By Lindsay Toler
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A pillowcase adorned with cutesy cartoon animals is put over little John's head. The one-eyed hood is an important part of the Boy's costume. The Specht family, Belt, director Wallace and Stanze, who's working the camera, huddle together in the cinderblock shed in 90-degree heat. Katrina, who's been killed in numerous ways in Stanze films, coaxes her son to have a good time.
Wallace calls, "Action." Belt, in Western shirt and cowboy hat, paces back and forth in front of the boy, who cowers in a muddy corner of the floor, clutching a doll.
"What the hell you doing playing with that doll?" Belt barks. "I should have never let your mother give you that doll. I didn't raise you to be a pussy. I raised you to kill people. What the hell are you, retarded?"
And so on, take after take, as Stanze tries a variety of camera angles. With each take, little John loosens up and plays the scene with greater agitation. With each take, the small crew sweats more.
"That's a wrap for John," Wallace says when the boy's shoot is over. Everyone standing around the shack applauds. Little John smiles happily before taking off for a shower.
By 3 p.m., after shooting another interior scene with the Boy fully grown into a 6-foot-4 killer, cast and crew are feasting inside the trailer on Mrs. Belt's homemade mostaccioli, green salad and three different desserts.
Next week they're shooting on one of the nearby rivers, and Stanze is teased about his fear of various water creatures: snakes, piranha, sharks. Stanze admits that after seeing Jaws, even though he lived in Jefferson County, he developed a fear of man-eaters.
The B-movie is alive and well and living on DVD. Sub Rosa Studios distributes movies with titles such as Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula, Attack of the 40-Foot Tall Incredibly Shrinking Woman and Hell Cats in High Heels. Fetish films are popular as well. There is such a movie as Face Sitter 3.
The synopses of Sub Rosa films can be more fun than the movies themselves, such as this teaser for Virtual Voodoo: "... a weird lightning storm rolls in and strikes the office, causing an odd power surge in Rebecca's computer. The computer seems OK, so she keeps working. She innocently enough imports a picture of herself and starts playing around with the size of her breast. To her amazement, her breast suddenly expands and bursts through her bra and through her shirt. Gradually she realizes that the program now has strange powers."
Stanze is one of Sub Rosa's stars. He appears in interviews on the b-movie.com Web site, and for the bottom-line-attentive president of Sub Rosa, Ron Bonk, Stanze delivers the product for the 15- to 35-year-old males who make up the underground-film demographic. A bestseller for Sub Rosa is in the range of 5,000 units.
"There's a lot of people making movies at a low-budget level, this ultra-low-budget level," says Bonk, contacted by phone in his Syracuse, New York office. "He's one of the few that have shown a talent for being able to actually direct a film. Anyone can pick up a camcorder and shoot. His skill in putting together a story line and making it interesting and shooting it well -- and he doesn't just shoot it well, he's an excellent director. "
Bonk recruited Stanze for the Sub Rosa Extreme division after watching Scrapbook. Bonk didn't hesitate at the chance to distribute a realistic depiction of a serial killer and his victim, he says, "a movie that's so disturbing that people say they have to turn it off or get depressed about it -- if it has that big an effect on a person, you can't turn down a movie like that.
"There's movies that come in that are just revolting, but they really don't have any talent behind them. This movie had both things going for it. I had to distribute that movie. I was honored."
With Sub Rosa Extreme, Bonk says, he was looking for "some more harder-core type horror. When I say harder-core, like a little more gruesome in terms of the gore and the storylines as opposed to the standard Friday the 13thmovie that Hollywood is churning out. Stuff maybe a little more reminiscent of European horror movies: Up the ante of the gore, up the ante in terms of the subject matter, the areas that they'll go into, that really pulls no punches."
Few filmmakers display the gore as vividly as Stanze. When a chainsaw or an ax sinks into a victim, Stanze never demurely pans away. You see the blood splatter and the meat fly.
Stanze has gained renown for his effects with blood and dismemberment. He was recently hired to produce special effects for a movie with a bigger budget than his own, Defiance, a Western filmed locally. Stanze complains that though he was requested to accentuate the blood-spurting head explosions, the Defiance filmmakers really weren't ready for his degree of excess. All day long he kept hearing, "A little less blood, please, Eric," -- something you'll never hear on a Stanze set.