and stuff of that nature so the good doctor was born! And you lose and win… the name was Dr. Reek Amortis but I have to say I really like the Reek A. Mortis also!
Every Thursday night I would go over to Sonny’s house where he had every instrument and recording device you could imagine. He would start laying down drums, then bass, then keyboard and build a song. He went over and over it, adding all the instruments to the music I was writing down, the lyrics that would go with the movie. By the time he was done with the music, the lyrics would be complete and we would then sing and record the song. Great songs such as Attack of the Giant Leeches, Teenage Caveman, and Atom Age Vampire were born.
I would then have to rummage around my house and find props and go down to Betty’s Costumes for any costumes we would need for the skits. I would also have to write down a rough script that we would do the very next day! So right after school every Friday, Sonny and I and whoever else we could coax into helping, would go into the study and in one take we would play the prerecorded music and lip sync to the song.
I still find it odd how hard it was to get people to be involved in something that was so much fun. I always knew I had my family that would come through in a pinch and I was always in a pinch. My son Zachary would play young Dr. Reek and my mom would play one of the Sisters of the Immaculate Constipation. My girlfriend at the time would play a number of characters, including a cave woman and a car crash victim in one of my favorites… Atom Age Vampire.
We did this every day for a year for a total of 23 episodes (I think).
So, I’m a loser and a winner… I’ll take it! You worked with two other main cast members (well, one alive and one not-so-alive), Sonny and Skelvis. Can you tell me about working with Sonny? How did you two meet? He was a seriously cool cat… did he ever take off his sunglasses? I remember that you and Sonny would perform a song based on the movie that was to be shown. It was amazing just how good those songs were! What was the process involved in that? Was Skelvis as difficult off-screen as he was on?
Sonny Theis and I met at a number of parties where he would play amazing lead guitar while we all drank massive quantities of beer. Oh the 70’s! Sonny was/is an amazing musician and I had played rhythm guitar with him a few times in a band. Sonny was also attending the University at the time and he was equally anxious to try out this unusual adventure. Sonny was a cool cat and now that you mention it I don’t think I have ever seen him with his sun glasses off… hmmm. Did you ever see Not of This Earth??
Being a dungeon setting I thought about what I could do to spice the set up a bit. The music and horror made me think it would be cool to have a dead Elvis as a smartass side kick hanging on the wall to give the good doctor grief. I had a number of zombie bodies lying around in my basement from the Curse of the Blue Lights film, so I picked one out and made him up as Elvis. I incorporated a glove in the back of his mouth so it could be manipulated from a hole in the wall. I tried to find someone that would be committed to doing the voice of Skelvis and someone else to stand on a ladder behind the wall to manipulate the arms, but more often than not we were ready to film with no one to help. This is why in many of the episodes you see Skelvis with his mouth taped shut “so he couldn’t taunt us”
Skelvis is living the life, or is it death, down in my basement and pondering a comeback tour. I just don’t think he has the guts to actually pull it off though…
So you’re saying that Sonny might have egg-white eyes… interesting! And Skelvis doesn’t have the guts… wait… I see what you did there! Are you a musician in “real life” and do you still perform? Any chance on there being an AotKB’s album one day?
I am a middle-of-the-road, wanna-be rock-star musician. I currently play in a 3 piece band called Playing With Fire. Interestingly, we all got together when we played in a band with Sonny. Geniuses’ get tired with things and so Sonny bowed out and we continued on our own. Sonny and I had often discussed if we should try to do a return of Dr. Reek, but honestly I think it was lightning in a bottle… the time was just right and we were up to the challenge.
Well, I ain’t gonna lie… I’m just gonna pretend that one day there’ll be a reunion and I’ll be ready with the New York Super Fudge Chunk and a can of Pringles. How many episodes did AotKB’s have? How long did you plan on running the show?
We really had no idea how it would go over with people and didn’t have much in the way of feedback if people were even watching…. We ended up filming for one year (basically one show for each movie in the Attack of the Killer B’s package he purchased). They had the right to show it for 2 years, so the second year was re-runs.
The first (few? I can’t recall how many) episodes were in black and white. At some point they became color. Why did you decide to change it to a color program? Did that create any headaches?
