Throughout the rich history of the Lutz area, one thing that’s never talked about is the Great Oatmeal Famine of 1974.
Anyone looking to restock their Quaker Oats back then found the shelves mysteriously empty. Was it a strike? A product recall? A sudden desire to change breakfast food?
Nope, it was a small independent horror movie filming in Lutz at the time called “Satan’s Children.” And the special effects wizard behind the film, John Mocsary, needed 50 cases of it so that he could create something Lutz has never had before — quicksand.
“We bought up every case of oatmeal we could find in the North Tampa area,” Mocsary said. “And we used every bit of it. I had to make a three-foot pit, and it had to look real.”
Except once the oatmeal was mixed and actors started falling into it, Mocsary realized there were two things he hadn’t anticipated. First, the nearby cattle on the ranch they were using were quite interested in eating the oatmeal up. And second: The Laws of Newton.
“We had a buoyancy problem,” he said. “So what we had to do was put cinder blocks in, so that after people went into it, they would hold on to the blocks to keep them under.”
The magic of movies, taking place right in Lutz, nearly two decades before Tim Burton would bring Johnny Depp and “Edward Scissorhands” to the area. And while the R-rated “Satan’s Children” was never a box office success, it’s being remembered Nov. 15 when many of the former cast and crew, like Mocsary, get together at Tampa Theatre for a special screening.
The event was Andy Lalino’s idea. He wasn’t part of the movie, but he’s a major horror fan, and discovered “Satan’s Children” when it was released as a home video.
“I first got to see it back in 2006, and even then, I noticed that it was made in Tampa,” said Lalino, a producer at WUSF-TV in Tampa, and horror aficionado. “That piqued my interest, since I’m from the Tampa Bay area, and I toyed around with some ideas on what to do about that.”
The event next Saturday will celebrate the early days of film in the area, and feature actors like Stephen White, Rosemary Orlando and John Edwards, who all appeared in the film, while many of them were students at the University of South Florida. None are household names today, but their inclusion in what they hope could become a local cult classic will put them in the spotlight they never got in 1974.
“The film was actually released in 1975, theoretically,” Lalino said. “I talked to a lot of people, and they can’t ever remember seeing ads for it in the newspaper, which was common back then. It might have hit a few theaters in New York City and maybe some other parts of the country, but it was nothing like what happened with ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre.’”
That film was released in 1974, and was a low-budget horror as well that found its way into the mainstream consciousness. It went on to gross $30 million at the box office, which adjusted for inflation, would be $140 million today.
Lalino suspects “Satan’s Children” cost $100,000 to make — a third of the cost of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” but those who invested money were probably lucky to get any return on their investment, let alone their investment itself.
Joe Wiezycki was a producer at WTVT-Channel 13 for three decades beginning in the 1960s. He and others from WTVT worked on the project in secret — they didn’t want their bosses to know they were doing it — and it took months to complete all the work with mostly nights and weekends.
Wiezycki met Mocsary when the latter was working as a makeup artist — in a funeral home.
“He had called me up and said, ‘I understand you do makeup,’” Mocsary said. “He said, ‘I got this project we’re working on, would you be interested in helping us out?’”
That project was a film called “Willy’s Gone,” and had a limited release in 1968, making no money. But that didn’t stop Wiezycki, who quickly started work on his next project that would end up surviving 40 years — “Satan’s Children.”
“It was a fun job to work on,” Mocsary said. “Working with Joe was always a good thing, and he was a great guy. I’m sorry he’s not with us.”
Wiezycki died in 1994.
But many of the cast and crew still remain, and Lalino hopes to help new audiences discover a film old audiences never did. But it was made as a B-movie, usually a film packaged with a wide-release, and society was much different then. There are major segments of the film that some may regard today as outright homophobic and sexist.
“This screening, I think, will elevate the status of this film,” Lalino said. “It will bring attention to it, not just for new fans, but for those who might have grown up in the ‘70s and ‘80s and never heard of the picture.
“I look forward to being a part of it.”
If you go
WHAT: ‘Satan’s Children’ 40th Anniversary Screening and Reunion
WHEN: Nov. 15, 10 p.m.
WHERE: Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin St.
Published November 5, 2014
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