@HellingsOnFilm checks out the Cannon Films doco…
Writer/Director: Mark Hartley
Remember those straight to video or failed cinema horrors such as Schizoid, X-Ray, House of the Long Shadows, New Year’s Evil, Deathouse, Hospital Massacre, Lifeforce, or Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2?
What about those other non horror titles that used to fill up the video shop shelves, such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Mata Hari, The Last American Virgin, Death Wish 2, Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja 3: The Domination (described as ‘The Exorcist” meets ‘a ninja movie’ meets Flashdance), Breakin’, Breakin’ 2, Bolero, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, and He-Man: Masters of the Universe?
What do they all have in common? They were made by Cannon Films, the brand name in low budget, fast sales film making throughout the 80s, run by Israeli businessmen with a love of cinema Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus, described in Mark Hartley’s excellent feature documentary by one fellow Cannon alumni neatly when he says: “What they didn’t have in taste, they made up for in enthusiasm”.
This often hilarious film includes interviews with Tobe Hooper, Franco Nero, Elliot Gould, Michael Dudikoff, Dolph Ludgren, Franco Zeffirelli. Molly Ringwald, Barbet Schroeder, Richard Chamberlain, and many of the key Cannon personnel who talk of their experiences with the company in which “99% of the budget went on the screen”; even if the budget was horribly low, resulting in some of the worst B-movies in the history of cinema. Cannon got films made in a town where 90% was talk. Too bad that 90%+ of the films Cannon made were terrible. Really terrible. B Movie would be a compliment, so such so that MGM cancelled their short lived deal with Cannon when they saw how bad the product was.
Some were hits, almost by accident: Chuck Norris in “Missing In Action”. So, Cannon decided they needed stars to make their product sell. Chuck Norris and an ageing Charles Bronson were Golan’s idea of star casting. A system that could bring its own problems, such as “American Ninja” in which Chuck Norris refused to be covered up in a ninja mask, so they got Michael Dudikoff to play the ninja instead.
Golan and Globus were “the best wheelers and dealers of the 80s”. They were great salesmen that could finance films at Cannes with just a poster. No script, no cast, just the made up poster. During film markets, with no scripts, “plots were made up on the spot” to attract buyers and investors. Lifeforce: Tobe Hooper’s misguided Ben Hur of Sci-Fi/Horror, now a cult classic, was four months behind schedule, but Golan and Globus loved the dailies. They felt they were moving to a new level, trying to release the biggest film of the year. It was only one of the disaster stories that emerge in this illuminating documentary, full of stories that open your eyes to how crazy the world of filmmaking can be.
Clyde the orangutan (from Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can) came to their office with his agent. Golan pitched the idea of the proposed project Going Bananas directly to Clyde. You literally cannot make this stuff up. Sadly Clyde was quickly replaced in the film as he allegedly bit the young boy lead and was replaced by a midget in an unconvincing monkey suit.
Cannon came up with “bad ideas on a regular basis”, a great example being Death Wish 3, described by one of the cast as “a total dog pile piece of shit”.
Golan and Globus resented being known as “Schlock meisters”, so tried to up their game. Franco Zeffirelli’s “Otello” was an example of how Cannon could attract directors by acting as supportive filmmakers themselves in an industry that didn’t care. An aged Zeffirelli calls them “the best producers I ever worked for”, and describes the film the best he ever made. John Cassavetes’ Love Streams was another effort at credibility, the director given free rein, as was Jean-Luc Godard with King Lear. But ‘serious’ films such as these as well as Barfly and Runaway Train weren’t taken seriously once the Cannon logo appeared before the titles, such was their reputation for low budget, fast production films.
Through raising $300m with a junk bond salesman, Cannon found themselves being able to make up to 52 films a year in an era in which the studios could only manage six or seven. They bought Thorn EMI, Elstree Studios, the Pathe film library, ABC Cinemas, owning 40% of the British cinema market, as well as cinemas overseas including all of the cinemas in Holland. They wanted to pay money to get stars (“They were star fuckers”). Golan wanted the “Stone” woman to star with Richard Chamberlain in “King Solomon’s Mines”, so the unknown Sharon Stone was cast. Seeing the dailies, Golan was horrified. He’d actually wanted the “Romancing the Stone” woman Kathleen Turner. Stone, it is said, was hated by everybody on the set. but still appeared in the sequel.
Cannon wanted to be a studio, so bought a large office block in LA, with Uzi carrying armed guards at the front desk due to death threats.
On Delta Force, Golan directed as the real life TWA hostage crisis was taking place. Robert Forster notes Golan’s work ethic in 100 degree temperatures in Israel, calling him “one of the best directors I worked with”. It was the beginning of the company’s over expansion, “too much, too fast”, the downfall of many a film company. Every Friday, they needed $5m to continue, with productions going on all round the world., but still they kept going with misguided projects.
Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars was hated by both Golan and Globus. They felt they’d been sold a vision that Hooper didn’t deliver on. But, they wanted a sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Hooper wanted to add the humour that was, in his mind, missing from the first one. Cannon saw the finished film, not realising it was intended as a comedy. Today it has a cult following, but financially it was another disaster for the company. After this, Cannon was investigated for their accounting practices. It was the beginning of the end.
To counter their problems, Golan signed Sylvester Stallone for somewhere between $12m-$25m to star in Over The Top, an unprecedented amount that changed the system, with other Hollywood actors demanding the same for their films. Golan thought it would be the next Rocky (Over The Top was about arm wrestling). It bombed. As did the last hope for the company’s survival: Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. Cast as Nuclear Man was an ex-Chippendales model. The writing was on the wall. $90m in debt, Cannon cut the budget for the SFX heavy film from $30m to $17m ($8m less than Over The Top). It showed. A terrible script compounded the problems. Could the free falling company save itself with a film in which “they could smell the money”: He-Man: Masters of the Universe (budget $22m)? It also flopped.
Films were being made and either not completed or completed without the required SFX. Escalating financial problems finally split the Golan-Globus partnership. They began making competing films, the race to see who could release theirs first, cancelling each other out at the box office.
Amusingly, Golan and Globus were approached to appear in the documentary, declined, made their own and got it released three months before Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Menahem Golan passed away in2014.
For an insight into filmmaking in the 80s, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is a must see. The story of film cinema lovers with no quality control who tried to make Hollywood films is amusing, jaw dropping fun and one after which it’s near impossible not to love the two dreamers who made more films during their short lived time than most other companies or even the studios make in years.
David Paul Hellings
Image provided by author