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The Orson Welles of Midnight Movies presents Mutant Swinger from Mars [2009]

Mutant Swinger from Mars is a “found footage” masterpiece from the 1950s directed by Orton Z. Creswell. For anyone who enjoys sci-fi B-movies this spoof from the mind of independent filmmaker Michael Kallio is on point and highly entertaining. Borrowing liberally from Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) as well as Orson Welles’ famous broadcast of War of the Worlds (1958), this is a perfect movie to lose yourself in during this time of quarantine and self-isolation.

There are so many popular culture references packed into this flick that it makes your head swim. Not only does Kallio pay homage to the above-mentioned filmmakers but he manages to throw in a little Three Stooges, Frankenstein, and even Jerry Lewis into the mix. The basic premise is an alien invasion of Earth. Sounds pretty straightforward but wait, there’s more. These extraterrestrials are horny and on the lookout for mates to take back to their home planet of Mars. They enlist a mad scientist to create the ultimate “swinger” to use as bait to lure those lovely ladies into their spaceship and their beds!

Enter Fez Fleckman as the hep cat, all around coolest babe magnet in town. His mission is to entice those honeys into the clutches of the Martians. He succeeds in getting the attention of all the luscious lasses but will he be thwarted by nice guy, Rusty Rave? After Fleckman sets his sights on Rave’s gal Mitzy, all bets are off as the young hero fights to keep her from running off with the dashing newcomer.

What makes Mutant Swinger from Mars different from all of the other parodies out there like Earth Girls are Easy (1988) and Mars Attacks (1996)? Well, they don’t have Orton Z. Creswell at the helm. This character played with panache by Pete LaDuke is a combination of Orson Welles and the Amazing Criswell. Part auteur and psychic, Creswell is the master of this cinematic chaos, the Citizen Kane of Schlock.

I had the chance to sit down with Michael Kallio and talk about this future midnight movie classic and the rather long journey from its humble beginnings in Detroit to its recent release on Vimeo. For all of those budding, young filmmakers out there that dream of getting their projects off the ground, the making of Mutant Swinger from Mars is an inspirational story where slow and steady definitely wins the race.

In the Beginning…

Diabolique: Hi, Michael. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Mutant Swinger from Mars was one of the most inventive parody films that we’ve seen in a while with some laugh out loud hi-jinx. Anyone who loves horror/sci-fi and B movies will definitely enjoy your film. There are so many pop cult references in this production, with the most obvious one being Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space. What was your inspiration? Where did this idea come from?

Michael Kallio: That’s a good question actually. Originally, the genesis of the idea behind Mutant Swinger from Mars came from hanging out at a health food store in Birmingham, Michigan. My buddy, Pete LaDuke was working there at the time. We were both fans of that 50’s sci-fi schlock as well as being fans of Jerry Lewis and the Universal Monsters.

Originally, we were going to do an unlicensed, unofficial sequel to the 1953 classic, Robot Monster. We were literally writing Robot Monster 2000. We didn’t get permission, we just liked to talk about it a lot. In one of our many conversations standing in the vitamin aisle, we decided to do some sort of 50s sci-fi thing.

Diabolique: So, you have the idea, tell us about how you got it made.

MK: I had run into a few people who I had talked to about investing in my first film (which was horror), Hatred of a Minute, but it wasn’t their cup of tea. However, they said, if you come up with something different, we would be interested in potentially investing in that. It’s just that a horror movie isn’t our thing. One of them was my grandmother.

She saw bits and pieces of Hatred of a Minute and she was like, “No, not for me.” I pitched Mutant to her by saying it was a cross between Young Frankenstein and The Nutty Professor. She thought that was sort of funny so she gave us about $8,000.

Then another family member matched it. I had called a friend of mine, Linda Rosenfeld and asked her if she wanted to be a producer. I also asked her if she could raise money fast. She said, “I don’t know.” So, she called her grandmother and some family friends and she raised a couple grand within hours. We pulled the trigger because micro-budget movies were popular at the time like El Mariachi and others of the ilk. We capped our budget at $25,000.

