Randy Campbell has a dream. It’s not to be a doctor or a lawyer when he grows up, but to jump Cook Strait in a rocket car and emulate his dead father by becoming New Zealand’s leading stuntman.
This is the plot of the new movie from Chris Stapp and Matt Heath, the brains behind cult TV show Back of the Y and band Deja Voodoo. Unbelievably, the pair managed to rustle up enough money to make this movie, and it actually might be quite good.
“Puerile, vile, horrible and disgusting”
Heath and Stapp’s road to movie-making started at Otago University in the early 1990s, when they entered short films in university competitions to win free beer. After moving to Auckland, the pair continued making shows for community TV, where the character of “Randy Campbell – Daredevil Stunt-Man” was first introduced.
Finally, thanks to some celebrity support, TV2 agreed to air a seven-part series of Back of the Y Masterpiece Television in 2001. Buried at 11:30pm on a Tuesday night, the show barely paused for breath as it threw toilet humour, smutty jokes, a fake talk-show, and Jackass-style stunts into a blender set on high-speed.
Among Randy Campbell’s more memorable bungled stunts were the sticking of a firecracker up his arse (“There’s nothing gay about that,” he protested), and a jump over an angry burning monkey on a BMX.
According to the introduction, the show had a simple goal: “To make a New Zealand TV show that wasn’t complete shit. They failed, miserably.” Various critics agreed, with Bill Ralston describing the show as “puerile, vile, horrible and disgusting, a piece of decaying faeces.”
Luckily not everyone agreed, and thanks to word of mouth, a cult following has emerged. Only a handful of people ever saw the original shows, but over 6000 copies of the DVD and video have since been sold. When the NZ Film Commission invited Heath and Stapp to submit a script for possible funding, they knew the story they wanted to tell – Randy Campbell and his quest to become New Zealand’s top stuntman.
Live fast, die faster
The result is The Devil Dared Me To: an epic drama-comedy following the life of a young farmboy who must follow his hidden destiny and become a great daredevil like his dead father before him. “We ripped off Star Wars,” says director Chris Stapp.
“For years we milked one simple idea: ‘the stunt is about to go horribly wrong,’” says Stapp. “We decided to focus on Randy’s journey to the pinnacle of the New Zealand stunt world and the tragic consequences when stunts fuck up.”
Producer and co-star Matt Heath says filming the movie throughout 2006 was a buzz. “The whole thing was great fun. The scale of it was just twenty steps up from anything we’ve done before. We even got the Auckland harbour bridge closed down so we could film a massive explosion.”
Inevitably, making a movie about stuntmen will involve injuries.
“One guy got badly burned during an explosion,” says Heath. “He spent some time in hospital and now has to wear a body sock for two years.”
“And Chris got cut up when he crashed through a glass coffee table. It was inevitable really, he got hundreds of little cuts and there are still bits of glass inside him.”
“I personally have a pretty low pain threshold. I just think Chris has a higher stupidity threshold. When it’s your own movie I guess you’re motivated by wanting to make sure the stunt looks good on camera.” Not that Stapp has any regrets. “If you want a stunt done properly, do it yourself,” he says.
While the movie isn’t released in New Zealand until August this year, Heath and Stapp have just returned from preview screenings in the US and UK with rave reviews.
“We weren’t sure if the American sense of humour would get it, because it’s very New Zealand,” says Heath, “but the test screenings went really well. We got a standing ovation at a film festival in Austin, and we signed a few deals with movie companies to distribute it in the States.”
Legendary movie website www.aintitcool.com raved about Devil: “No matter what the characters attempt, you know it’s going to go wrong, and the fun comes from watching just how awful things get. Gallons and gallons of blood are spilled, and the entire supporting cast (including the terrific Andrew Beattie) contribute to the lunacy.”
Meanwhile www.cinematical.com called it “completely scrappy, wonderfully twisted, and adorably scruffy,” despite the “vulgarity-laden Kiwi accents… It’s like a cross between The Road Warrior, Mad Magazine, and Jackass.”
“I smoke P and I’m alright”
Heath and Stapp already have several new scripts in the pipeline, including Vaseline Warriors, based on characters from their previous TV shows. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world populated solely by men who fight over the world’s most precious resource: porn. A potential backdrop is already lined up, according to Heath. “It would be cool to film that in the Australian outback, where we could blow up lots of cars and shit.”
Meanwhile the duo’s band Deja Voodoo is still going strong, with two albums and songs covering serious topics such as beer, smoking P, and underage sex.
“I don’t think anything is off-limits when it comes to humour,” says Heath. “Even today we were trying to think of jokes about the Virginia shootings, something along the lines of ‘shooting to the top of the class.’ I mean, people don’t wait long to do serious dramatic stuff about big events, and that’s just as bad as making a shit joke I reckon.”
On top of their musical and movie commitments, a second series of Back of the Y has been commissioned by TV3, and the pair now host a weekly radio show on Auckland’s bFM.
“We work bloody hard, all the time,” says Heath. “Our girlfriends are absolutely disgusted at the long hours we work. It’s definitely not nine till five; we’re always busy working on something.”
“We manage to make a decent living from this. You don’t necessarily have to go overseas to make movies these days, because it’s actually a lot cheaper to film movies here. For example, we used 25 different locations in the movie and it didn’t involve too much travelling. It would be hard to do that overseas, because in the US you can drive for days and the scenery just doesn’t change.”
“I really can’t imagine doing anything other than this…but who knows, I might end up working at a supermarket checkout one day if it all falls through.”