We really didn’t know what we wanted it to look like at first. We went with black and white since the movies were black and white. Then we got a knob that I could use to change us to color. Eventually we just liked the color better and stayed with that. I also want to mention our cameraman, Ron Weekes. Ron was a full time employee at the station and really added a lot to the look of the show. I wanted the cameras locked down on dollies because they had all this cool equipment and I thought that would be better, but Ron chose to grab the camera and move about free style. This really added a lot to the look of the show and really added to its zaniness!
I remember that camera work! Y’all were decades ahead of today’s “queasy cam” stuff!
Any chance that there is some archival footage of the show? I’ve got two healthy children… they may be small, but they’re strong! I could maybe trade one for a DVD box set? Both for the BluRay?
Sadly, I only had some crappy VHS copies but all of the surviving songs are out on YouTube. I had the full broadcasts transferred to DVD, but they’re really bad copies… Arrghh!!!
I did experiments with children on TV. I could get away with it because it was “educational”, now they frown on it.
I totally understand… I probably would’ve chickened out on the the deal and offered up my autographed copy of Damnation Alley in lieu of my kinder anyway…
You wrote a movie, “Curse of the Blue Lights”. Would you mind talking about that? Any other horror projects in the works? Any plans on an AotKB’s revival someday?
Curse of the Blue Lights was another adventure where we were too stupid to know we shouldn’t be doing this. This was pre-Dr. Reek. I dropped out of the University to help a guy raise money to make a low budget mystery/horror movie. In the meantime we ended up making a documentary on Zebulon Pike called Zebulon Pike and the Blue Mountain. Pretty cool little film narrated by Burgess Meredith!
We did not raise the $1 million we needed, but we did raise about $175,000. Instead of giving up, I convinced them that we should make a low budget horror movie with lots of makeup effects. I had been doing a lot of foam latex monster make up and knew I could pull enough off enough to have good effects. Very long story short, we made the movie and got it distributed worldwide! We made the money back, but it was too slow for investors to reinvest in something more. Hollywood low-balled us and really didn’t give a $h!t if we made another movie or not. I worked on a few more locally produced films like ROBO C.H.I.C. (Assistant Director) and Elves where I got to work with up-and-coming effects guru, Vincent Guastini.
I am always conspiring something … right now I’m spending time with my band. There is nothing better that playing on stage and everything just blends.
Holy crap, I had no idea you had been involved in so many projects! Did you ever think that a fan of your public access show would contact you 25 years later? Is this kind of a cool thing or does is make you freak out just a little bit?
That someone remembers our work from so far back is one of the most awesome and humbling things that has happened. When we made these, we really never knew if anyone watched, let alone liked what we did. We did what we did because we had to have a creative outlet. I was going to school for engineering and then going to the set to be a horror host… How cool was that!?
I wish I had taken the time to document what we did, but we were so wrapped up in trying to pull off something funny for nothing that we just didn’t even think about preservation. I had someone from Blood Central just contact me about Curse of the Blue Lights, so it is strange that I would also be asked about Killer B’s in the same month.
Things I did 25–30 years ago and people remember them fondly… It makes me very proud and should be a lesson for anyone that you should go for the impossible… you want to make a movie? You want to be a horror host? You want to be a rock star? What the hell are you waiting for?!
I am so happy you enjoyed our show and took the time to seek out Dr. Reek!
I can dig it. One last question… You’re in a desert, walking along in the sand when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It’s crawling toward you… You reach down and flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lies on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over. But it can’t. Not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that?
Because I know this tortoise… he has stalked me since childhood. The first time I remember seeing him I was in my crib, unable to utter anything intelligible, I lay in a filthy diaper. While just outside of my peripheral vision sat the tortoise smirking, planting frightening tortoise visions in my weak mind. I still remember his taunts as I stood in front of my first grade class unable to solve the equation the instructor had written on the board… and all the while the tortoise, probing, planting false variables and erroneous theorems. And good god… how can I ever forget our wedding night… my beloved lying disheveled in our bridal bed, the foul stench of tortoise rising from her ivory skin.
I feel him even now in my mind… I feel the shell growing on my back… I lay down next to …it.
My legs flounder in the air as the desert sun bakes down upon my naked flesh…
And there you have it my friends, quite possibly the coolest interview I will have ever do. This really was a trip down memory lane. I feel like I want to relate to how Bryan felt when he met Forry. This really was an exciting experience for me. I swear I can smell the Cheezums and taste the ice cream. A megaton of thanks to Mr. Sisson for allowing me to pick his brain (with anesthetic of course) and discover the magic behind Attack of the Killer B’s!