I had already talked to my buddy, Rolfe Bergsman who was also a producer. He owned the prop shop/miniature shop that we used for our sets. There was all of this sci-fi stuff and this miniature stuff. I asked him, “Where did this come from?” Apparently, the guy that owned the company before him, I believe his name was Jake Jacobson, had done all of the visual effects for Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders. I kept the inventory in my head and I wrote the script on what we had available. It was all very serendipitous, how everything fell into place. Money and the cast came together very quickly.

The Journey to the Screen

Diabolique: Mutant Swinger made it to Vimeo this year. The journey to get this film released was a monumental undertaking.

MK: I wanted to have Mutant done in three months. It didn’t happen that way. We shot the movie in ’97. We shot 5 days in ‘97, broke for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. We came back in January of 98 and shot 4 more days. We cut the movie. It took a couple of years to get the sound mix done.

In ’98, I tried to sell it. I had sent out a bunch of inquiry letters to acquisitions companies all down the board, distribution/studio stuff to Roger Corman, and never got anyone really interested except one company that didn’t want to give us an advance. At that time, advances were sort of important. We declined and sat on the movie.

I tweaked it a bit and took it around to festivals and we won a lot of awards. The official release date, technically was 2009 at San Diego Comicon. We got accepted into the film festival there.

We were still looking for distribution and no one was interested. Part of the reason was I shot the film in black and white. Aesthetically, it probably hurt us. Although with the 2K restoration, it looks beautiful. We are releasing the restoration with FilmFestDistribution. Now, we have more streaming platforms coming later this year along with a DVD special edition and Ultra Pack Blu-ray at some point.

Hey, This Reminds Us Of…

Diabolique: We couldn’t help but notice a few things while viewing Mutant Swinger. The dialogue sounded like Sam Raimi or the Coen Brothers wrote it. For whatever reason, we got a distinct Crimewave vibe especially with the dancing at the end and the Velvet nightclub scenes. Plus, there were some Stooges homages mixed in with little references like Shempco Productions and Orton Creswell dropping Shemp Howard’s name. How much of an influence, if any does the world of Raimi and company have on your work?

MK: I was terrified to watch Evil Dead at first. I wasn’t a fan of horror but when I viewed the film at a birthday party, I saw the Three Stooges influences right away which is probably why I immediately became desensitized to horror. So, I started consuming everything in the genre after that.

Of course, I am a huge fan of Sam and the Coens. I love The Hudsucker Proxy, I love old movies with that very fast, snappy dialogue. Crimewave is a great film in my eyes because of that old timey influence. I wanted to make Mutant Swinger something that everyone could watch and enjoy.  

Diabolique: Were you influenced by John Waters at all? We also picked up a few moments that were reminiscent of his films in Mutant Swinger.

MK: Yes, absolutely more on an aesthetic level of filmmaking as far as make your movie no matter what. My budgets seem to get lower and lower to the point where I am making proof of concepts and shorts with literally no money or next to no money for years.

I was late to the game with Waters. I didn’t see his early indie films until after Serial Mom, Hairspray and Cry-Baby, which I love.

Diabolique: Pete LaDuke was a dead ringer for a young Orson Welles. Even his character’s name, Orton Z. Creswell is reminiscent of the late actor/director. Do you find any parallels with Welles as an artist? Because his spirit looms large over this production.

MK: I am a huge Orson Welles fan. As a matter of fact, I think his best movie isn’t Citizen Kane, it’s Touch of Evil. That is one of my favorite films of all time, simply because it is so taboo. Part of the reason why Mutant Swinger came out in 1958, is because that’s when Touch of Evil came out. So, there are even a few references to that production in my silly little movie.

Look, if you are a filmmaker and you’re not influenced by Orson Welles, you should probably watch more of his stuff. He was a master and he was also one of those people that he could walk away from a movie and be done with it. A lot of filmmakers nowadays, they can’t like George Lucas. Hey, I’m guilty of it too. I’ve been “George Lucasing” this movie as much as I could to make it the best movie it could possibly be, the funniest movie it could possibly be, the tightest movie it could possibly be up to this point. And now, I have walked away from it. I can finally say it’s done. Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple moments here and there since the Vimeo release where I think, “You know what I could do here…” and my wife shuts me up.

