Film Threat’s Chris Gore has likened it to “The Elephant Man” meets “Mean Streets”. A bizarre, original idea by a relatively unknown young actor from the New York theater scene, James Lorinz yearned to bring the story of a mutated misfit’s struggle to get back on top, only to be halted by the shortsighted studio bureaucracy.
By the early 90’s, Lorinz had been semi-recognizable face to those associated with the indie horror-comedy scene for his appearances in genre films such as “Street Trash” and “Frankenhooker”. Little did anyone suspect that he had an unusual offbeat tale on his mind that he’d been wanting to make since Film School. A heart-wrenching tale based on the Mr. Softee ice cream franchise, about a man made out of ice cream trying to get ahold of his ice cream company once again.
Recalls Lorinz in the book “Cheap Scares: Low Budget Horror Filmmakers Share Their Secrets”: “I remember always waiting for Mr. Softee to come down the block, and the truck would come, and you’d see his cartoon face and you’d think “What if this guy was alive? What would it be like?”
During his tenure at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Lorinz produced a crude, early version of the story, with a fellow student playing the role of the character. Still, he couldn’t keep the concept out of his head. And after the aforementioned films, and appearing on the short lived sitcom, “City”, in 1990 he’d managed to scrounge up enough money to produce a professionally shot short film, produced by Street Trash’s Roy Frumkes, and featuring his screen partner from that film, gangster character actor Tony Darrow,and even featured then little known actor David Caruso as Mr. Softee’s roommate.
It also showcased makeup effects by the now famous Kelly Gleason. The short’s script was polished by Rocco Simonelli (“The Substitute”).
Supposedly filmed under the title “Mr. Softee: An American Tragedy” for about $20,000, the 15 minute short caused a bit of a stir at video store conventions. An enthusiastic Jim Glickenhaus, co-producer of Frakenhooker, paid Lorinz $10,000 to produce, direct and star in a full length version for them. With Simonelli having already written the full length version.
The Short, in its entirety:
The Story (Since Revised): Concerned Mr. Swirlee (retracted from Softee, due to legal matters), a down on his luck mutation with an ice-cream cone for a head, who was a victim of the flawed anti-miscarriage drug, NoDropInUm, in which the expecting mother’s fetus would be manifested as the food she had consumed (There would be a special ward with babies that looked like pizza, pickles, and kielbasa). (A parody of the Thalidomide morning sickness drug scandal in which the children were born armless and with flipper and fin-like appendages). Swirlee was once the head of his own “Mr. Softee”-like ice cream business, until he was run out by the vicious Mafia kingpin, Don Sofrutti (changed from Tofutti) and his artificial ice-cream and sweets empire.
Swirlee now just sits around the house he shares with his roommate, Tony in a depressed state, having to keep the air conditioning running all year round in order to stay alive. Something that irks Tony to no end. Despite his condition, Swirlee wants to live like any other human, to be warm. His walls covered by pictures of sunny, tropical locations, and he attempts to dance romantically with a call-girl, only to have her rush out in disgust after discovering what he truly is.
After a rough argument about his future by Tony, Swirlee sucks it up, and goes to see Sofrutti at his gentlemen’s club to see about getting some of his trucks back. After a tense exchange of words, Sofrutti has his men rough Swirlee up and thrown into an alley. Swirlee, bruised and dejected, staggers home and attempts to commit suicide by taking a warm bath.
Tony saves him at the last minute by spraying him with a fire extinguisher. We would then flash back to Swirlee’s past, seeing that his father left both his mother and he, due to the conditions needed to keep him cool and alive, as well as his mother dying of pneumonia and everyone blaming him on account of it.
Some time has gone by, Swirlee has been released from a psychiatric hospital with a more positive outlook on life, as well as a miniature Freon inhaler that will keep him constantly cool. After the daughter of one of Don Sofrutti’s victims gives Swirlee a cash advance, he goes back into the ice cream business with Tony as his partner. A massive media blitz then occurs with Swirlee hobnobbing with celebrities, even singing the National Anthem at a baseball game!
This attracts the attention of a news reporter named Fran Wexler, who like any good reporter, sees it as her duty to ruin his life and status.
