A little over a decade ago, Len Kabasinski was at a horror movie convention when he and a friend spotted the late actor Bob Z’Dar, a staple of cult horror films such as “Maniac Cop,” and Chris Watson, who was at the time working on “Zombiegeddon,” his first directorial feature for Troma, at a table and went to meet them. The evening was coming to an end, but the conversation was not and when Z’Dar asked what Kabasinski might be doing later, and he suggested retreating to the bar, Z’Dar had a better idea.
“‘Hey, Chris needs extras for his zombie film tonight. You wanna go?’” Kabasinski recalls, finding himself slathered in zombie makeup a few hours later and driving around Cleveland to get to the college radio station to make his brief albeit memorable on-screen debut.
The experience stuck with Kabasinski and less than a year later, the Tae Kwon Do Black Belt was making his own ultra low-budget feature, following the example of Watson by luring names familiar to his likely audience such as UFC Hall of Famer Dan Severn, adult film legend Jasmin St. Claire and WWE/ECW wrestler Blue Meanie to his home in Erie, Pennsylvania to make “Swamp Zombies.” Shot in 14 days on a Canon GL2 miniDV camcorder, it wasn’t much to look at, but still it was picked up by Brain Damage Films and became an underground hit that would lead Kabasinski to make nine more films in the years to follow, heavy on action, nudity and the type of titles such as “Fist of the Vampire” and “Bridal Party Massacre” that are apt to grab one’s attention. (Kabasinski already has a title for his potential biography, “Len’s Strange Trip Through the World of No Budgets, Big Boobs, Guns, and A Sh*t Ton of Fight Scenes.”)
Yet for his next movie, “Hellcat’s Revenge,” Kabasinski is hoping to up the stakes, currently raising funds on IndieGoGo to do justice to the idea hatched by his “Swamp Zombies” star St. Claire while shooting his last movie “Angel of Reckoning.” In search of a strong female heroine akin to Pam Grier and other badass chicks from the ‘70s, St. Claire suggested the story of Dylan, a female biker club member framed for a drug deal gone awry by a rival boys’ biker gang, leading Dylan on a quest for bloody revenge after being released from jail. With a hole in his schedule for the summer, Kabasinski quickly cranked out a script in three weeks and intends to start shooting at the end of July.
While Kabasinski is bringing back plenty of cast and crew from his previous movies, such as St. Claire in the lead and actresses Deborah Dutch, Donna Hamblin and former Playboy playmate Lisa Neeld, he insists that his experience of “Angel of Reckoning” changed him as a director, with an associate producer (Ruth Sprague) allowing him to take off a few of the 30 different hats he used to wear on any given past production and culling the local theater scene for actors with considerable stage experience. The result has allowed for more sophisticated filmmaking and naturally bigger ambitions after realizing what can be achieved.
“Those who love ‘Curse of the Wolf’ Len or ‘Swamp Zombies’ Len, those days are long over,” says Kabasinski. “‘Angel of Reckoning’ pretty much buried those days.”
Kabasinski adds that his cast and crew’s ongoing belief in him has boosted his confidence, so much so that he’d “run through the wall and do whatever it takes for them,” though thankfully the destruction will likely be limited to the trail of bodies Dylan leaves in her wake in “Hellcat’s Revenge.” If Kabasinski can muster a bigger budget, he and editor/post-production coordinator Chris Young and special FX artist “Monster” Mark Kosobucki intend to make each punch thrown hit a bit harder and each action sequence more spectacular than what they’ve done before. Should “Hellcats Revenge” meet its fundraising goals, the film will wrap in September and likely be ready for audiences in the spring of 2017. Then the only question will be if audiences are ready for it, which with a little help from the crowd, we can find out.