Kennedys drummer DH Peligro have an otherworldly experience on the set of the movie “Free LSD,” a rock ‘n’ roll sci-fi comedy about the L.A. Punk band OFF! (Credit: Steve Appleford)
But his character is not happy. As his bearded, downcast alter ego in the film, Morris has little in his life beyond conspiracy obsessions to excite him. Then a young woman in pink hair shows up at the counter and flirts with him. Her name is Cici, and when a relationship unexpectedly begins, he’s unable to perform sexually and grows deeply depressed. He turns to the Boner Doctor he sees advertised on TV and bus benches, and whose remedy involves opening up human brain power to 100 percent of its potential — and traveling to parallel universes, communicating with aliens and bees.
Earlier in the day, OFF! And the cast film various scenes in an all-white, otherworldly “Harvest Room,” a place where alien races and humans cross paths en route to other dimensions. In several scenes shot, band members wear white beekeeper suits, staring blankly ahead, facing versions of themselves or the menacing Wrongdoers.
Standing off-camera, Coats looks toward a trio of Wrongdoers and coaches the actors in white. “Stone cold, stone cold … Try not to blink. A little bit more sinister — like ‘I’m going to eat you for breakfast.’ And action!”
The inspiration for making a movie is rooted in OFF!’s tradition of hilarious, dark, ambitious music videos. Previous music videos have included repeat appearances by comedy icons Jack Black and Dave Foley.
“We’ve put a lot of work into our music videos over the years,” Coats says. “We’re sort of known for hitting a certain mark and a certain tone with the epic and goofy nature of what we’ve rolled out over the years. I felt a responsibility to that heritage.”
David Yow, former singer for the Jesus Lizard, has a key role as the Boner Doctor, a congenial TV pitchman in a white coat and sworn enemy of erectile dysfunction. He’s also involved in the film’s multi-dimensional battle between alien races. “Yow’s character is really like the Professor X of the movie,” Coats explains.
Aside from Yow and the band, the cast includes a deep bench of other current or former musicians, including DH Peligro of Dead Kennedys, Don Bolles of the Germs, Zander Schloss of the Circle Jerks, Davey Havok of AFI and Rob Zabrecky. OFF!’s Brown was on tour with Thundercat and unavailable during the film shoot, so Peligro took his place in the cast.
In the just-released music video, there are moments of dangerous tension amid the insanity, including Chris D. (of early L.A. Punk act Flesh Eaters), who makes a jarring impression as a stone-cold villain known as Wrongdoer 1, facing down a shotgun-wielding Fulbright.
“It’s like real horror movie type stuff, like blood and pink and exploding heads and people getting shot, all sorts of fun stuff. Oh man, we’ve shot some scenes that are ridiculous,” he says, pointing to a scene of a drum battle between Peligro and Bolles. “Don Bolles is just ridiculously funny.”
The long delay between the film’s conception years ago and now has had its benefits, giving Coats time to rewrite and improve his script. After funding finally materialized and casting was complete, Coats began the intense work of directing his first feature film. Among his partners is producer Kurt Kittleson, whose projects include work with Paul Schrader and David Lynch.
“Dimitri is such a professional. He prepared like crazy,” Kittleson says. “We rehearsed for two weeks before we did the film, and he was full on.”
Shooting began after that rehearsal, mingling professional actors with non-actors. Actress Chelsea Debo, who plays the mysterious love interest, Cici, shares many scenes with Morris in his first starring role.
“I was nervous in the beginning just because he hasn’t done much acting, but he’s blown me away,” Debo says. “We haven’t really had a good cult classic since the ‘90s. It’s like one of those movies that you watch 40 times stoned, and each time you watch it, you figure out a new clue. We’re a bit Lynchian in that way.”
The music video for “War Above Los Angeles” includes a bizarre clip of one of Yow’s favorite scenes, where he has Morris in the examination chair and the Boner Doctor shape-shifts back and forth into the much sexier Cici in bra and panties.
“Our faces were two inches apart and I’m trying to be seductive,” Yow says of filming the scene with Morris, grinning. “I love the idea that when the movie comes out, there’s not a single fan of American independent punk rock music who ever expected to see that. It was really uncomfortable and very funny.”
Chloe Dykstra, who co-starred in OFF!’s video for “Holier Than Thou,” (and whose father won an Oscar for special effects on the original Star Wars in 1977) appears as another woman with possible alien connections.
“It’s a very sort of trippy culty science fiction, chaotic adventure, starring a punk band,” Dykstra says. “How do I explain it? It’s like a circus in a script.”
Aside from Morris, Coats and Fulbright also appear on screen as an alternate reality version of themselves — exploring the grim possibilities of their lives if things had gone differently. The alternative Fulbright is a robe-wearing member of a religious cult, and Coats is the sleazy, fast-talking president of Monolith Records, complete with thick mustache, gold chains and Boston accent.
“In my 20-plus years of crossing paths with all these music industry executives and powerful people, it’s the greatest hits of all those scumbags rolled up into one,” Coats says of his character.
Morris describes him as “the sleaziest, scuziest motherfuckin’ A&R guy.” Coats studied Method acting for two years at Julliard before he shifted into music, so once he gets into costume, he stays in character between scenes, even while directing.
“It’s been a lot of fun to just embody your worst self,” he say