Scott Be Positive

Shotguns, Blades, & Samurai Frogs Zen Filmmaker Donald G. Jackson

Interview by Dean Garrison (and MJW)

Here is an Interview with Donald G. Jackson published by Psychotronic Video Magazine in Issue #36

Photograph of Donald G. Jackson by Scott Shaw.

Notorious Gonzo writer, producer, cinematographer, and director Donald G. Jackson is not as famous as his friend James Cameron and not as infamous as his friend Fred Olen Ray, but claims his own niche as a self-described “Zen filmmaker.” Jackson’s films run the gamut from sci-fi to softcore, western to fantasy, from cops and robbers to martial arts. His shoot-on-the-run, fast break style has produced some low-budget and no-budget films that have proven to be moneymakers for New World Pictures, HBO, and others. He has made movies on 8mm film, 16mm, 35mm, IMAX, and numerous video formats.

“I was born on April 24, 1943 in Tremont, Mississippi. My parents moved to Adrian, Michigan where my relatives had already
relocated because of new jobs in the automobile industry.”

Note: Adrian is near Toledo, Ohio and was an easy drive to the cities of Jackson, Ann Arbor, and Detroit.

Jackson has been a comic fan since he was a kid. “The first exciting fantasy, escape visuals I remember being affected by were the Sunday Puck and the comic weekly sections in the Sunday newspaper. Things like Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, Tim Tyler’s Luck, and Tarzan caught my attention. Later, I discovered the really cool newspaper comics, like Ben Friday, Chris Welkin, and Jeff Cobb that are very rare and hard-to-find today. I collected comic books since I was five years old. I still have many. Wish I could have kept them all. I remember Doll Man, Robot Man, Sub-Zero, Fighting American, The Avenger, and many more. I was especially inspired by artists like Joe Maneely, Bob Powell, Dick Ayers, Wally Wood, Jack Kirby, Bernie Krigstein, and Alex Toth. I actually had Alex Toth interested in doing production designs for HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN, but New World wouldn’t allow him in the budget. Comic panels were like shots from movies. They allowed me to study the exciting angles. I started drawing comics as a kid, just to be able to create the cool angles. I didn’t care about the story, only about the way the art looked. I did create some cool characters though. I spent a lot of time dreaming up new and original comic characters.”

“Recently, I returned to Adrian and visited the newsstand where I bought all of my comic books from the years 1948 to early 1981. The place hadn’t changed. Brought back a lot of memories. Also visited the theater where I saw the famous serials - Clyde Beatty in DARKEST AFRICA, ROCKETMAN, THE SECRET CODE, and the great double-bill westerns - Lash LaRue, Red Ryder, Durango, and many more. I was interested in sci-fi from the early 50’s TV shows like SPACE PATROL, TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET, ROD BROWN, ROCKET RANGER, ROCKY JONES, TALES OF TOMORROW, and later TWILIGHT ZONE and THE OUTER LIMITS.”

Jackson started making films during the 60s. “I shot a music video with an 8mm Bolex for “The Eve Of Destruction” in 1965.”

Note: Barry McGuire’s famous apocalyptic anthem went to #1 on the charts that fall, despite being banned in some markets. “Also shot football games for different high schools with a 16mm Bolex. I’d made short films in 8mm, 16mm, and Super 8.

I was one of the first people to own the Bell and Howell Super 8
Filmosound camera and projector.”

“(Many) of my great pop culture experiences - concerts, film festivals, etc. were in Ann Arbor around the University of Michigan. I also had a lot of fun in Toledo, Ohio tracking down and getting to know famous newspaper adventure strips cartoonists. I was first into folk music and Detroit was the home of places like the Chessmate Coffee House where people like Gordon Lightfoot used to play. Later, when 1 hooked up with Ted Nugent and was going with him to concerts, I got to meet John Cougar Mellencamp, Aerosmith, and others. Detroit radio had a guy named Russ Gibb who put on a lot of concerts at the Grande Ballroom - early Stooges, and of course the MC5. 1 have some great footage of the MC5 at a Love-In in Ann Arbor that the
cops shut down. There was a riot!”

In 1975 Jackson and Jerry Younkins, sharing producer, director and script writing duties started making THE DEMON LOVER, reviewed in PV #18 (as DEVIL MASTER). Most of it was shot at a private castle in the woods near Jackson, Ml (known for it’s prison).

