You Are Not Alone – The Mark Ezra Interview by Dave Wain

EZRA 001You Are Not Alone – The Mark Ezra Interview by Dave Wain

The name Mark Ezra is indelibly inked into the minds of horror aficionados for his memorable slasher Slaughter High (1986), so it was a great surprise to see his most recent film – You Are Not Alone aka House Swap – sneak into the UK market with practically no fanfare. After watching the film [review here] I wondered what could we do at UKHS to prevent this frightening British horror from slipping under the radar, so I got in contact with Mark to discover the scoop on his latest genre entry.

UKHS – Mark, thanks for taking the time out to speak to UKHS. House Swap feels like a very personal project for you. Am I right in thinking the number of crew you had was in single figures?

Mark Ezra – This was personal on two accounts.  Firstly, because the story actually happened to my wife Jenny and myself, and secondly I was able to shoot with a tiny crew.  Jenny is a production designer – she was assistant to the great Anton Furst on Tim Burton’s BATMAN – as well as a composer.  Although we have no music track in the film, Jenny wrote the pieces that the character Ginny composes and plays.  Richard Gibb, the cameraman, I’ve known since we were at film school.  Richard has shot documentaries in war conditions and is able to light a shot in seconds, so that gave me the possibility of working very fast on the shoot.  So that was the crew – Jenny, Richard and myself.

EZRA 002UKHS – How did you manage to balance all your different roles – director, producer, writer, editor and sound editor?

Mark Ezra – There’s a lot less to worry about in one sense.  There’s no producer breathing down your neck.  There’s no crew of fifty people following you around and slowing you down.  Against this, there are no checks and balances.  If I make a wrong choice, nobody is going to tell me so.  As Producer/Director I financed the movie myself, chose the cast and the location.  As writer I made the choice of a ‘subtle’ approach to the story, letting it develop by increments.  My usual approach as a writer is to have ‘bigger bangs for bigger bucks’.  Going the other way was an experiment to see if I could make it work.

I was an editor at the start of my career, before I started writing.  However I had never edited digitally on a computer.  I bought a new Mac and edited on Final Cut Pro.  I was learning as I went along, and there were many things I couldn’t handle digitally, so I brought in Sebastian van der Velde to help with technical matters and also the sound editing.  He brought a lot to the production, both technically and creatively, and I wouldn’t have been able to complete it without him.

UKHS – How did the project come to fruition? Since Riders (2002) we hadn’t seen any of your work on our screens.

Mark Ezra – Riders was a hit in Europe (its original title was Heist, but David Mamet was shooting his Heist in Montreal a few weeks ahead of us, so we changed the title to Steal.  The film opened first in France under the title Riders (no, I don’t get it either – but apparently it’s a cool title there) and that’s how it appears on IMDB.  The film was number 1 in the French box office during the Cannes festival and I got 17 writing or development contracts that first weekend as a result of its success. I spent the next few years developing those projects.  For a multitude of reasons none of those films got made – right cast unavailable at the right time is often the main reason – and they all ended up in ‘development hell’.  Since I do not own them, I cannot get them produced myself.

NOT ALONE 001UKHS – Was the Somerset setting always one you envisaged for House Swap, or was it simply a location that emerged once all the pieces of the production jigsaw fell into place?

Mark Ezra – After the success of Waking Ned (which I initiated as producer, though later took a back seat on) Jenny and I were living in Hollywood and developing projects.  When we returned to the UK a friend of ours, a Swedish model, suggested we might like to house sit her mediaeval house in Glastonbury while she was working in London.  After we’d been there a couple of days, things started to disappear.   Very loud music from an old music centre came on at 2.00 a.m.  The next morning I called the owner and asked if anything odd had happened in the house.  ‘Oh my God!’ she exclaimed, ‘he’s back!’

It turned out that she had a stalker who was able to get past all her security – she had changed the door locks three times and the window locks twice.   Unpleasant things continued to occur for a few more days – urine in the back of the TV stands out – and I eventually called the police.  The policeman I spoke to said he would be too scared to come out as he was alone!  When he finally did turn up in broad daylight he took some notes and was otherwise useless.  That gave rise to the cop scene in the movie. I actually shot the movie in a different location: in one wing of a very cold Tudor mansion near Taunton, with a day out in Glastonbury itself.

