by Barry Meyer
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J.R. Bookwalter is one of those big fish kinda icons, the small pond being the world of cult underground films. His first feature attempt— The Dead Next Door a zombie opus — turned out to be the crowning achievement of underground films. With a reputation for making small budgets look bigger on film, Bookwalter took off to California to work for a direct-to-video production machine, where he burnt out after a three years and nearly a dozen cookie cutout flicks.
Disillusioned with small Hollywood Bookwalter returned to Ohio with the notion that he was done with moviemaking. During this slump a friend introduced JR to another Ohio local, David Wagner, who’d penned Ozone, a wild script about a gruesome designer drug that turns people into freakish zombies. The guys wanted JR to produce the script, but after he read it JR was so inspired that he decided he needed to make the thing himself. The result is a no-budget feature length Sci Fi splatter gem.
Here’s the story; After a drug stakeout goes violently awry, hardboiled cop Eddie Boone (James Black) looses his partner, and is attacked and injected with a dangerous new designer drug, which leaves him with some freakish side effects. Like Alice in Wonderland on crack (or ozone, as it were) Boone searches the drug underground for his missing partner, only to find the urban landscape is now teaming with mutant junkies and killer creeps. Boone’s gore filled search leads to a den of evil where he has a final confrontation with The Drug Lord (James L. Edwards, playing multiple roles), the monstrous mastermind behind the lethal narcotic.
This SciFi Horror Action conglomerate moves along at a pretty good clip, pacing the action and the gore nicely. The story itself is fairly pat, and the acting is pleasantly campy, but let’s face it—we’re here for the splatter!! And what terrific splatter FX there are. This flick is just non-stop gore, plentiful enough to keep even the most demanding gore fan amused for the duration. There are junkies with their heads exploding, drug crazed fantasies of melting flesh and popping eyeballs, an Ozone induced childbirth, heads under tires, and a cool looking demon with a circular saw blade for a Mohawk, just to name a few.
It’s just incredible to me that this movie was made for only $3,500! Ozone, without a doubt, has all the visual polish of a small studio production. I’ve seen movies on pay cable channels with budgets 500 times this one that couldn’t pull off what Bookwalter has. Sure, a lot of the CG FX in this movie could be done on little Timmy’s iMac today, but the genius of this flick really doesn’t lie in the FX or the budget—it’s the coverage and editing. Bookwalter did enough time in the editors seat and he understood that it’s not just the FX themselves, but the presentation. Just watch the scene where Boone melts away on the Police Station floor and you’ll see how the coverage made that sequence as genuine as possible. Seriously, this flick should be required viewing for all the snot-nosed Hollywood execs whose own personal monthly bottled water bill far exceeds Ozone’s total budget. They could all learn a lesson that imagination springs from necessity, not a cadre of Starbucks sipping writers and producers.
This flick has been out on VHS since its bloody birth back in ‘94, and now Bookwalter’s own company Tempe Entertainment has re-released it in a 10th Anniversary DVD. For this occasion Bookwalter went back in and tweaked some of the CG effects a bit—which he demonstrates in one of the several behind the scenes docs—and adds some great commentary tracks. There are also several trailers for Ozone as well as a handful of other Tempe releases.
Barry Meyer is a writer living in Jersey. He’s never done ozone, but that doesn’t stop him from seeing funny creatures.
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