“The town was pretty dull.” Many myths surround this local horror movie. One is that Jackson cut off a finger to collect insurance money to finance it. “I worked in several factories over the years running heavy duty machinery and punch presses, but I was always very safety conscious. I met Jerry Younkins right after he’d cut off some of his fingers in an accident where he was operating a punch press without safety guards. He could have got some real money in the insurance settlement, but he’d have to wait a long time. Instead, he took ten thousand dollars for his fingers. It is true he used some of that money for pre-production expenses like trips to New York to find props. But no - he didn’t cut off his fingers to get the money to make THE DEMON LOVER. He wasn’t that crazy. He showed up in LA three years ago homeless and living in his van. I let him move into my North Hollywood office for two months, but the landlord kicked him out for playing loud music. He still writes scripts and dreams of one day making another movie. I wish him well.”

“When I interviewed Tobe Hooper on the phone shortly after TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE came out, he got me in touch with Gunnar Hansen.

Gunnar had some friends in Ann Arbor, so he was a natural to be in the movie. Didn’t really consider him a professional actor - he’d only played Leatherface.

Later I recommended him to director friends like Fred Olen Ray. He’s done a lot of movies since THE DEMON LOVER.

A few years ago, I ran into him at the San Diego Comic Con. He feels 1 cheated him out of thousands of dollars on back end points. Fact is THE DEMON LOVER never recouped the production cost. Val Mayerik had been in plays in Ohio.

Besides drawing Howard the Duck, he wanted to act. Recently got back in touch with me. For a while we were talking about doing a Return Of The Demon Lover movie - but decided why bother. I wasn’t able to ever find the 35mm prints and original elements to put out a new DVD.”

DEMON LOVER received local publicity. “We were on the front page of the Detroit Free Press, and local Jackson papers. Also we had a full page spread in a National Enquirer type tabloid sold at supermarkets. And we were on the VIC CAPUTO show in Detroit. My friend Dennis Skotak actually videotaped the show on a Sony reel-to-reel video recorder. We had three World premieres - Jackson, where the next-door movie was STAR WARS, Adrian, at a Drive-In, the other drive-in was showing FOOD OF THE GODS, and The Lyric Theater on 42nd street (where they shot a scene for TAXI DRIVER). We out grossed CARRIE that was playing across the street.”

“We never made any money for showing the picture ourselves. Soon found out that if we didn’t have another movie to follow, then theaters felt they didn’t have to pay us. We tried working with sub-distributors in Texas who played the movie in their area, and Florida, etc. Could never collect any money. I finally made a deal in California with William Eliscu, but he never put the movie out as he promised. I think he ended up using it as part of a future library. He had all seven 35mm prints and original elements. Now everything is lost. He did make a home video deal for us, but it was a poor quality transfer and we never received any money besides a small upfront payment. We were supposed to get the rights back in seven years - but it ended up being bootlegged by a few other small companies.” DEMON LOVER has been on video under many titles over the years.

DEMON LOVER helped inspire other local Michigan filmmakers. “Sam Rami came to one midnight show of THE DEMON LOVER and was inspired that I’d made a movie in 16mm that got blown up to 35mm and was playing in theaters.” Note: The much younger Raimi was making Super 8 shorts at the time. “I also have several taped conversations with Bruce Campbell when he called me for technical details on the 16 to 35 lab process. My friend Bob Dyke in Detroit called me one day and said that Raimi had got some investors and was shooting Book Of The Dead. The rest is history. As a side note - because Raimi just made SPIDERMAN. I had a post card from Stan Lee saying ‘I hope you’re right about SPIDERMAN being successful. We sure like him.’”

Doing a documentary on the making of a local Indy film was an unheard of concept in the 70s. DEMON LOVER DIARY (79), which still sometimes plays at film festivals and revival theaters, wasn’t a self-promotion tool though. It was made with a mocking tone by a pair of New England outsiders. “I attended a screening of a new print of THE DEMON LOVER DIARY two years ago in Hollywood. The show was put on by Mark Ranee who was the soundman with (directors) Jeff Kreines and Joel DeMott. Mark lives and works here in LA Jeff and Joel have a used equipment business in Alabama. These guys were sly and knew what they wanted. I never knew they had ten thousand dollars from the AFI to make a movie about a guy with no money trying to make a movie. Lots of the footage was fake and staged for the camera, but I went along with the gag - and it is hard to tell what is real. Seeing the movie today, I have mixed feelings. It’s great to have that part of my life on film, but they were really out to destroy me and prevent the film from getting made. Far as legal problems, not one person in THE DEMON LOVER DIARY ever signed a release including Ted Nugent. Could be that’s what they are afraid of and why it has never been released on tape. But maybe now, over twenty-five years later, they might change their mind. Problem is the movie makes them look bad. Anybody watching the movie can see right through their motivations. No person in the movie had the money to hire a lawyer and sue them. Besides, all publicity is good publicity. And people around the world were enjoying the film.”

