I’ll never forget the first time I heard Dick Dale’s voice. How could I? It was during a filmmaking conference in 2016, when guest panelist and Please Like Me screenwriter Liz Doran opened the floor to Q&A. Dick had a question for her: with an easy, confident charm, he wanted to know if she had any tips for filming a man f*ck a chicken. Answers were not forthcoming but, years later, Dale has persisted and the scene appears in the teaser for his first feature film, RIBSPREADER – a “splatter punk video nasty” the Adelaide-based filmmaker is hoping to fund through a Kickstarter campaign. I have to admit, I was proud of him.
Make no mistake, Dick Dale makes trash. Consider his short films, for example: they have titles such as Creamy Love, The Beast From Bomb Beach and Yowie. By his count, Dick has made fourteen short films over the past twenty years but my favourite is Pelican Boy, a hysterical re-imagining of Storm Boy that features Nazi pirates, eye-gouging, and a splash of toxic waste (all glaring omissions by the official 2019 remake). When they play to an audience, his shorts leave the crowd in fits of depraved laughter, and they’ve made him a beloved figure in his genre, aided by the success of Trasharama, an annual touring film festival he runs, showcasing like-minded shlock from around the world.
All of this has lead him to RIBSPREADER, a project he spent two solid years writing and plans to commence principal photography on in August and September. “I think it was just time for me to make a feature movie. It’s quite a long time ago that I started doing this,” he tells me, though he can’t exactly remember how he came up with the story. RIBSPREADER tells the tale of Bryan Burns, a disgraced tobacco kingpin whose glory days are behind him – but when an anti-smoking billboard comes to life and promises salvation if he murders smokers and fashions their lungs into a jacket, he’s up for the task… and to do that, he’ll have to spread a few ribs.
The film also features an ensemble of crazed juggalo clowns, hell-bent cops, and the chicken f*cker himself, Norbit the Necrophiliac. Earlier drafts of the script “had mutant cannibals […] living in the tunnels and all this sorta shit” but he’s “simplified it a lot” since. Thankfully, some of that “shit” remains: “I’ve got these sexy, adrenaline gland junkie vixens that go ‘round seducing people and – just when you think you’re gonna have a threesome with them or something – they will stab you with this special knife thing and rip out your adrenaline gland and they chew on that and have this cannibalistic sex with your body parts and themselves and… you’re dead.” I ask Dick how he plans to portray this on film. “It’s gonna be very messy,” he assures me.
This messiness is something Dick knows he’ll need to provide: “We’re gonna have to give the audience at least one rib spread,” he says. “You only need to see it once – and I think that’s gonna horrify people enough.” Dick and his co-producer, Jaan Ranniko, are now crowdfunding $20,000 to produce the film, and much of this will go to feeding people and the special effects, “[the] blood and guts, a lot of that stuff will cost money.”
Still, Dick thinks he can get it done for less: “I really think we can, with lots of favours and freebies and stuff like that. A lot of the props and that are all hard rubbish stuff. That’s the way I’m doing a lot of this.” This is a much a testament to Dick’s can-do optimism as it is the good will he’s established within his niche community. Already he’s assembled a distinguished cast of friends and personal heroes, including Neil Foley (Body Melt), Lawrence Harvey (Human Centipede II and III) and, perhaps most exciting of all, he’s currently negotiating with Troma Entertainment founder Lloyd Kaufman to shoot his scenes in New York in front of a green screen. He’ll be playing the Mayor of Australia.
“[Kaufman] said he would love to be in the film and a couple of years later here I am and he’s agreed to do it!” Dick tells me proudly (the pair met at one of Kaufman’s filmmaking masterclasses and became fast friends.) “I’ve given him the most full on lingo and slang, and I know he can’t do an Australian accent, so I’ve perfectly cast him.”
In addition to these guest appearances, Dick also held auditions for actors in Melbourne. My next question: do these actors know what they’re getting into? “They do now!” boasts Dick, and upon browsing the production’s Facebook group, I see that he advised auditioning actors to watch a YouTube supercut of Nicholas Cage freak-outs in preparation.
So is it all fun and silliness? There are rules, Dick tells me, giving an example from pre-production photography, when shooting a scene with satirist Fred Negro’s cop character. “The costume turned up, no problem, the police uniform, and then we opened up the hat department and there was a Nazi hat in there, not the police hat.” Although some suggested using the wrong hat would be still be funny or surreal, but Dick insisted this is not that kind of film: “that would just be too stupid, I think […] I hate films where it’s like ‘ha ha ha ha, aren’t we having a good laugh’. Everything’s gotta be played straight and as realistic as we can and it’ll still be funny and ridiculous and crazy.”
And it is thoughtful consideration like this that proves Dick Dale is a filmmaker with a vision. It’s a twisted vision to be certain, but one that only he can make, and make it he will, one way or another; “I’d just like to get it in the can, ‘cause I know once I get it in that can – once we’ve filmed it all, I mean – I will get it made. Worst comes to worst I’ll stick it all together in my computer at home – but I think it will be better than that.”