A wildcard visionary in the realm of classic exploitation filmmaking, Paul Kyriazi is likely best known to Daily Grindhouse readers as the director of DEATH MACHINES (1976), THE WEAPONS OF DEATH (1981), OMEGA COP (1990), and the recently unearthed and rediscovered martial-arts comedy-philosophy extravaganza NINJA BUSTERS (1984).
Living as he has for decades in Japan, Kyriazi returned to the states recently to write and direct the sex-intensive thriller FORBIDDEN POWER, another impossible-to-pigeonhole exercise in his multi-layered movie canon.
Along the way, Kyriazi’s career has taken fascinating and unpredictable turns into the creation of cinematically scaled audiobooks featuring legendary Hollywood actors, and a school do philosophy he personally developed called “The James Bond Lifestyle.”
As we all await the upcoming release of FORBIDDEN POWER, Kyriazi took some time to talk to Daily Grindhouse from his HQ in Japan. For even more of this endlessly intriguing man of myriad talents, be sure to visit his website, PaulKyriazi.com!
Daily Grindhouse: FORBIDDEN POWER is a terrific return to movies for you. How did that come to be?
Paul Kyriazi: It was first a novella, 100 pages. Wrote it recently. I’ve always liked empowerment movies, such as, recently — LUCY, empowered by drugs; LIMITLESS, empowered by drugs; WOLF, with Jack Nicholson empowered by an animal bite.
But I hadn’t seen a movie where the power comes sexually, where it’s transferred that way. So I wanted to do my own power story and make it realistic — not a Superman story, but just where the guy is a little smarter, a little stronger.
Daily Grindhouse: You mentioned that FORBIDDEN POWER started as a novella and, in recent years, you’ve been extremely prolific in creating original audiobooks. Can you tell us about the genesis of that undertaking?
Paul Kyriazi: I’ve done six feature films. My last one was OMEGA COP with Adam West in 1990, and after that the drive-in market, the downtown action market dried up. A lot of those theaters closed down because of the multiplexes, and I couldn’t get a movie financed.
Then I saw PULP FICTION and thought, “Wow! This could have been a novel!” In my movies, the plants and payoffs all came via action, but in PULP FICTION, the plants and payoffs were verbal.
So I turned two of my scripts into novels and worked with 21 of my movie heroes making full-cast audiobooks. They’re like real movies, with music and sound effects, and I got to work with so many of my heroes — Rod Taylor from THE BIRDS, Robert Culp from I SPY. Russ Tamblyn and George Chakiris, I reunited them WEST SIDE STORY.
All these guys were from the ’60s. They were 70 years old, but on audio, you can play 40. And they were heroes. You know how powerful it is when you’re 12 and 13 at the theater — these were my guys, my heroes. It’s like how every guy has his favorite James Bond, depending on how old you were.
Daily Grindhouse: So how did FORBIDDEN POWER become a movie, rather than a novella or an audiobook?
Paul Kyriazi: I made those audiobooks for ten years and then, recently, the 6K Dragon video camera came out. 4K is the equivalent of 35-millimeter movies. Now we had 6K. Then, a year-and-a-half ago, Amazon allowed you to upload your own movies to their service, the same way you can upload books. I thought, “Well, okay, this is the opportunity!”
We’ve all been filmmakers burned by movie distributors — even now, the banner rule is, “Never give your movie to a distributor!” So I thought this was the time to take a chance and do it.
Daily Grindhouse: And how did you come to make FORBIDDEN POWER in Seattle?
Paul Kyriazi: A friend of mine from the motion picture department in the Air Force, which I was in for four years, has a movie studio in Seattle called Victory Studios. They’re also in Los Angeles. There’s a giant green screen studio. He has the 6K cameras. Seattle is a picturesque town, so I figured I’d cast the movie up there and make it up there.
So immediately after I finished the novel, I turned it into a screenplay and added a third act. I planned to shoot starting August 21st, which is the time of the least rain in Seattle, and I set all the dates in motion from there.
I called six of my buddies from film school who have all stayed in the business. They all came up to Seattle. We were all together when we were 20, and it was great that we all got to work together now. It was an amazing experience.
Daily Grindhouse: What are your plans for FORBIDDEN POWER?
Paul Kyriazi: Just five minutes ago, I got a Vimeo link for the final changes in the movie. Once I okay that, we’ll upload to Amazon as soon as possible. We’re getting really close to it.