“Ted Nugent was a friend of Jerry Younkins. He was originally going to do the music and be in the movie. I have tons of Super 8 behind the scenes during pre-production. It took so long to look for money that by the time we started shooting, Ted had signed a major recording deal and the songs he’d written for us like ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ never got to be used.”

Note: “Cat” - #30 in ’77, was the biggest hit of Nugent’s long career. “Bob Seger, another up and coming Detroit artist, expressed interest in being in the movie, but it never worked out.”

Note: Although Seger had recorded local hits since the mid 60s, he didn’t made the national top ten until ’76.

(Jackson is usually the producer, director, writer, editor and cinematographer of his own movies)


79 DEMON LOVER DIARY (subject of)


GALAXY OR TERROR - additional cine.

82 SCALPS - add. cine.

83 BIOHAZARD - add. cine.

84 THE TERMINATOR -add. cine

85 ROLLER BLADE (New World)


ARMED RESPONSE - stunt camera


CYCLONE, COMMANDO SQUAD - both add. cine.


TICE -all add. cine








on STRANGE UNIVERSE (as director)






00 ONE SHOT SAM -D/star

01 VENOMOUS -add. cine.

“After THE DEMON LOVER, I met The Sheik and a wrestling promoter who wanted to make a wrestling/ horror movie. We started shooting Ringside In Hell. The money was impossible to raise, and we lost our continuity. 1 turned the movie into a docu-drama and New World later bought it under the title I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE. Our big star was Andre The Giant. New World put out the movie on videotape and laser disc. It has also been shown on television. Chances are it will be out again soon on DVD.

I was a fan of both The Ghoul and Ghoulardi. We almost had a deal to make a movie in Detroit called Ghoulardi On Mars. He (The Ghoul) was doing his show at CH. 62 where I was working on I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE. We had several meetings with his manager.” I LIKE, also featuring Abdullah The Butcher, was filmed from 1977-80. New World released it in ’85. The Ghoul (Ron Sweed) is still hosting movies on TV in Cleveland.

“I’ve worked in California as a filmmaker since I got off the bus on January 13, 1981. And I’ve worked in every format including IMAX/OMNIMAX. GALAXY OF TERROR (81) was my first Hollywood film job for Roger Corman. I was assistant cameraman on the special effects crew. 1 mainly worked with Randy Frakes, and we both reported to Bob and Dennis Skotak who were in charge of doing all the shots. I’d been used to shooting everything myself back in Michigan, but had a lot to learn about how special effects were shot. Jim Cameron was directing second unit. I was working at night, but would visit his set during the day. James Cameron also hired me to shoot second unit on his one and only extended music video - the spaghetti western themed “Reach” for Bill Paxton’s band Martini Ranch. At the world premiere for the music video, I met Jim’s brother Mike and hired him to fly me in his ultra-lite glider to do a shot for ROLLER BLADE WARRIORS.” Note” Paxton was a set designer for GALAXY OF TERROR.

“I’ve known Fred Olen Ray since 1977 and consider him a good friend. He’d discovered THE DEMON LOVER when it showed at his local Florida drive-in. When Fred moved to Los Angeles, I gave him the idea for SCALPS (82) and BIOHAZARD (83), which I did second unit photography on. Over the years he’d hire me from time to time for an extra camera during action sequences on movies like CYCLONE, COMMANDO SQUAD and ARMED RESPONSE. In BIOHAZARD, I do a quick appearance. There are two ambulance guys in it, and I think Fred played the other one. Fred is in my movie RIDE WITH THE DEVIL and is also in my new film, ONE SHOT SAM. He bought my BILLY FRANKENSTEIN (98) project and made it into a movie for HBO. I have a writer credit and co-executive producer credit on that.”

