Move over, Black Dynamite: There’s a new exploitation movie homage in town. Co-starring genre vets like Danny Trejo (Grindhouse; The Devil’s Rejects) and Mark Metcalf (National Lampoon’s Animal House; “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), Modus Operandi follows a vengeful C.I.A. agent (Randy Russell) who goes on a dangerous mission to find the man who murdered his wife. Featuring a rogue’s gallery of unsavory characters (with names like “Casey Thunderbird” and “Black Licorice”), Modus Operandi clearly does not take place in the real world, but in the surreal realm of 1970s exploitation cinema, where strange and outrageous things are bound to happen.
Just as the movie made its premiere at AFI Fest, MM spoke with co-writer-director Frankie Latina about his ode to off-the-wall B-movies of the past.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): How did the wild concept of Modus Operandi come about?
Frankie Latina (FL): I was 26, living in my Grandma Shirley’s spare bedroom and working part time at a local video store. I was watching as many films as possible, because I couldn’t afford film school. My first love has always been art house and exploitation films, so I decided to bring the two genres together. Shooting Modus Operandi on video to save money would have been an insult to the genres. I had absolutely no money, so I had to shoot on Super8 since it was the least expensive film stock. To start the screenwriting process, I photocopied all of my favorite Helmut Newton pictures and used them as storyboards. I then wrote notes and dialogue under each one. After I had a cohesive story and a framework on paper, I began a four-year struggle to make an epic “Artsploitation” film.
MM: Were there any specific movies that inspired the film?
FL: There were six films that I watched in the following order that gave birth to this film: Female Trouble (1974), directed by John Waters and starring Divine; Blue Velvet (1986), directed by David Lynch and starring Kyle MacLachlan; Coffy (1973), directed by Jack Hill and starring Pam Grier; Apocalypse Now (1979), directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Martin Sheen; Pulp Fiction (1994), directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson; Le samouraï (1967), directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and starring Alain Delon.
MM: Modus Operandi is the latest homage to outrageous 1970s exploitation flicks (following Grindhouse and Black Dynamite). What do you think accounts for the sudden popularity in replicating these crazy B-movies of the past?
FL: 1970s exploitation films had hack directors, bad actors, missing scenes and weak scripts—yet they still kicked the hinges off the door to Hollywood. They had style, bravado, beautiful women, imagination and the best thing of all: Nothing to lose. Some say blaxploitation films saved Hollywood, I say blaxploitation films saved cinema.
MM: Do you have any projects lined up next? If so, what are they?
FL: I am currently working on a few scripts in different stages of development: Bulletproof Mustache and the Trans AM Kid and Ayesha, Ayesha! Bulletproof Mustache and the Trans AM Kid is a homage to the unbelievable, over-the-top action movies and television shows of the early ’80s. I’m also shopping a couple of friends’ scripts around that I would shoot with the hopes of finding an executive producer, the first being Acid Killer Chicks, the new script from the mind of Mark Borchardt, and White Girl, written by Adrian Deleon from the Deleon Brothers. I would love to remake The 10th Victim, an Italian cult science-fiction film directed by Elio Petri in 1965; Wonder Women—aka The Deadly and the Beautiful—(1973), directed by Robert Vincent O’Neill; and Emanuelle in America (1977), directed by Joe D’Amato and starring Laura Gemser.