Daily Grindhouse: Great! So now let’s talk about some of your classics, starting with DEATH MACHINES. It’s ingenious that you used the three racially diverse leads. Can you talk about that decision?
Paul Kyriazi: I couldn’t sell my first movie. It was in black-and-white, about three samurai who go to England, and it all took place in the forest. I was 26. I thought if I ever get a chance to make another movie, I’m going to put every exploitation element in there, so I can sell it as wide as possible. And I love all that! I love biker movies and BILLY JACK and samurai.
My background’s in karate, and I got the chance to make the movie, financed by Ron Martini, a martial arts champion. At the time, Ron had made a couple of movies in the Philippines, and he wanted to make one in America. So we shot 35mm Techniscope, which gives you a wide screen.
I wrote up the script with Ron and another guy, and I included white, Chinese, and African-American leads and a Japanese Yakuza killer lady. We blew up a Piper Cub airplane for real. We had a karate guy escaping a police station before Rambo did it! We had a car crash, we had a karate school raid, we had a fight with bikers, and we had three topless girls in there! One was a dancer, one was a gangster’s moll, and the other one was also a gangster’s moll in a swimming pool.
So I too it to Crown International Pictures. An old lady was at the desk. I said, “I’ve got a movie I want to sell!” She said, “Is this sex or violence?” I said, “It’s violence!”
The president of Crown was impressed with it, he took the movie, Ron Martini signed a 50-50 deal, which was the standard deal. That means the distributor gets 50% and then charges all the expenses against the producer’s 50% so he never gets anything.
Daily Grindhouse: As wild and amazing as DEATH MACHINES is, it’s got one of the most unique and unforgettable opening credits segments. How did that image and that use of animation come to be?
Paul Kyriazi: That is quite a story! Crown picked up the movie, and ordered a poster, and we got it and opened it up and there was this pyramid! Wow! I was excited! My name was on there! It was great. But then somebody said, “That doesn’t show what the movie is!”
What happened was, at the time DEATH RACE 2000 and ROLLERBALL were just out, so Crown decided to go for a science-fiction slant which the movie, of course, is not. But they gave us $2,000 — no, less than that — to shoot that opening.
The line they wrote was, “They’re death machines! Programmed to kill!” And the masterminds said, “Don’t show the guy’s face in case there’s a sequel!” They figured we could use the Yakusa girl, because they could bring her back.
So DEATH MACHINES opened in 50 theaters in the Los Angeles area, from Santa Barbara down to San Diego. They had that pyramid poster. So the science fiction people that went were disappointed, and the action people didn’t go because they didn’t know it was action!
The theaters actually complained, so Crown made the pyramid smaller on the newspaper ad and changed the copy to read, “White Death Machines! Black Death Machines! Asian Death Machines!”
I did hit, I think, #12 at the box office, because there were so many theaters. And that’s the story of the poster!
Daily Grindhouse: NINJA BUSTERS is hilarious and has truly been rediscovered in recent years. Can you talk about that movie’s long journey toward finding its audience?
Paul Kyriazi: That came after WEAPONS OF DEATH, where I got all these martial arts guys together and that was a hit — for the distributor. Then I got the same guys together for NINJA BUSTERS. Sid Campbell, the taller of the two leads, wrote the script for himself and Eric Lee, then I rewrote it with another guy.
We filmed it in Berkeley, and it just got too big. A week after shooting, we ran out of money and had to stop. Same thing happened on my first movie. So three years later, we came back and finished the movie in 12 days. The producer gave the movie to a distributor. I said, “Don’t do it!” But he did.
Then I found out years later — it was in the newspaper — that the distributor went to prison for stealing money from six movies and NINJA BUSTERS was one of them. At that point, I had nothing to do with it. I had moved to Japan. Carlos Navarro, who plays the nightclub owner, was the financial owner of the movie and made the decisions.
Daily Grindhouse: NINJA BUSTERS has recently come back in a big way. How did that happen?
Paul Kyriazi: So I heard nothing from it for 30 years. We made that in 1984, then just two years ago, Harry Guerro finds me on the Internet and said he went to a storeroom on the edge of the Mojave Desert and there were 200 or so 35mm prints.
Then some real tough guy came around and Harry called Quentin Tarantino and said, “Hey! I’m out here by myself!” So Quentin sent his gardener and another guy, so the missionaries outnumbered the cannibals!
