Don’t run screaming when you find out there are a ton of characters to keep straight in ZomBikers aka Vamp Bikers Tres– it’s true: witches, bikers, zombies, vampires, and club kids are all on the scene. “It’s like The Warriors,” explained Michael Alig, who’s starring as King of the Zombies, aka God, in the third and final installment of Brooklyn filmmaker Eric Rivas’ Vamp Bikers Trilogy.
While Rivas’ low-budget horror franchise doesn’t exactly top the 70’s cult classic, which challenged viewers to keep track of 21 different gangs, his trilogy does ring some familiar bells. For one, Rivas has been shooting in Coney Island, home to The Warriors eponymous leather vest gang, and he’s cast the actor Dorsey Wright (who played Cleon) as Priest Elias, a character who is murdered “at the hands of bad vampires.”
But for all its supernatural qualities, the Vamp Bikers Trilogy might just be realer than The Warriors. “I got authentic, real outlaw bikers for the film,” Rivas explained. “They’re called The Forbidden Ones and their clubhouse is in Williamsburg.” And now Rivas can add real-life Club Kids, including Michael Alig, to his list of “authentic” cast members.
As a DIY filmmaker, producer, director, you name it, Rivas has proven himself to be very resourceful, which sort of comes with the territory in zero- budget filmmaking. “We got big ambitions and a low budget,” the filmmaker explained. “I do tailor the film to the people that I’m working with, but I’m also like, let’s not just rely on, ‘I’m a Club Kid,’ or ‘I’m a biker.'”
The director was first introduced to Michael Alig via Rachael Cain, the founder of Trax Records. “So I meet her and turns out she’s an acting bug,” Rivas recalled. So he cast her as Screamin’ Rachael, the sassy leader of the witches coven. “I cast people based on passion– if somebody wants to do something, I’ll give them the chance,” he explained. “I’m not just gonna go Backstage, you know.”
Cain was on set at Coney Island when I arrived on Sunday. Tucked down a back alley that cuts through Luna Park, the cast was surrounded by a picturesque scene: seagulls circled overhead shuttered carnival booths and halted amusement rides. As I approached, half-empty pizza boxes and weary eyes punctuated by spooky makeup came into view. Rivas was darting around in a floor-length black hoodie, swathed in a variety of straps and zippers. He looked more like a magician than a director. They’d been shooting since early morning and the sun was already setting on the freakishly warm day.
I asked Cain to remind me of her character’s name. “I’m still Screamin’ Rachael, right? Is that what you’re calling me?” she hollered at Rivas. When it was her turn to shoot the scene, Cain, maybe the most compact of the bunch, stood front and center in a semi-circle of her fellow witches. She was decked out in a revealing, skin-tight outfit, busting out of her top, and hissing into the camera like she meant it. “Show us your scowls,” someone advised. The girls narrowed their eyes. Cain began hurling insults at a disembodied Michael Alig. “God?! There is no God!” she scoffed.
I spoke with Rachael about Michael, just after her scene wrapped. “I finally get to beat him up,” she laughed– in Vamp Bikers Tres, the witches and bikers (once sworn enemies) team up to kill off the zombies. “I’ve known him for years. He’s back to the old Michael, the Michael before he was all fucked up on drugs.”
When Alig was fresh out of prison, Rachael introduced him to Rivas, in hopes that the director would cast him in one of his films. “When I met him at the bar, I was like, ‘Maybe she’s pushing him to do this or something,” Rivas recalled. “But it turned out that the guy wanted to act, I couldn’t believe it! He actually cared, he asked like, ‘Oh what should I wear?’”
Rivas ended up casting Alig in Vamp Bikers Dos. “Because I don’t have to worry about constraints, his character is supposed to be almost as animated as [his] imagination and he sort of embodies that naturally,” Rivas explained. “He’s very open and artistic and I think it allowed me to show off a crazy side and make it fun.” Michael was into the film too, it seemed. “He’s very Troma,” Alig said of the director. “I don’t like [B-horror movies] when they’re too schlocky– it has to have a good story line.”
Though both parties were clear that this isn’t “a paying gig,” exactly, they both seem to relish in the opportunity to work with one another. “I like the fact that [Eric] can take an idea, like he did with this idea, and like three weeks later came and said, ‘Here’s the script, let’s do it.’ We only talked about it briefly over pizza,” Michael recalled. “He has $10,000 and everybody does it for free and then he has a great movie at the end. It’s unbelievable to make a movie for $10,000 and all that money goes to food and cabs and stuff like that.”