The attention isn’t lost on Sofrutti as well, who’s ice cream empire is taking a massive nose dive since Swirlee has returned to the scene. Philly, Tony’s loudmouthed friend, who had been urging him to kick Swirlee out earlier, has been hired as one of Sofrutti’s enforcers, and offers Tony a job working for the mob. When he refuses, Sofrutti’s thugs beat Tony up while Philly sets fire to his car. This frightens Swirlee’s newly hired driving staff, who walk off the job out of fear.
Swirlee gets back in touch with Rose, the escort girl who’d walked out on him earlier, and they meet up with an old friend of his, “Dutch” Chocolate,a black NoDropInUm ice cream mutant with gang connections who sets Swirlee up with some of his tough henchmen as drivers, as well as turning him onto a stronger, narcotic based replacement for his Freon inhaler.
Sofrutti has a meeting with Swirlee, and attempts to strong-arm his way into his business, and Swirlee flatly refuses, kicking him and his thugs out, which aggravates Tony, afraid at what might happen next.
Meanwhile, as Fran goes around interviewing Swirlee’s associates, like Rose, Swirlee encounters a haggard old man outside his house, who turns out to be his Father, Vinnie! After an argument, the two men patch up their differences. Then, while Swirlee is distracted, his Father takes a hit off of the narcotic inhaler, which kills him!
Later, Tony is approached by Philly with a proposition. Sofrutti’s goons lay an ambush for Dutch and his men, killing the men with gunfire, and taking Dutch captive. Swirlee, is then summoned to Sofrutti’s plant, where he learns of Tony’s betrayal. He is then roughed up by the goons and forced to watch as they murder Dutch with hair dryers, melting him into a pile of goo!
Swirlee then staggers through town, learning that Fran’s investigating has cost him his licence. At his Mother’s graveside, he looks for direction. His Parents, as spirits, appear to him, and while lovingly telling him that won’t forgive him for letting them die, they encourage him to get revenge on those who wronged him.
Meanwhile, Tony, now working for Sofrutti, is ambushed by his goons who believe that he might turn on them. Suddenly, the scene is interrupted by Swirlee, armed with a machine gun, which he then uses to exterminate Sofrutti’s goons. While preparing to kill Tony as well, he realizes he still cannot bring himself to do so. Tony apologizes for turning on him, and the two reconcile. The then set their sites on getting even with Sofrutti.
The two then confront him and his other Mafia associates, at the gentleman’s club. Another tense battle ensues, and results in the two other goons being taken out very quickly, with Tony and Swirlee sustaining a few injuries themselves. Sofrutti, armed with a switchblade, hacks off the top of Swirlee’s head, before Swirlee sticks it into the Don’s face, suffocating him to death with his chocolaty syrup blood.
The scene would then transition to a train station with Swirlee, his reputation ruined, saying a fond farewell to Tony, and hopping a refrigerated box-car for “somewhere cooler”.
Needless to say, the executives, and young staff members who reviewed the script, found its dark, strange premise unnerving.
“Well, we just don’t care for this suicide scene, it’s too depressing. Maybe if we could just..” Lorinz remembers their reaction being. “We made a mistake, I think. We gave them the whole script to read before they gave us they money, and they turned us down. They didn’t like the adult themes in it. They didn’t like the suicide. They wanted us to make a kids movie, like “The Ice Cream Man Hero”. Now, this is the first ever company I gave it to. I didn’t give a ****. I was like “**** you. Ha-ha! I’ve got a million places to go with this.” If I could only do it all over again, I would just have said to them, “Yes, yes, we’ll do that. Yes.” And then just did what I wanted to do.”
In the years since, Swirlee has had somewhat of a resurgence in the underground circuit, with the short film being played at many horror conventions.
Lorinz had also been considering reconfiguring the story:
“The whole mob element is out. It’s more about a guy that’s this freak; he’s a loner. The movie opens up now with him on a rooftop and we see a POV through binoculars, and he’s looking through people’s windows: you see one window and there’s a guy and he’s making a sandwich; you pan over and there’s a girl with no top on brushing her hair; and the binoculars move away from that. You see how I’m grabbing the audience, don’t you? You see how the distributors would love this, don’t you? And then it focuses in on some scene where there’s a guy reading a newspaper in a chair and his wife’s knitting something, and he’s fixated on something. And that swirl on top starts to become erect… “
Recently, there had even been talk of the character being revived for an online series, but nothing has developed on that matter as of lately. It’s uncertain if anyone will give Swirlee a second lick.
Script link: http://www.roccosimonelli.com/apps/documents/