By the time Jackson directed for New World, founder Roger Corman had moved on. Corman sold the company in ’83, then sued them over payments in ’85. “My connection at New World Video was Tony Randel who I’d worked with on GALAXY OF TERROR. He got moved up from an editor to an executive. Tony helped me to get New World to buy I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE. They gave me a fifty thousand dollar advance on the film and it made a quick one half million for New World Video. I’d already started shooting ROLLER BLADE (85) on my Visa card with leftover film stock. New World gave me another fifty thousand advance to finish it. It was all shot silent and dubbed in later. ROLLER BLADE (PV#35) made them over one million dollars. I put an ad in a local casting newspaper called Drama Logue. It read - “female wanted 18-23. Must roller skate and know martial arts.” I found Shaun Michelle first, then we put ads in for the remainder of the cast and I found Suzanne Solari. She was 20 years old. Suzanne is also in ROLLER BLADE WARRIORS, KILL KILL OVERKILL, and UFO: SECRET VIDEO. When I was shooting second unit on the Martini Ranch video, Suzanne was with me for a couple days and got to know Bill Paxton. He kept saying that she reminded him of Claudia Cardinale from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. The last time I saw her was around 1990. Nice lady.”

“The best music (in my movies) was the original score for ROLLER BLADE (85) done by Bob Garrett, a friend of (screen-writer) Randy Frakes and former room-mate of Jim Cameron. Now Bob is working on ROLLERBALL (02). He has both posters framed on his wall side by side.” Female ROLLER BLADE cast members included Michelle Bauer, Lisa Marie (later Mrs. Tim Burton), and Barbara Peckinpah, no relation to Sam. “Never knew too much about Barbara. She came along with Michelle Bauer when New World wanted me to add some naked girls. 1 think Barbara had done a few adult movies, but I never knew for sure. Peckinpah was just a name we made up for her ”

Like many of Jackson’s later movies, ROLLERBLADE has a post-apocalyptic setting. “The ROLLER BLADE and FROGTOWN movies were all influenced by Trashman, a comic strip drawn by Spain Rodriquez. This strip was actually out long before MAD MAX, ROAD WARRIOR, and all the other post-nuclear holocaust movies. I also was inspired by Vaughn Bode and his comic strip - Junkwaffel Soldiers. Kevin Eastman also drew inspiration from Bode for Teenage Mutant Ninja. In addition to post-nuke, I also like the concept of the alternate-universe mix-and-match world, such as the movie STREETS OF FIRE.”

“I was shooting the very last shot for ROLLER BLADE and I saw a sign that was spray-painted on a brick wall that read Frogtown. That is the truth. Sam Mann who played the part of Waco in ROLLER BLADE suggested I call a movie HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN. There’s a real place somewhere with a history about how it supposedly rained frogs in the 1920s. Skateboard punks picked up on the legend. The handwriting was on the wall! When New World asked what I wanted to do next, I said HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN. No other details. We shook hands and had a deal. We’re selling a mockumentary called UFO: SECRET VIDEO that I made when we were waiting for the budget to arrive on HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN. This film was made in 1986, but the style didn’t catch on until THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.”

For HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN (87), Jackson took co-writing credits with Randall Frakes and co-directing credit with R.J. Kizer. “I’d known Randy Frakes since 1 worked with him and Jim Cameron in 1981. Randy had helped me with some story points on ROLLER BLADE, plus helped on ROLLER BLADE WARRIORS, ROLLER BLADE, and KILL KILL OVERKILL. Randy also wrote the two TERMINATOR novels and the first draft on Cameron’s TRUE LIES. I’d written the story for HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and originated most all of the characters. When the budget was going to be $150,000, New World Video didn’t care too much about a script, but when we got bumped upstairs to the feature film division with a bigger budget that started at 500K and went to 1.5 million, then a script was needed. Randy was in England when I got the idea for HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and as the project came together I called him on the set of ALIENS to pitch the story. When he returned to L.A. we got together at his favorite Mexican restaurant, and I pitched him the story and characters. I continued working with New World on the actual deal and budget. It was 150K without the script and was to be shot on 16mm. Once we had a script, I sat with Randy for five days while he did an ‘auto-write’ — it was incredible. The pages came out of the typewriter as if by magic. There were no typos, no paste ups, and no mistakes. New World got that script, and the budget went up. For 150K, nobody gave a damn what I did. ROLLER BLADE had made them one million dollars on a tiny post-production budget. I was given a choice. Shoot the movie for 150K in 16mm and go straight to video or, as it ended up, 1.5 million dollars with Screen Actors Guild actors and a theatrical release. The hitch was I’d have to agree to something very unusual for the time: co-director. It was R.J. Kizer, who’d done the American scenes for New World’s GODZILLA 1985. It meant a lot more money for Randy Frakes and me. It was a chance for a theatrical release and to work in 35mm with famous actors. The irony is that New World ran out of money and never ordered the 1000 prints they’d promised me.”