Trusting in the great idea of “Club Kid zombies,” Rivas gave Michael some creative control with the role. “I told him, ‘You’re Michael Alig, people will always like you, and they’ll be interested to see you on film,'” the director recalled. “He’s great for the part, he likes to be out in front of the party, so I think this is good for him.”
“Eric’s very receptive, he likes the collaboration,” Michael said. “I’m about a week from asking him to make my movie, it’s called The Davidson Experiment– it’s really creepy, a Paranormal Activity-type, homemade film so it’s gonna be cheap.”
Rivas is also learning from the experience. “I’m just now finding out about these Club Kids– DJ Keoki is going to be in the film as well, and so is Ernie Glam, and Annarchy. There’s Grand Wizzard Theodore — he invented the scratch — he’s supposed to be DJ’ing and get bit by a vampire,” Rivas explained over the phone. “To me, [the Club Kids] are like Chaplin, because they can be 20, 40, even 75 and put on the Chaplin makeup and it still works. I said, ‘When you guys put the makeup on, it doesn’t matter, it’s like we’re back to yesterday.'”
Back at the set, I sat down at a picnic table with Alig to ask him a few questions. First, I wondered how he had prepared for such a role. “Well,” he started, untangling the wig parts stuck to his face makeup. A script sat at the end of the table, fluttering in the wind.
“It doesn’t seem like you’ve prepared at all,” snapped Ernie Glam, Alig’s co-host on the The Pee-ew, answering for him. “Because you don’t know your lines, you have no idea what’s going on.”
“No,” Michael began to protest. “I mean, I kind of know what’s going on.”
“Did you even look at your lines before you came here today?” Ernie pressed.
“Oh! I did look at them, but it was so daunting,” Alig said.
“But you didn’t read them,” Ernie countered.
“It was daunting to see this rap thing I was supposed to do and I got so scared that I shut the computer every time,” Alig admitted. “But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. But I like the idea of Club Kid zombies, just the name, it excited me.”
Alig was all decked out in a curly red wig and clownish makeup for the part. His clothes appeared to be his own. During the shoot, he seemed completely comfortable in front of the camera and searched a couple of times for Rivas’ approval between takes. During his scene, everyone cracked up as Michael delivered his lines. The Club Kids had their own table, set a little ways back from the film set. “Can I take another five?” he asked Rivas.
Michael ran back over to the table, so that he and Ernie could speed through a quick episode for The Pee-ew, shot on a cracked iPhone. Their interviewee was Lillo Brancato (who you might recognize from A Bronx Tale or perhaps the The Sopranos), cast as the film’s “normal guy.” But in reality, Brancato’s a dude who’s also spent serious time in prison, in his case for burglary. “Did you ever do K?” Michael asked him gleefully as they discussed Lillo’s party days. Lillo responded that no, he hadn’t. “Ecstasy? Rohypnol?” Alig laughed, pointing to his own face. “See that bump on my nose? Table, a Rohypnol table.”
Of course, Alig’s no stranger to films, having been the subject of two documentaries (Glory Daze and Party Monster: the Shockumentary). But since his release from prison, Alig seems to be fully committed to being in front of the camera, even on his break time. Recently, he accepted a role as a “crazy telemarketer” in Scumbag, and participated in what he refers to as “Party Monster II,” a followup to the first documentary which is currently in post-production. Alig will also be tapping into his former life as a club promoter in Family Possessions, which is slated to shoot this spring.
I asked Alig if acting was his thing now. “I would like it to be,” he said. “It’s fun– I almost can’t believe people can make a living doing this.”
Rivas was straightforward about the film’s financial struggles, but he enjoyed telling me about the various “tricks” he had up his sleeve: for example, in order to shoot a bunch of scenes in one day, he ordered the crew to chill out and, “get a drink,” when the sun started to set. They were going to wait until it got dark to film the fight scene rather than call it quits. He informed the cast they could leave, if they wanted to. No one was stopping them. “OK bye!” a crew member called out jokingly. Everyone laughed.
“There’s no point in having the light change while we’re shooting, and we can’t wait till tomorrow,” Rivas reasoned, while sipping from a bottle of Corona. “Sometimes just getting pizza is hard. But it seems there are some people who would rather spend their time doing this than just going to a bar and drinking, and then someday they may be in a movie.”
Vamp Bikers Dos will screen at Anthology Film Archives on March 1, 8:45 pm.