UKHS – One of the things I really admired about your film was the simplicity of the horror. It brings to mind a different era of genre filmmaking where the fear resided in the mind of the viewer, rather than being spelled out on screen. Was this your intention from the beginning? Also, how keen were you to adopt the found footage style of filmmaking?

Mark Ezra – My usual modus operandi is to have a crackling good opening scene that sets the mood for the rest of the movie and then I pepper the story with some great shockers every few minutes. The ‘found footage’ style restricts this as, if one remains authentic, one can only see the material either witnessed or shot by the victims.   The story inevitably becomes more ‘psychological’ and subtle.  I was interested in trying to make this work on a very limited budget.  In retrospect, it would have made more sense to shoot the film in a traditional way and include more shocking scenes.  It would not have cost any more.

EZRA 004UKHS – I read a great interview with you by Justin Kerswell back in July 2011 at the time of the Slaughter High reissue. You mention during it that House Swap was pending, but why has it taken so long to be released?

Mark Ezra – I tried the festival route at first (it won at the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood) but the whole way films got marketed and sold was changing while I was making the film.  The DVD market has pretty well collapsed.  My sales agent, Imagination of Beverly Hills, got some early sales in Europe – it did well in French-speaking territories – but the UK sale was achieved later.

UKHS – Credit to 101 Films for releasing the film, but the title change to You Are Not Alone as well as the rather generic artwork frustrates me as the quality of the movie far exceeds such ‘conveyor belt’ distribution. Are you just pleased it’s released though? You seemed surprised when I emailed you to say so!

Mark Ezra – Why 101 only released it now I don’t know.  Better late than never.  I am grateful to 101 for getting it out.  However, there is a general lack of communication between film-makers and distributors (probably because distributors generally find film-makers demanding and difficult…who would credit it?!)  I would have been happy to help them publicize it.  Perhaps they thought I was in the US and hard to reach.

EZRA 003UKHS – One of your films that is infuriatingly difficult to track down is Savage Hearts (1996). Richard Harris, Maryam d’Abo, Jerry Hall… such a great cast. Do you think it will see a DVD release at any point?

Mark Ezra – Savage Hearts came out on VHS at the time.  We achieved some good sales with it at Cannes, and Variety gave it a terrific review.  It also did well theatrically in some territories.  However it surfaced in a hacked-down version in some countries, which has led to my getting some stinker reviews on IMDB.  The long version gets great reviews.  It’s as if they are two completely different films.  I can’t see it getting a DVD release 20 years later.  There simply isn’t the market anymore.

UKHS – What’s next for you Mark? I see you have your own production company – Winged Lion – is it just a case of seeing what projects create interest from investors and such like that determines your next move, or do you have anything more personal you have a yearning to develop?

Mark Ezra – There are several projects I’ve developed over the years – including a really great Horror.  However my main investors don’t appreciate the Horror genre, and my Thrillers are generally too expensive without a DVD market to support them if they don’t perform well enough theatrically.  All independent film-makers are finding this same problem and are moving into high end TV – where there is a great deal of competition unless you produce something that really stands out.  I have money promised for a series, but when writing 8 hours of TV it is hard to sustain the quality.  I’m working on it though…

UKHS – Well, I wish you every success in the future and thanks for taking the time out to answer some questions.

You Are Not Alone as it’s now known is available from all the usual retailers. Ignore the title, ignore the sleeve – this is an excellent independent British horror that demands further investigation.

You can buy You Are Not Alone from Amazon UK – HERE

An Interview with Ian Brooker by Dave Wain

BROOKER 001An Interview with Ian Brooker by Dave Wain 

Word is slowly spreading about the excellent British horror film The Casebook of Eddie Brewer. I reviewed it on UKHorrorScene [here] this week and marvelled at its subtle, atmospheric tone complete with plausible narrative and intriguing setting. A primary reason for the success of the picture is the performance of Ian Brooker who plays the aforementioned Eddie Brewer. Ian was kind enough to give an interview this week to discuss the film’s production and what he thinks are the reasons for the films widespread acclaim.

UKHS – Ian, thanks so much for taking the time out of your schedule for this interview. Having just seen The Casebook of Eddie Brewer, it’s a film that really impressed me. You must be very satisfied with it yourself?