“New World put 1.5 million dollars in my bank account to make HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN, but they made me rent their office space, and hire their accountants and executives in charge of production. We couldn’t film the action script I’d written with Randy Frakes because they wouldn’t let us spend the money on the actual film. All of this is documented on my director’s commentary on the new Anchor Bay DVD release of HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN. We address most of the fun and problems with the movie.”

“This 1.5 million picture went straight to cable TV and home video. I had made FROGTOWN, thinking it was my big time break into theatrical release. New World ended up making only one 35mm print. The television networks USA and HBO were a step down, but the reality is that more people got to see FROGTOWN on TV than would have ever seen it in theaters. TV is your biggest and best exposure. Having films on TV and being listed in TV Guide has always helped me with credibility to get investors. All I had to say was, ‘Look in TV Guide. My movie is on tonight.’ They’d always write me a check!”

“We shot the exteriors at the famous Newhall Movie Ranch, home of the TWILIGHT ZONE accident.” A post-nuke look building was featured. “That was an abandoned Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana, California. The buildings had been blown up with dynamite. The bricks and rusted steel, along with dead tech machinery, were everywhere. My next film ROLLER BLADE WARRIORS was shot there, and you can see a lot more of that spectacular place.” FROGTOWN also features some interesting vehicles. “I believe the pink Med Tech ambulance with the gun turret was made from a 1950 Chevy panel truck. I designed the vehicle and had it built. I wanted to keep it for my collection, but New World sold it after a few years to a stuntman. The Frogtank was made from a 1962 Plymouth. LL Cool J. actually used this car later in a music video. We also use it again in RETURN TO FROGTOWN. The 1962 Plymouth is my favorite car of all time. I currently own two different ones and drive them as my regular car. For some reason I fell in love with the 1962 Plymouth, but never would have dreamed I’d be driving one beyond the year 2000!”

“Suzanne Solari was going to play Spangle in the low-budget 16mm version of HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN, but she lost the part in the big-budget version. (Solari did play a smaller role). At one time Spangle was going to be played by Sybil Danning. Daniel Stern wanted to play Sam Hell. We ended up with famous wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper and Sandahl Bergman, who was best known for CONAN THE BARBARIAN and ALL THAT JAZZ. Tony Randel was a big wrestling fan and wanted Roddy Piper for the role. New World had him come to meet me and I was convinced he was perfect! Roddy knew I’d made one of the world’s first wrestling films, and was familiar with all of my stars including Andre The Giant, Terry Funk, etc. John Carpenter saw HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and cast Piper in THEY LIVE (88). Piper went on the Johnny Carson TONIGHT SHOW show and said THEY LIVE was his first movie. Guess somebody told him not to mention FROGTOWN.

New World Pictures hired Roddy Piper an acting coach who did all the work for me. All I had to do was give Roddy his placement and say, ‘Action.’ But I think that “acting coach” actually hurt his performance in HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN. He did a much better job in THEY LIVE.

For a long time, I was mostly an image-oriented director concerned with stylized visuals as opposed to interpreting a scene from a story point-of-view that concentrates on the performances, like a play director would do. Now I try to do a proper job with all three-story, performances, and visuals. Someone once said that 90 percent of directing is casting, and I agree. If you can find good actors, who’ll follow instructions, then it helps everyone concerned. I’ve found good non-SAG actors and bad SAG actors. Being in the union doesn’t guarantee that you’re professional. The hardest thing in the world is still just to get an actor, any actor, in front of the camera and ready to work. At times, it’s been almost impossible. Being a SAG-signatory helps, because it means you’ve got a real budget and are taken seriously. Many of the films I’ve done have mixed Screen Actors Guild and non-union talent in the same film.”

“Sandahl Bergman had her own take on the character of Spangle. She knew the script, and we stuck to the written lines. The only thing she wouldn’t do for us is nudity, which is what she did for the previous picture, called SHE (83), made in Italy.” HELL also fea-

FROGTOWN II tured William Smith, Rory Calhoun and, as a frogman, Nicholas Worth. “I couldn’t believe he wanted to wear a mask. He was great, but such a shame to hide his face. Proves what a great actor he is that he shines thru the makeup. Very different kind of a role from what he did in DARKMAN (90).”

