John Carl Buechler is one of the film industry's most prolific creators of monsters, strange creatures and decayed human parts.
Buechler, who owns Mechanical & Makeup Imageries in North Hollywood, is also one of a small but growing number of makeup and special-effects wizards now directing their own films.
His first movie, "Troll," for Empire Pictures, was released last year to mixed reviews. Shot on a modest budget, the film has been generating brisk video revenues.
Now Buechler has finished his second feature, "Cellar Dweller," about a comic-book creature that comes to life.
"Making a film," Buechler said, "is just another special effect. The first film makers--people like George Melies and Willis O'Brian--were special-effects people to begin with."
Buechler joins Stan Winston, an Oscar winner for his effects work on "Aliens," and monster makeup legend Tom Savini in the director's chair.
"Not that many years ago, any makeup artist silly enough to have made a bid to direct would have been laughed out of the studio," said Frederick Clarke, publisher and editor of Cinefantastique, the Chicago-based magazine about science-fiction, fantasy and horror film making. "But that was before makeup and special effects became such an integral part of movie production.
"I can understand the lure directing must have for makeup and special-effects artists. These are people with a vision," Clarke said. "And those who want to ensure the integrity of their vision are going to want to control the movie-making process."
When not wearing his director's hat, Buechler characterizes himself as a kinetic sculptor. He has worked on more than 60 productions, among them "Re-Animator," "From Beyond," "Android," "Trancers" and "Garbage Pail Kids."
He has also done effects work on rock videos featuring Sheena Easton and Ronnie James Dio, and contributed to the design of John Fogerty's album cover "Eye of the Zombie."
Buechler came to Los Angeles in 1977, shortly after the release of "Star Wars," which is seen as a milestone in special effects. By that time, he had had a few years of film-related experience in St. Louis and the southern Illinois area and possessed a firm conviction that monsters were the coming thing.
Within two weeks of arriving, Buechler landed a job on a CBS movie of the week called "The Darker Side of Terror."
He said he learned an important lesson early. The studios wanted quality work, but it had to come in on time and on budget. Buechler demonstrated a knack for working quickly and cheaply.
22 Monsters in 22 Days
While working on "Jason and the Star Command," a children's science-fiction television series that ran a few years ago, he was called upon to produce 22 ambulatory monsters in as many days.
"The entertainment industry is, at best, the unsuccessful marriage of business and art," Buechler said. "If you can satisfy both at the same time, you're doing well."
His deftness at producing monsters impressed Roger Corman, for whom he worked on a number of films. It also led to a long-standing association with Charles Band, the head of Empire Pictures and producer of what many consider Hollywood's best low-budget science-fiction and horror films.
"John had already directed the effects sequences for several of our films, and it became apparent he'd be a good director," said Band.
Buechler met Band when he was thinking seriously of hanging up effects work completely and focusing on directing, but first Band had a project in mind that Buechler couldn't turn down.
It was a film that would feature 3-D and "scratch and sniff," a technique in which the audience is provided with cards they scratch to release odors that coincide with, say, a rose bush shown on screen. Band also wanted "some little creatures," Buechler said. He was willing to let the special effects man direct a picture in the future if Buechler would produce them.
Band eventually dropped the 3-D and "scratch and sniff," but he kept Buechler's creatures and the film "Ghoulies" helped Empire's reputation and opened the doors for Buechler to direct.
Buechler has a schedule that would test the stamina of any three workaholics, with his workday beginning at 5 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m. His firm, which employs between 12 and 20 artists, is presently producing effects for four Empire films: "Ghost Town," "Arena," "Subterraneans" and "Catacombs."
In addition, Buechler is developing a number of his own films, completing post-production on a film called "Prison" and writing a script.
His company is an eight-minute drive from his home in Sherman Oaks, which he shares with his wife, Lynn, an X-ray technician, and their cocker spaniel.
What scares a man whose job it is to create nightmarish images? The same thing that scares many actors--finding his best work on the cutting-room floor.
It first happened to him in a film called "Love Letters," which starred Jamie Lee Curtis. He says a nightmare sequence he produced was cut because it was deemed too horrifying.