IB – I am very satisfied with the way it turned out. However we knew that this was a special project from the beginning. We were fortunate to have a very good script (by Andy Spencer) that impressed everyone concerned with the film. It was well researched, intelligent, well structured with interesting, believable characters in believable situations and had very good dialogue; then there was the talented cast of predominantly Midlands-based actors (Peter Wight is London-based) who were assembled by Casting Director, Sean Connolly; then there was the brilliantly creative camera work, lighting and editing of Director, Andy Spencer, and finally the excellent sound-design and score by composer, Jamie Robertson. It was a collaborative effort and the film works thanks to the time, effort and commitment to the project of all the above.

UKHS – Shot in the winter of 2010-11, it certainly seems like an arduous shoot. How do you feel the conditions at Rookery House influenced your performance?

IB – At Rookery House we didn’t have to create an atmosphere of disquiet and discomfort. It was already there. The cellar was particularly unpleasant: damp, mouldy and airless. The three storied house was large and mostly empty. You certainly didn’t want to find yourself alone in the cellar or in a room on the ground or first floors particularly as the light began to fade in the late afternoons. It was bitterly cold too. There was no central heating and just a couple of freestanding modern radiators in the downstairs modern kitchen which doubled as a green room for the actors. As a result, during filming, hands were red and blue and breath was always visible on camera. Very few of the rooms in the house still had working light bulbs and so by the early evening most of the house was dark. All this contributed to the perfect atmosphere for a ghost story and didn’t require a suspension of disbelief by the cast.

We also had a couple of possible paranormal experiences when we were filming. Actress Louise Paris, who played the sceptic, Dr Susan Kovac, and I were filming the first take of a scene in the upstairs kitchen. We heard heavy footsteps ascending the main staircase from below. It ruined the take as it was captured by the microphone. We stopped filming and Louise and I volunteered to find the culprit and tell him to stop. We went into all the rooms on that floor and found no one. We returned downstairs to the modern kitchen where the rest of the cast were keeping warm – and found that no one had left the room. Later Louise went to the toilet upstairs and -in a scene reminiscent of one in the film – heard someone come into the toilet with heavy breathing. She was so disturbed by the experience she screamed. I was in the downstairs kitchen on this occasion when she came in. She thought that one of us had tried to wind her up. But once again no one in the cast or crew had left the room. Rookery House was a perfect location and inspired us to do real justice to the script.

BROOKER 002UKHS – You’ve spoken about your preparation for the character of Eddie, be it with the script or the change of accent or the change in physical appearance. Andrew (writer/director) seemed to have a very specific vision in mind for him – how easy was this to embrace and develop?

IB – Andy developed his ideas for the film and the character of Eddie Brewer over a ten year period. I only came in a month or so before filming began. Fortunately, I had met Andy in the 1990s and so he knew me slightly and was aware of my genuine interest in the subject of the paranormal. I had been a non-active member of the Society for Psychical Research at that time and had read about various case histories such as the Enfield Poltergeist. I had long been fascinated by real and dramatised ghost stories. I had also wanted to be a paranormal investigator. So when I first read the script I understood what was going on with the different manifestations, the various theories referred to in the script and recognised that the character of Eddie was based upon Maurice Grosse, the main investigator in the Enfield case. If there was any doubt in my mind as to what Andy wanted I would ask for his advice and usually found that my instincts had been right. When I felt that there was a lack of clarity in the script I suggested amendments to the script – sometimes extra lines – that would enable the audience to follow more easily what was going on or what was being said. Andy was very open to my suggestions and script revisions. As an actor/director relationship it was very harmonious and like-minded.

I also appreciated that for a scene of revelation of horror to work for Eddie it was best to underplay it or to internalise it – to make it as real as possible. I worked hard in advance of the shoot to get the mechanics of the performance right so that when I came to film the scenes I didn’t really have to think about what I was doing. I think that allowed it to seem natural.

UKHS – My favourite quote by Eddie is the brilliant “I’ve never heard anyone under forty say anything remotely interesting”. He’s a real traditionalist who resolutely sticks to his principles – a character very much in contrast to the ubiquitous conveyor belt of screaming teenagers that populate contemporary horror films. How did you think Eddie Brewer will be received by audiences today?