The sequel ROLLER BLADE WARRIORS: TAKEN BY FORCE (88) followed the three New World releases. Frakes wrote the script and Jonathan S. Kaplan (BROKEDOWN PALACE is a recent director credit) produced. Kathleen Kinmont starred as Sister Karin Crosse with a cast including Elizabeth Kaitan, Suzanne Solari, Allison Chase, and Abby Dalton (Kinmont’s mom, who had starred in 50s Corman movies). Rory' Calhoun had a role too. “Rory Calhoun got very special treatment and attention on both of the movies I made with him, HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and ROLLER BLADE WARRIORS. He was one of my favorite actors and became a good friend. The parts in both movies were written specifically for him. He had great stories about Marilyn Monroe and RIVER OF NO RETURN (54). What a guy and he had a great sense of humor. A humble man. I’d visited his place in Studio City. He sure is missed. Rory was a major part of motion picture history.”

Jackson continued to work as a cinematographer for others (even Troma) but his career took a new turn when he started working with martial artist and author Scott Shaw (born in LA in ’58). Shaw became his main star and co-writer. They made so many movies, so fast that Jackson some-times used pseudonyms (like Maximo T. Bird).

“Scott Shaw worked closely with me during the making of ROLLER BLADE SEVEN (91) and RETURN OF THE ROLLER BIADE SEVEN (92). It was on these two films that we developed what evolved to be known as Zen Filmmaking. I’d shot movies without a script before, but not to this extent. It was a good and creative collaboration. The original un-cut director’s cut of ROLLER BLADE SEVEN was a big hit in the United Kingdom. I still get fan letters from England about ROLLER BLADE SEVEN. There is actually a ROLLER BLADE fan club in the United Kingdom. They have meetings and act out the different characters, just like the old days of ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. It’s bizarre.”

Some viewers might assume that the “Zen” movies were made by (and for) people on LSD. “I thought LSD stood for Let’s Stay Drunk! I’ve never got hooked on drugs or alcohol. Filmmaking has been my only high. There is nothing more exciting than creating something from nothing. Zen Filmmaking was created as a way of having fun and keeping complete creative control. It wouldn’t matter if we lost an actor. The best explanation of Zen Filmmaking is to be found at This year I’ve written my first screenplay in 10 years because I’m getting ready to try something like DRAGNET that depends on fast quips. The dialogue has to be written so the movie will be fast paced. There are no rules and I can mix and match.”

At some point the two sequels were edited together as the video release ROLLER BLADE SEVEN (PV#20). Jackson was the P/D/S/cinematographer/editor and appears as Father Donato. Traci Lords was originally going to star. “I met Traci Lords when I was shooting 2nd unit and working as the still photographer on SHOCK EM DEAD (90). She agreed to be the female lead in ROLLER BLADE SEVEN. Scott Shaw had taught her how to use the samurai sword. We’d have had one hell of a female samurai warrior and been way ahead of XENA with a female action star, but the producer had to cause problems.” Allison Chase took the female lead but it’s the name guest stars that makes SEVEN worth seeing, including Karen Black. “We had so much fun on ROLLER BLADE SEVEN. Her scene was a tribute to EASY RIDER. First met her on TWISTED JUSTICE (a David Heavner movie - 90). Saw her at the 25th Anniversary reunion screening of Robert Altman’s NASHVILLE. She is the only person I’ve ever worked with who was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. 1 love William Smith and he is my favorite actor of all time and I tell him that to his face whenever he tries to choke me to death! He’s been with me on HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN, ROLLER BLADE SEVEN, RAW ENERGY, and ONE SHOT SAM. I work with him every chance I get. He is the King of the Hollywood bad men! I worked with Don Stroud on TWISTED JUSTICE, RETURN OF THE ROLLER BLADE SEVEN and IT’S SHOWTIME. He was always great! My friend Bill Dear also cast him in WILD AMERICA (97). Don is a living legend.”

Note: Dere, also from the Detroit area, started his career with NORTHVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE (74).

“Joe Estevez is a wonderful human being and a terrific actor. Not too long ago he was in a movie with his brother Martin Sheen. Joe should have his own television series. When is Hollywood going to wise up?” The cast also includes Frank Stallone, Rhonda Shear, and Korean/ American porn star Jade East.


“RETURN TO FROGTOWN, was made for only $180K and was 35mm, SAG, and also went straight to cable and home video. RETURN TO FROGTOWN, I feel, is a better-looking picture and has more action (than the original).” Robert Z’Dar took over the Sam Hell role. “I wanted Robert Z’Dar and no other actor. I got my wish. Robert Z’Dar has a ‘recognizable’ face. He’s been a good friend and I’ve worked with him on GUNS OF EL CHUPACABRA, IT’S SHOW-TIME and many others. He also plays the Frankenstein monster in FRANKENBLADE that I hope to finish sometime soon. But for the part of Spangle, we tried to get Traci Lords, but the producer (Scott Pfeiffer) was an idiot and wasted too much time playing the role of casting director. Traci would have been perfect. The timing didn’t work out with her schedule, so we ended up launching a talent hunt. The winner was Denice Duff, who now does a lot of work as a glamour photographer. RETURN TO FROGTOWN launched her career, got her an agent, and some TV commercials, but sadly only a couple movie roles in Charlie Band movies. We shot the exteriors at the Paramount Movie Ranch and the interiors on sets in our production office building on Hollywood Boulevard, the same office where Quentin Tarantino made RESERVOIR DOGS.”