Diabolique: There were quite a few old school FX in the film especially using models of houses, the spaceship, etc, but it lent to the authentic feel of this being one of those sci-fi B movies that a horror host like The Ghoul might have played back in the day. Did you oversee any of the builds?

MK: The mad scientist lab was built from scratch by my buddy, John Broadley. I helped a little but I was busy with other things. John built the sets with Rolfe. We had four sets in the round. We had the mad scientist lab, the forest backdrop, the do-all set (house interiors, offices) and then the fourth set which was the interior of the spaceship which was literally built the day we started to shoot it.

In the morning at Rolfe’s studio, his other employees were working on a Lincoln-Mercury commercial. We took the backdrop to that and then the porthole was from Flesh Gordon 2, and then Rolfe had the entire interior of a 747 in pieces so we threw silver lamé over the airplane seats. The weird phallic like thing that was used to control the ship was created by Matt Cantu. The top of it is literally an old covering of a streetlight that he put on some weird puller.

Everything was very do-it-yourself, whatever was available. It worked great. All the spaceships and things we reconstructed were from Flesh Gordon 2 we just desexualized them.

There’s No Place Like Home

Diabolique: We know that you filmed Mutant in Michigan. Do you prefer shooting in your home state as opposed to California?

MK: Mutant Swinger from Mars was probably one of the best filmmaking experiences I have ever had if not the best. I had already established working relationships and friendships with the people that worked on Mutant when I shot Hatred of a Minute. So, it was just like continuing to have fun.

I love shooting in Michigan. I wish I could do it more often. I wish people would throw money at me so I could do so. But its definitely different. Michigan is a laidback environment but everyone is hardworking. Everyone on my set I knew on a first name basis because we hung out.

The Future Is Now

Diabolique: Once the COVID-19 edict is lifted and things sort of return to a new normal, do you have any plans to take your film on the road to festivals again?

MK: Yes, we do have plans for that. My distributors and I have talked about doing a limited theatrical run where we pull off a few theaters and go around with it or try and get it into some kind of program for film. I think it could definitely be the next “Midnight Movie,” which was always a dream of mine.

Diabolique: We know that you have several projects in the pipeline like your Gunnar Hansen documentary, Dinner with Leatherface. What else is on your horizon?

MK: I am trying to get the Radioactive Chicken Heads Documentary wrapped up so when the virus goes away, I can do my last few interviews and put that to bed. It’s about a local Orange County band that is like GWAR for children. Plus, I am working with the band on a feature film which will be like The Muppets meet Spinal Tap.

Also, I am doing voiceover work for Full Moon. I did a bunch of character voices for their Corona Zombies movie that just came out.

Stay tuned for more news on Michael Kallio’s Mutant Swinger from Mars 2K Restoration release when information becomes available.

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About Susan Leighton

Susan Leighton has written for many entertainment sites including 1428 Elm, VHS Revival, Cult Faction, The Queen of Style, TV Series Hub, Heroic Hollywood, That's My E and Crash Palace. She is known for her interviews with genre icons, Bruce Campbell, Joe Lansdale, Joe Bob Briggs, Dee Wallace, Michael Ironside, Jeffrey Combs, Josh Becker, Danny Hicks, Brent Jennings and Alice Krige. As well as prominent paranormal experts, Christopher Garetano, Chuck Zuckowski, Paul Bradford, Daryl Marston and Kristen Luman. She has also hosted two podcasts, Nerdrotic & Pop Culture Minefield. Her short stories are featured on the Get Scared Podcast on all platforms. Currently, she is writing a paranormal TV series and a feature film script with the hope of eventually obtaining "hyphenate" status, lol. Look for her collection of essays to be included in Lee Gambin's upcoming compilation on great sitcoms of the70's and 80's, "Tonight, on a Very Special Episode."

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