IB – I think Eddie Brewer is a fascinating, complex character. There is lightness and humour in the early scenes and ever increasing darkness thereafter. I think through his vulnerability, humour, honesty and integrity, he’s rather appealing to a general audience. Admittedly he has a temper and is often moody but that goes for most of us. There’s no doubt that as a personality he is flawed, but who isn’t flawed? He is a bit of a curmudgeon, but a likeable one. Eddie reacts to the way he is treated by others. I think he appeals to the rebel – the outsider – in all of us – young and old.

The film works on several levels: as a ghost story, character study and as a psychological drama. Even those who don’t particularly like the genre appreciate the film as it offers so much more than the usual run-of-the-mill horror films. They like Eddie as a character.

BROOKER 003UKHS – It’s been interesting reading reviews for the film where critics have namechecked such iconic British horrors as The Innocents (1961) and The Stone Tape (1972). I myself related the picture to similar fare such as Dead of Night (1972) and Saxon Logan’s Sleepwalker (1984) with the films ability to create horror from a seemingly ordinary situation. These comparisons relate the film to a different era of filmmaking – do you think this ultimately will make The Casebook of Eddie Brewer a film that will be etched in to the landscape of British horror for years to come?

IB – The biggest fans of the film tend to be those who like a literary basis to their horror as with the tradition of the English ghost story (M.R. James and his successors) or the original television plays (and adaptations) by Nigel Kneale. These traditions are by nature “old fashioned”, but, in my book, the best adaptations of ghost stories for TV, film and radio, and original plays on a supernatural subject were written and produced between twenty to forty years ago. Today in modern horror films I think there is a tendency to show and tell far too much. Nothing is left to the imagination. And the plots invariably do not make a lot of sense and the explanations offered for the paranormal manifestations are often risible. The Casebook of Eddie Brewer, by contrast, does not spoon-feed its audience. If anything, it puts the viewer in the position of a paranormal investigator who is presented with an array of unexplained data. As with Eddie Brewer, it’s up to the viewer to interpret that data and come to their own conclusions as to its meaning.

I hope the film will find its way into “the landscape of British horror” and that it will eventually achieve a cult following. Many people who have seen it say that it’s a film that stays with you long after you’ve seen it. In my opinion it’s a film that repays several viewings as there are several things going on in the plot that are perhaps not evident on first viewing. It’s a complex film that brings the viewer as close as is possible to the reality of a paranormal investigation. It’s a film about the values of belief, truth, decency, respect – admittedly old fashioned but sound values – in a modern world that places greater value upon the glib and shallow opinions of glitzy television charlatans and dishonest ratings-hungry production companies. There are no easy answers when it comes to the paranormal. At the end of the day, it’s a field that is highly subjective. There is no objective truth in this subject. The paranormal is ultimately unknowable. Eddie Brewer understands that fact, but he comes closer than anyone else to understanding that truth.

I hope word of mouth will enhance the reputation of this film.

UKHS – You’ve chosen self-distribution for the film – or have you? Was this the only means of UK distribution on the table or was it a conscious decision to try this avenue? How is it working out?

IB – We chose self-distribution in the UK. Doing it yourself gives you total control of the product – the artwork for the DVD and bluray covers, menus, discs and the theatrical poster and the content and direction of the marketing campaign. It is hard work – particularly when your main job is as an actor. But when you believe in something – as we believe in this film – it’s worth sticking with it. The film has been available for streaming with the HorrorShow TV since last September. Otherwise, the film is available to buy in the UK on DVD and Bluray through Amazon.co.uk. Both the DVD and bluray packages come with special booklets full of background information on the film and the production including interviews with the key personnel. So far sales have been very good. Later this year the film will be released on DVD and digital media in the USA. For the American campaign a distributor based in Baltimore will be responsible for the promotion of the film.

CASEBOOK 002UKHS – It’s almost four years now since you got the role of Eddie Brewer – it must seem strange when so many projects come and go that you’re still talking about this film and introducing it to people who have not yet seen it?

IB – The Casebook of Eddie Brewer has always been a special project for us. As co-producers, Sean Connolly and I have put a lot of our time and effort into marketing the film and we are delighted with the success that has been achieved. It’s been an Official Selection at seventeen film festivals (ten in the USA) and has won six awards. I don’t know of many low-budget films that have enjoyed the success of our film. But there’s still a lot more work to do. We are always on the lookout for new ways to promote the film.