RETURN TO FROGTOWN had another interesting support cast including Lou Ferrigno, Joe Estevez and other names. “Charles Napier played Captain Delano. I cast him because I wanted the Texas Rocket Rangers to all have the lantern jaw style chin. I’d enjoyed his work going back to the days of his Russ Meyer films. Rhonda Shear did a guest part in RETURN TO FROGTOWN and she played the movie on her USA UP ALL NIGHT cable show. She had a much better part on ROLLER BLADE SEVEN. Brion James played Professor Tanzer. “He was a joy to work with. No work to directing him at all. What a fun guy. He’d do low budget and then turn around and make movies like THE PLAYER and THE FIFTH ELEMENT. Brion loved to work and was a good friend. I cried and cried when I found out he died. He sure is missed. HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and RETURN TO FROGTOWN show up on television on a regular basis, usually played back to back. You just have to watch your TV Guide. They play all the time on your local stations.”

“I’ve made films for $35.00 and for one and a half million dollars. Some movies don’t really need a budget and others do. CARJACK (93) is a great little movie for two thousand bucks, which was spent on the actual film. I can make a film with any budget or no budget, it all depends on what my purpose is for making the project. The movie IT’S SHOWTIME (93) was shot in 16mm and is a film about lap dancing. The star is Jeff Conaway. Mainly sold overseas. It has not yet been released on U.S. home video. DEVIL’S PET (93) was shot under the title LAST IMPRESSION. I made the movie in 35mm working from a script by the late Mark Williams. It was the perfect art movie. Someone talked the producer into adding animation and it was never sold. TWISTED FATE (94) was also shot on 35mm. The distributor retitled the movie KILL, KILL, OVERKILL. It was released on U.S. home video, sold overseas, and showed many times on USA UP ALL NIGHT. The producer plans to put out a new uncensored edition on DVD."

“There actually is a very loose third FROGTOWN sequel called TOAD WARRIOR (96 - PV #26). This time Scott Shaw plays Sam’s brother Max Hell. Spangle was played by an unknown actress who is now probably raising a family in Beverly Hills. We’re going to re-cut this third FROGTOWN and release it thru my Zendance distribution company. We always joked about doing a Russ Meyer-inspired version of FROGTOWN called ‘Horney Toads,’ but we never made it.” TOAD featured Estevez and another Jackson regular, Conrad Brooks (PV #27).

“I’ve know Julie Strain (PV #33) since 1987. Met her when we were casting HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN. Saw her over the years and we kept in touch. She’s in QUEEN OF LOST ISLAND (94) and BIG SISTER 2000 (95). On GUNS OF EL CHUPACABRA (97), she asked that we put Kevin Eastman in the movie. They play King All-Media and Queen B who send Jack B. Quick (Scott Shaw) on a mission.” People might assume that Eastman, wealthy from creating The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, was backing the movies he was in.“I’ve never asked Kevin for money, but Julie has paid for the movies she wanted me to film such as THE STRAIN SISTERS SHOCKUMENTARY. She did pay for one movie that was Scott’s idea - LINGERIE KICKBOXER (98). I later sold her all rights, title and interest. I consider Julie Strain a good friend, but we just ran out of things to do. She mainly wanted to make all the movies at home in her backyard.

Kevin Eastman is a genius and deserves all of his success. He is a great guy and one of the most talented creators I’ve ever known. And Julie Strain has always been a fantastic person. They are the perfect team and really are the King and Queen of All-Media.’’

ARMAGEDDON BOULEVARD (PV #33) was another Jackson/Shaw movie with the couple. It features porn star Jill Kelly (NUDE WORLD ORDER, INTERVIEW WITH A VIBRATOR) naked. “I take credit for putting Jill Kelly in her first movie - ROLLER BLADE SEVEN and CARJACK. After she became a famous adult star, she came back and appeared in TOAD WARRIOR as a favor.”

Many of Jackson’s later movies have porn stars in the casts.

