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Luca Bercovici decided to follow in the footsteps of his father at a young age. Eric Bercovici had entered the industry in the early 1960s as a screenwriter and would win an Emmy Award in 1981 for his work on the mini-series Shogun.
By this point his son Luca was gaining minor work on the small screen, with roles in Chicago Story and the made-for-TV movie Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story, the latter starring Jamie Lee Curtis in one of her first post-slasher lead roles.
But his career would take an unexpected turn when he was cast alongside an unknown Demi Moore in a low budget monster flick called Parasite. The movie, shot in 3D during the brief early-’80s revival of the format, marked his introduction to the world of rising independent filmmaker Charles Band.
Much like Bercovici, Band was the son of a prolific filmmaker and had succeeded in surrounding himself with a group of loyal and talented filmmakers. Through his association with Band, Bercovici was offered his first directorial assignment, a creature feature called Ghoulies.
Luca Bercovici reminisces on his early days in the film industry.
Having first started out as an actor for the likes of Charles Band, how did you make the leap to directing?
Directing was the next natural step, being a writer and an actor. Even though I have had a fairly decent career as an actor, I never considered myself a pure actor, as some actors are. I was always writing, and began a secondary career as a writer, in addition to acting. So when Charlie Band agreed to make Ghoulies and asked who was going to direct, naturally I said, ‘Me.’
How did Ghoulies first come about? Was it an idea that you brought to Charles Band or did he request a creature feature from you?
My writing partner at the time, Jefery Levy, and I had an idea for a one-location horror movie. I suggested that we take it to Charlie, as I had recently worked as an actor for Charlie on Parasite. I contacted Charlie; pitched him the idea, and he bought it on the spot.
What was it like working with John Carl Buechler and Mechanical Make-up Imageries Inc and was it a strange experience watching their puppets come alive?
I loved working with John. John completely inhabits his creations; he lives through them, and they live through him, if that makes any sense. John can be at turns, scary and a little goofy – I mean that in the most loving way – and so are his creations. I didn’t actually see the creatures until about two weeks before shooting, and when I saw them, their, shall we say, comedic potential was quite obvious. I suddenly started coming up with a lot of gags for the creatures, because they were after all, more creepy and funny than scary. John at first looked at me, horrified, when I came up with these gags. Sacrilege! I could see him think. But, to his credit, he got into the spirit of things and came up with some great stuff.
Ghoulies is often considered a cash-in on the success of Gremlins, as was Critters. Was that movie an influence in any way and how did you feel about these comparisons?
The truth is, we were in production at the same time. We were curious about them, and they were curious about us. They were so curious about us, in fact, that Warner Bros. briefly sued to stop us from using the name – they lost. Part of the reason that Gremlins came out first, is that Charlie Band ran out of money halfway through shooting, so a few months went by as we all scrambled for the money, allowing Gremlins to open first. Strategically, I think Charlie positioned the release that way, as well.
How do you feel about the direction that the series progressed, as each sequel moved further away from the tone of the original?
To be perfectly honest, I have never watched any of the sequels. I really don’t have any desire to.
It would take you another five years before you directed your next feature, 1990’s horror comedy Rockula. How come you left it so long before making another movie and were you disappointed that it failed to have the same kind of impact as your first film?
Rockula started out as a sexy horror thriller. The original script was Romeo and Juliet, if Romeo were a vampire, set against the underground L.A. music scene. Very hip. Very cutting edge – years before Anne Rice and Vampire Lestat. However, it was titled, Rockula – which is a comedy title. The title and the material fought each other, and the title won. When Cannon green-lit the project, Menahem Golan said to me, ‘You’re in pre-production. Make it a comedy!’ So we did.
I am very proud of the crazy hybrid melange we came up with. For it’s time, it was cutting edge, in a goofy, pop sort of way.
The problem was that, just as we were finishing the movie, Cannon fell apart and was bought by Pathe. Literally overnight, we were yesterday’s news. The people who supported the movie were suddenly gone, and we were buried.
What kind of movies were an influence on The Granny? Was this a film you were pleased with and how come it sank without a trace?
I’ve been a big fan of early Dante, The Howling. Do you remember, ‘Let me give you a piece of my mind?’ Brilliant! And of course Sam Raimi. The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. Brilliant stuff. So I’d like to think that some of those influence are in there in the good parts. The Granny has some great parts in it and some not-so-great parts. Overall, I think it’s an ok film.
Again, this was a case a making the wrong movie for the wrong company. We made this movie for a tiny division of Warner Bros. called WarnerVision. I think they did music videos generally, and played with branching out into film. They didn’t get it. At all. I made another movie for them, The Chain, which was a action-drama. That one they understood better.
Horror folk are a particular breed. Not everyone gets it.
The story seemed to mock greed by showing a family who are willing to kill to gain an inheritance. Were you trying to make any kind of statement with this theme or was it simply a way to have the monster resurrected?
I wanted to make the message as arch as the rest of the film. Big! This was not going to be a subtle film. Was I making a statement? Perhaps, but not exactly the one you’d expect.
As well as horror you have also directed science fiction, the 1997 feature Convict 762. How well do you feel this movie worked and was well was it received by sci-fi fans?
Convict 762 was simply ridiculous, even by my standards. We shot it in eighteen days in a warehouse. There were days (one actually) when I showed up and the set hadn’t even been built. I couldn’t even block the scenes without the DP, Steve Wacks, cracking up, saying, ‘They’re going to do WHAT?!!’
It has rightly been excoriated by the sci-fi community, and I apologise. I tried to make it as interesting visually as I could, but you know what they say about polishing a pig, or putting lipstick on a turd, or something like that.
Having not directed a movie for several years, do you have any plans to step back behind the camera? Have you ever considered making a sequel to one of your own films?
A sequel/prequel/remake of Ghoulies. That could be brilliant.
Yeah. I’ll get behind the camera again, on the right project, when it feels right. Right now, I’m having too much fun doing other stuff! Peace!