Harry found those movies and a lot of them were rusted through that thick can or were just dust. NINJA BUSTERS was perfect. So he loaded up the movies he bought and drove back to New York, cross-country, through the worst violent ice storm he had ever seen.
All unknown to me, Harry cleaned up NINJA BUSTERS, showed it at a three-day exploitation movie festival, and it was the crowd favorite! Everybody was talking about it, even more than Carpenter’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, which he also showed.
So Harry said he was going to raise the money to put the movie on Blu-ray and he asked me to cooperate. I said sure, so I did the commentary. I was very serious about it, as I am with all my commentaries.
For the opening segment, though, I went to Ninja Village here in Japan and I married the Ninja Boss and my daughter filmed it. She was wearing the same costume, the same green robe.
Daily Grindhouse: NINJA BUSTERS is very popular with our readers.
Paul Kyriazi: That’s great! I get emails from guys who say they never laughed so hard, they were crying; that it changed their life! I’m like, “How can it change your life?” But then you see the bonus feature of everybody coming out of the screening and loving it.
I put all that philosophy in there, but then I realized, it’s the story of two jerks, which we all are. They join a karate school to pick up girls and they’re not successful and, with hard work, after three years, they get a black belt and they get a girlfriend. Then, at the end, the guy falls off the thing when he gets his medal — but he’s still wearing his medal!
So it’s like all of us. We’re all jerks, we’re all making mistakes and goofing up, but if we work hard, we can achieve success and get a girlfriend — but we’re still going to fall off the big stage at the end!
Then there’s all that philosophy, like you shouldn’t eat when you’re angry. There’s the bit when the guy’s complaining about his food, saying, “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day! I’m sick of them!” And the other guy says, “Why don’t you have your wife make something else?” And the first guy says, “I’m not married! I make my own sandwiches!”
That’s a metaphor for when a guy is complaining about life and how he’s in charge!
Daily Grindhouse: Finally, tell us about “The James Bond Lifestyle.”
Paul Kyriazi: It’s very serious. I coined the phrase “James Bond Lifestyle” in 1990. When I started it was a cassette, and then a paperback book, then eight hours of audio and now I expanded the new Spectre edition for when SPECTRE came out, and I updated everything.
At first, people would say, “What is this about — chasing women and killing people?” But now, “James Bond Lifestyle” is used in advertising, and the news said some guy in Britain was stealing money to “live the James Bond Lifestyle.” So what it is, I use James Bond as a metaphor.
I took so many success classes to survive as a freelance movie director, and the main thing I learned from all the classes was — it’s like this: the train companies, in the 1940s in America, were the biggest of the big, but they didn’t expand to trucks and airplanes, and they got small. So they shouldn’t have thought of themselves as being in the train business. They were in the transportation business.
So I realized I shouldn’t just be a director. I should be in acting, voice work, novels — and I even opened my mind for more. So that was how I got into the writing part.
The main idea about James Bond is that when other people get squeezed under pressure and they fold, James Bond focuses. He can call up his talent at will and deliver on a deadline. That’s the main thing.
I’ll say it again: when other people fold under pressure, James Bond focuses and calls up his talent at will and delivers on a deadline, and he never whispers a word about giving up. Perseverance is the number one aspect of success.
I took many success classes, and read every success book from age 26 on. And then I developed my own philosophy using James Bond.
It started on the OMEGA COP set. People would ask me, “How do you survive as a freelancer?” and I’d tell them, for an hour about the subconscious mind and programming. Then I’d call them later and say, “Oh! I forgot one thing!” and I’d go on.
So I figured, let me get it down on cassette, and I made a 90-minute cassette and called it “The James Bond Lifestyle.” I sold it on Amazon and it started off from there. I did seminars for The Learning Annex and some in Japan.
I used those techniques to make FORBIDDEN POWER, because when I decided to do it, I had fear. I got up every morning for the first week or so, thinking, “Oh, no! Is this a mistake?” Then I had a dream with my parents in it, and my parents are gone.
In the dream, my mother said, “Paul, do not make FORBIDDEN PLANET!” And I said, “But, Mom, I’m making FORBIDDEN POWER!” So then I went into the next room in my dream and my father was there and he said, “Did you hear what your mother just said?” So then I woke up and I knew it was just my fears creating that dream.
So because of the James Bond Lifestyle and my success training, I knew how to handle fear and doubt. Because no matter how good you are, you’re going to get doubt. So that was one of the main techniques I used to get FORBIDDEN POWER done.