“Not many, but some. Usually when we have a film that needs nudity, it is best to hire a professional for the job. And these girls also enjoy getting a chance to do B movies. The adult stars are professional people who are always on time and do the job. 1 just got tired of hiring strangers who weren’t serious about being in movies. They want the money and fame, but aren’t willing to do the work. The adult performers welcome the opportunity to work in regular movies.”

DEBBIE DOES DAMNATION (PV #30) director Eric Brummer (aka extreme porn director Slain Wayne) has also been in Jackson movies. “I know Eric and have seen his film. The only connection is that I used one of his girls from that movie in TOAD WARRIOR.”

“Scott Shaw and I parted company for a few years and both of us continued to make movies. We got together again for GUNS OF EL CHUPACABRA (97) which we both consider our Zen Filmmaking masterpiece. GUNS OF EL CHUPACABRA has some great scenes of naked girls shooting guns. We also did a few DV features where we’d tag team direct and produce. Right now we’re getting ready to edit ROCK ’N’ ROLL COPS (98) that Scott directed and ONE SHOT SAM (00) that I directed and starred in. And there are about eight other Zen titles we have in the can ready for post-production.” MIMES: SILENT BUT DEADLY (98) stars Shaw and Jennifer Grant - the daughter of Cary Grant and Dyan Cannon! Shaw also directed movies on his own including ATOMIC SAMURAI (93) and more recent titles.

Director/star David Heavner (OUTLAW FORCE, PRIME TARGETS) is also in Jackson movies. “David is a friend I’ve known since the late 80’s. He was in KILL, KILL, OVERKILL, GUNS OF EL CHUPACABRA, and ROCK N ROLL COPS. In recent years, David and I started attending church together. He’s still making movies that he writes, directs, produces, and plays the lead.”

“Some of the features I’ve made have only been sold overseas so far, QUEEN OF LOST ISLAND, LITTLE LOST SEA SERPENT, BABY GHOST, ROLLERGATOR, RAW ENERGY. It’s a big market, and many of the foreign audiences love to see new features made in Los Angeles. For some reason they enjoy seeing the famous landmarks. All the movies in my filmography have been sold all over the world. Japan has been the best for HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and ROLLER BLADE. The movies I’ve made on 35mm sell the best overseas. I’ve made several DV features for only the cost of the digital tape. The best one was shot in Michigan. It is called THE DEVIL AND JACK DANIEL. I’m working on editing it now.” DEVIL is partially the unfinished GHOST TAXI (96) with Shaw, Strain, Eastman, Ray, Brummer and others.

“I’ve made a lot of movies for other people as a ‘work for hire’ but in the past 5 - 6 years, I finally wised up and now only make movies that are owned by my production company. I have masters of most of my films with a few exceptions. I’m still working to get some of my films re-released on DVD. There is a chance I might reclaim some of my early work by ‘divine right’ and put out limited release DVD editions of some of the hard to find and out of print films. I realize I’ve been holding back and now plan to pull out all the stops and really get creative. I think the audience is ready for some new and different kind of movies in terms of subject matter, and the way movies are made. And in addition to the weird and wacky - I’m doing some documentaries with a few living legends. All the new productions have a script or at least an outline. I’m now interested in trying some different methods of working.”

“To me real independent filmmaking has always meant that the producer raises the money himself from private sources and not major studios.

The examples I can think of right off are NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, SHOCK WAVES, EL MARIACHI, CLERKS, and most of my own films. And, yes, Indy filmmaking has changed in the last twenty years. When the video revolution first started, you could get almost anything distributed on home video. Now with the digital revolution, you can get everything into the market place. These are wonderful times with more opportunities and markets than ever in history. But talent, real talent, is still rare. I’m thankful to the filmmakers who inspired me to make movies and for the opportunity to pick up a camera, take some performers, and head for the desert to make a movie. It’s been a blast!”

Jackson has other projects too. “My new website is HollywoodZen.TV plus I am revamping my original site. Click on it for updates on new films and how to own them. I have a radio show broadcast out of the Ann Arbor, Michigan area on Saturday nights called Red, White, and Bluegrass. I get a lot of music for my movies from the new alt. country bands. You can hear my show on the internet at” Jackson is also finishing a book called Soldier of Cinema: A Guide to Independent Filmmaking about his film career thus far.

This article can also be viewed at: Shotguns, Blades & Samurai Frogs: Zen Filmmaker Donald G. Jackson

Article Copyright © 2002
Photo of Donald G. Jackson by Scott Shaw Copyright
© 1997 All Rights Reserved