World Movies was lucky enough to sit down for a chat with Andrew Mercado, ‘The Unknown Stuntman’ (when he wasn’t busy reminiscing about the glory days of ridiculously dangerous stunts and putting the moves on hot sheilas). Read on for his juicy insider’s info on some of our favourite Aussie Exploitation films!
WORLD MOVIES: How did you get involved in the making of ALVIN PURPLE?
THE UNKNOWN STUNTMAN: Well, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed looking to break into the biz just when these blokes at Village were trying to decide what type of Aussie film they should make. So being smart buggers, they looked at what was actually making money for them already and it was a sexy little Swedish comedy called BEDROOM MAZURKA. So they thought, well let’s get us some of that, so they roped in Alan Hopgood to whip up a script and the next thing Alvin was born.
WM: So you did some of the stunts?
TUS: I was in it balls and all cos I drove that Valiant Charger for the car chase sequence through the suburbs and down the sand dunes and it took about five days from go to WHOAH. Then that’s me in the long wig doubling for Alvin when he parachutes out the plane. I actually hadn’t jumped out of a plane until this film but I always say you should bone up and add more skills whenever possible, even if you do break a bone or two along the way.
WM: Lots of actresses were prepared to go nude back then, weren’t they?
TUS: ALVIN PURPLE features all the hot chicky babes of the day, and they all get their gear off – it opens with Abigail in a see-through top, then it’s Jacki Weaver and Lynette Curran going the full monty and this was all achieved because director Tim Burstall talked them into it by paying them a few hundred bucks more. They would have asked for a lot more if they’d known video players with freeze frame buttons were going to be invented so we could perve at them for years afterwards haha!
WM: ALVIN PURPLE was a huge hit, right?
THE UNKNOWN STUNTMAN: ALVIN PURPLE was a ginormous hit, they made it for about $200,000 and it grossed $5 million – that’s nearly $40 million in today’s money! And that’s with an R rating too meaning nobody under 18 could even see it! There were queues for months on end, it was unbelievable – the most popular Aussie movie ever made up to that point. Graeme Blundell couldn’t walk down the street without some sheila giving him a funny look – half of them wanted to root him, and the other half decided he was setting the feminist movement back years although they never seemed to have a problem with Jack Thompson shagging two sisters at the same time. And poor old Blundell only got paid about $500 per week – even us stunt guys got paid more than that and we got to keep our clothes on!
WM: How would you describe RAZORBACK?
TUS: After the success of JAWS, everybody wanted to do a creature feature – there’d been GRIZZLY, PIRANHA, ORCA THE KILLER WHALE – and then we realized we could do one down under with a killer pig in the outback! So off to the back of Bourke we all trooped, with a first time Aussie Russell Mulcahy. There were no flies on him, he’d been making music videos overseas with Duran Duran and Elton John so he was used to working with giant boars – ha ha!
WM: What about stunt work?
TUS: I spent a lot of my time making sure Chris Haywood and David Argue didn’t kill themselves during their driving sequences, they were crazy bastards the pair of them. They wanted to do a lot of their own stunts as did the Hollywood blow-in of the movie, Gregory Harrison. He was a TV star from shows like LOGANS RUN and TRAPPER JOHN M.D. and this was his first big film – nice bloke, easy to work with and he wanted to give everything a go himself. Suits me, I like leading the easy life when it’s 102 degrees in the shade. But of course the silly bastard regretted that decision when he dislocated his shoulder and slipped a disc in his back.
WM: Is it true they ran out of money towards the end?
TUS: It was a tough shoot and by the time we were nearing the finishing line, they were over budget and didn’t have a brass razoo left. So producer, good old Hal McElroy, brought us all back to Sydney to finish it off meaning we had to build the inside of an abbatoir to film the ending. Would you believe it became my job to slice up sheep carcasses to make them look like skinned kangaroos? We’d drag those disgusting things out of the cold room and hang ‘em everywhere for a day’s shooting and then have to put ‘em back into the deep freeze overnight. I tell ya, after a few weeks it stunk worse in there than a dead dingo’s donger.
WM: What sort of reception did the movie get?
TUS: RAZORBACK hit cinemas in 1984 and it was a bit of a fizzer and of course the Aussie film snobs turned their noses up at it because it didn’t have any “artistic value”. But – as always – what didn’t get appreciated at home worked a treat overseas and the Yanks and the Europeans ate it up. It became a cult hit on video and as the years went on, everyone realised that Russell Mulcahy with his “weird ideas” had actually been ahead of his time. And let’s not forget the other bloke behind the camera, cinematographer Dean Semler who deservedly won the AFI Award for RAZORBACK and then got snapped up by Hollywood because Steven Spielberg spread the word to all his mates! Semler went on to win an Academy Award for DANCES WITH WOLVES, lucky bastard. Guess Spielberg didn’t notice the stunt work because I didn’t get a phone call from the great man in the middle of the night. Oh well, them’s the breaks.
THE MAN FROM HONG KONG
WM: Tell us about THE MAN FROM HONG KONG!
TUS: I have had a good trot in my career but THE MAN FROM HONG KONG is right up there as one of the best movies I ever worked on. As a stuntie it was full tilt 24/7 – I was flat out like a lizard drinking and loved every goddamn minute of it. The action sequences are insane from the very beginning when we had a fist fight on top of The Rock – pretty disrespectful to my indigenous brothers today but we didn’t know any better then – we just looked at everything as a great backdrop to blow something up. In fact, we nearly bloody killed the entire camera crew when we blew the shit out of this car and the door flew through the air and just missed us by a couple of inches. Geez we laughed!
WM: So no health and safety back in the 70s?
TUS: Health and safety, what was that? We didn’t even get permits, we just did what we wanted and hoped for the best. Brian Trenchard Smith was a top director and we were more than happy to give anything a go for him. Go hang gliding in the flight path of Hong Kong airport? OK! Jump off the tallest building in Sydney? Let’s give it a go! Drive over the speed limit on the open highway! Go for it you good thing! Those were the days…
WM:Was the movie trying to cash in on the Kung Fu craze?
TUS: This is the only Kung Fu Australian movie although to be fair it was a co-production between us and Golden Harvest Films, the Hong Kong outfit who churned out all those Bruce Lee classics. That’s why we had to bring in Jimmy Wang Yu to play Inspector Fang but he carried on like a pork chop, he’s lucky I didn’t go ape shit on him. Us crew guys all got on a lot better with George Lazenby who was struggling a bit after his one outing as James Bond. He admits he needed the money and it was probably good for him to play the bad guy for a change.
WM: And filmed in Australia and Hong Kong?
TUS: Because it was a co-production, we filmed half of it in Australia and half of it in Hong Kong. Me and the other stunties went a bit birko in the knock shops in old Honkers, we all got a dose of the clap but you weren’t livin’ in the 70s if you didn’t get a bit of VD every now and then. And the best part of all is that THE MAN FROM HONG KONG got released in Yankeeland as THE DRAGON FILES and made some serious moolah. So it was worth all the argy bargy in the end.
World Movies’ Aussie Exploitation starts Monday July 4 at 9.30pm (7.30pm WA). For the full line-up of Aussie Exploitation’s ’10 nights of Aussie cult classics’ see here!