The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at] I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story (2015)

I thought I'd extend my new Christmas tradition of doing a documentary to "Christmas in July," especially since I have a lot of documentaries, in particular this one, that I've seen that I thought would be worthy of review on the site here. In addition to us, our friend at RobotGEEK's Cult Cinema has covered this, so you can go to his site to see what he thought. Now, without any further ado.

Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story is the story behind Sandy Collora's Batman Dead End short film that took the comic book world by storm in 2003. After directing some commercials, Collora decides to make a short film as a demonstration of his skills. His idea is a Batman movie where he fights the Joker and a Predator. At the same time, Collora's mother is dying of breast cancer, forcing him to split his time between shooting and visiting her at the hospital. When the film is released, it gets a screening at Comic Con, and the rest is history. From there Collora was the hottest property in Hollywood, but instead of taking some entry level films he doesn't like, he tries to strike out on his own, and while he doesn't get the success he expected, he has the sense that he's doing it his way.


I really enjoyed this movie. I hadn't heard about Batman Dead End before this, but seeing it now after, I get why there was the buzz. Collora made the Batman movie we as fans would have wanted, and had he had the chance to make a feature-length Batman, we can only imagine how that would have turned out. There's also an element of "pride goeth before the fall," that perhaps Collora was a bit too full of himself and hurt his career in the process; but the film handles that really well, giving us all angles of Collora's life, including the loss of his mother. When we see the video of him speaking before an audience at Comic Con, where even he's now embarrassed by how he came off at the time, there's a sense that he can be forgiven for any brash--maybe arrogant--behavior, considering the price the film took for him to make, and then seeing how successful it is, it had to be a massive flood of emotions. Beyond all of that, I think Collora exhibits the independent spirit we love from directors here at the DTVC, so it's fitting to spotlight this documentary on him.

One thing this documentary does really well, is it tells us not only who Collora is, but also spotlights the talent he had working with him. This wasn't just a fan film done by a bunch of amateur filmmakers who just really had a passion, Collora and his team were professionals, and some of the best at their crafts. The shame is, often for a lot of these guys to get work that pays enough, it has to be on big budget projects where the studios set the rules in an attempt to be as big tent as possible. What Collora shows us here is, if these guys ever got the keys to a major studio big budget picture, it would be better than we could imagine. Unfortunately it feels like the film industry has been going even further in the other direction from 2003, meaning we're even further from ever seeing something like this as a feature-length come to fruition.


The one name that came to mind when I watched Collora in his interviews, was Albert Pyun. The big difference between those two, was Pyun tried to make it in the studio system with Cannon, and got burned multiple times in seeing his vision taken away from him, which was what Collora fought against, ultimately hurting his chances of getting some of the bigger James Cameron-style productions he ultimately wanted. The other difference between the two, is Pyun got to make Captain America, and almost Spider-Man as well (Pyun said they didn't have the budget to make it look as good as they wanted, and it ran into the same issues with using wires that the Spider-Man Broadway encountered). In looking at the current comic book movie landscape, you have to feel like Collora belongs there, that the natural progression after Dead End would have led him to being one of the in-demand directors to tackle a half-a-billion dollar Marvel extravaganza--but at the same time, you also have to feel like Collora would have wanted nothing to do with that, because it was the sanitized Disney-fication Marvel that we're seeing on the screen, not the comics from the early 90s that inspired the Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity War sagas. Disney and Warner don't want Collora's visions of what these films should be, because they aren't big tent enough, they would want him to make their visions for them. By the same token, if Collora doesn't want Hollywood, maybe there is a Pyun-like DTV career out there for him where his vision can flourish on the screen for us. I'd love to see what he can do in more films.

For me though the biggest thing that makes Dead End short film work is the inclusion of the Predator, aka "Big Red." In the video of Collora addressing the fans at Comic Con, he shouts out "is that how Batman is supposed to be done?" and when the crowd only gives him a tepid response, he shouts "I can't hear you! Is that how Batman is supposed to be done?" and they cheer. When he saw that video all these years later he was embarrassed, but he also had a great point. That was how Batman was supposed to be done. Clark Bartram was a great choice, a stunt worker and body builder who looked the part and could do all the action scenes. I also liked that there was no origin story here. We all know who Batman is, just dump him in an alley and put him up against the Joker and a Predator. The fact that we don't have 90 minutes of this is a travesty. When you look at the time this was made, we'd just come off of Bat-Nipples in Batman and Robin, but at the same time, the comic book genre on the Marvel side was getting a resurgence. We wanted a Batman redux, and Collora gave us that much more than the Nolan/Bale trilogy we had coming after this, and I'm sure also better than the Robert Pattinson Batman we have coming next year. The reality is though, as long as those mediocre "yeah, but what if?..." Batman adaptations pack theaters, there will never be the impetus to give us a feature-length big budget Collora Batman, which is too bad.


Finally, I thought I would use this paragraph to describe what my perfect Batman movie would be. It's hard to say, because Batman has so many great villains, plus you throw in the Predator. Who do you choose from between the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, or Catwoman; plus baddies like Egg Head, Mr. Freeze, or King Tut; not to mention I loved the Joel Schumacher Two-Face played by Tommy Lee Jones, with the really colorful other half of his face, and his Poison Ivy played by Uma Thurman. Maybe what it would be is a Wacky Races kind of event, where Batman and Robin in the Bat-mobile have to race cross-country, with all the other villains and the Predator racing against him. Imagine the fun cars that each villain would have. Or maybe we just remake Predator 2 with Batman and the Predator trashing Gotham City, while all the villains sit and watch. My hunch is, now that Disney owns the Predator, a Batman movie is the furthest from their mind. They're probably going to jump-start the franchise so they can plug up the theaters with another film: add that to Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and their own Disney properties, and they can choke the life out of the competing studios by taking over all the screens. 

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of my writing, you can screen Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story on Tubi. Not only is it a compelling watch, but it does remind me of a time before the Disney-fication I described above, when the film industry was more open and less bid tent-ish. Collora is a true independent spirit, and this film both celebrates that, and gives us a great account of what it took to make his great fan film.

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