Film

My Life as a Cult Film Star: Michael Musto Details His Delicious Role in “Vamp Bikers”

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Watch out, The Godfather. Move over, Lord of the Rings. The hot new trilogy in town is Vamp Bikers, an offbeat little cult thingie that I happen to co-star in, launching my next career chapter with some unexpected weirdness. And I may be the only one in it without a criminal record. (As of last week, all three Vamp Bikers entries are available to rent or purchase on Amazon Video.)

A couple of years ago, club kid–turned–killer Michael Alig told me writer-director Eric Rivas wanted me to play the part of a mad doctor named Hedda Hopper in the third part of the trilogy, which Alig was in as a zombie named God. (The first two had already been shot.) I had covered Alig for years, celebrating what was good about his bratty nightlife scene, but also chastising him when he went awry (and breaking details of the murder buzz). I had avoided him since his prison release because, when I ran into him on another movie set, he didn’t seem to have changed much (he was messy and talking about his fame). But this was finally a chance to mentor him, as I’d offered to do in print, while also getting to be part of a wacky project that could be creatively gratifying.

Also in the cast were Lillo Brancato Jr., the star of the 1993 movie A Bronx Tale who had been imprisoned for his role in an attempted burglary that ended up with a cop killed in a shootout; Lucian Wintrich, an angelic-looking young man who started the Twinks4Trump campaign and went on to give speeches titled “It’s OK to Be White”; porn star Ron Jeremy (who’s denied accusations of sexual assault); and Chicago house music diva Rachael Cain. Rivas wasn’t a criminal, as far as I knew, but he turned out to be a madcap obsessive who’d send you thirty scripts, forty trailers, eighty still photo collages, and a hundred explanations of the plot a day. I still couldn’t make much sense of it, though it was clearly a B-movie-ish mélange of zombies, vampires, bikers, slashers, club kids, witches, and medical help. All the dense scenes of screeching confrontations among these characters remained just the kind of opaque lunacy I like in a cult trilogy.

We shot a lot of it in Coney Island — in public areas and in a gated apartment complex there — and I found myself camping it up à la Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, just to amuse myself. We also secretly did some weekend scenes in the Latin department offices of my alma mater, Columbia University, because one of the film’s other stars, Geraldine Visco, happened to work there. Visco is a high-strung but entertaining party animal who one day screamed her displeasure that my lines were being shot before hers. It was explained to her — by me — that I had more lines than her, and besides, mine came before hers, so we were doing them first. This movie-star thing was starting to appeal to me.

When I worked with Alig, sure enough, our old bantering chemistry came right back, and Rivas said I did indeed calm down the ex-con with my presence. Yes, there was one time when Alig showed off a pile of murderous DVDs (like The Toolbox Murders) that he happened to have on him, but, just like in the old days, he’d do anything to get a rise out of me. In our big scene, he and I hold court and verbally rip into each other (“Calm the fuck down,” I snarl. “I can ruin you”), in between battling it out with a coven of witches (“I’m God,” Alig tells their leader, “and I can just wait till Judgment Day to fuck your muffinhead ass up”).

I later did a hospital scene with Brancato, who seemed nice, so I offered to take him to see the Broadway musical version of A Bronx Tale — but he smartly declined, not wanting to cause any stir that could be a detriment to the show. Goth rocker/promoter Kayvon Zand also pops up in the movie, and I got club doorman–insult comic Markus Kelle a part in it, so I can’t say I was ever bored during filming. It was like hanging out in a club by day and getting to be as hammy and silly as I wanted to be. And it actually led to a major release!

Midway through a 2017 Vamp Bikers Tres showing at Anthology Film Archives, my friend bolted for the exit, holding his stomach. I took this as a sign that this could be a magical cult happening and not just another generic indie. Rivas later invited me to a more private screening in Brooklyn that would be attended by a woman who was a liaison to Sony, so I went, not thinking anything could come of it. Over the closing credits, I dutifully gushed that the film looked like a million bucks but was so loonily auteurist it could bring back the era of the midnight movie if it ever reached an audience. And it worked! When I got the message that the Sony-owned distribution company the Orchard was picking up the film, I nearly plotzed and became undead.

My work wasn’t over yet, though. Rivas was still shooting me — in a church and in his wife’s eyeglass store — to insert me into parts one and two, for which he’s sent me about ten thousand posters, trailers, and montages. And I’ll gladly vamp for part four.

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