UKHS – As for yourself Ian, what’s next on the agenda? We saw you playing Harold Shipman in a docu-drama recently – what can we look forward to you working on?

I have a number of projects on the go. I have still to complete my scenes as a priest for a Sci-fi feature film: Kaleidoscope Man. That will probably be in mid September. I have also recently recorded six one hour audio dramas of Pathfinder Legends: Rise of the Runelords for Big Finish in which I play the dwarf ranger, Harsk. We are looking forward to recording the second series. I also have an ongoing part in the new BBC Radio 4 drama series about WW1, called Home Front, which starts this month. I play the captain of a steam trawler in Folkestone in 1914. However, regarding the paranormal, I am now working on another film. I have been developing the story for a feature, working title Familia, with the horror writer, Simon Kurt Unsworth, who is writing the script. It’s quite different from The Casebook of Eddie Brewer. It will be much darker and very disturbing. It’s still early days but Simon and I are confident that we have an excellent and unusual story that will definitely appeal to horror fans. Watch this space……

CASEBOOK 001My thanks to Ian for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat to me, and I urge you to visit Amazon to pick up a copy of this fantastic film. In a genre over-populated by an endless supply of ‘six teenagers in the middle of nowhere’ styled films, this film gives us something different and we should stand an applaud the tenacity of Ian, Andrew and the relevant people associated with this film to buck the trend.

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An Interview with David Dittlinger by Dave Wain

DITTLINGER 001

David Dittlinger (centre)

An Interview with David Dittlinger by Dave Wain

I wish I could un-watch the last 75 minutes of my life, but most of all I wish I could just make something like this disappear”. (Dave Wain – UKHS)

When the low budget DVD release of The Factory made its way into my player the other week I was pretty damning about it. So much so that after nearly 200 film reviews for UKHorrorScene.com it became the first film that received a zero rating from me. Imagine my surprise then when the producer of the movie, having read my review, wanted to set up an interview to discuss the movies production. I thought this could well get nasty! How wrong I was – it was a pleasure to speak to David Dittlinger, and the following interview underlines the old adage that no-one sets out to make a bad movie.

UKHS – Can you describe your background in the film industry for me? Is producing something that has always appealed to you?

DD – I personally didn’t have much of a background, Dave.  I grew up in a small town where there wasn’t even a dream of working in the industry.  But I watched a lot of movies and always loved that world.  Creature Features on a Saturday night was the highlight of my week.  No HD 80″ Flat Panel could ever compare to that 21″ black and white T.V.  Used to stand for hours holding the rabbit ears with tin foil  so we could at least see something that looked like the creature from the Black Lagoon.

A few years ago my wife got a call from her sister asking if she could help her with a writing thing she was doing.  Turns out it was a spec for a T.V. sitcom.  They turned it in, the studio loved it and I ended up in Los Angeles with her.

As far as me and producing, I’m surrounded by creative type people and for some reason, creative people hate the business end of things.  I guess I just got tired of people waiting on things to get done.  And it was the first film I’ve ever produced (and no “no kidding” comments, please).

UKHS – How did your involvement in The Factory (aka Death Factory) come about?

DD – Eighteen months ago at a Christmas Party, a bunch of my friends were sitting around lamenting  the fact that no one would make their movie for them.  Stephen Durham, my partner in producing, had a script which turned out to be The Factory.  He said, “Why don’t we just do it ourselves, why wait on anyone to give us something?”  The script had the elements we thought would work.  Action, pretty girls, scary guys.  The director Steve Judd said, “I’ll do it, sounds like fun.”  The stunt coordinator Patrick Gallaway was also on board and a couple of actor friends that were at the party were thrilled at the chance.  So we said, “let’s do it.”  From nothing, we put together everything you need to make a movie and started filming in April.  It seemed easy enough – it wasn’t.  Anyhow, that’s how I became involved – a bunch of friends getting together to make a movie.

DITTLINGER 003UKHS – With the project being undertaken with friends then, did you feel a little less under pressure than had it been working with strangers? There presumably must have been a level of trust already established?

DD – Some things about working with friends are better, Dave, and some things are worse.  Everyone worked so hard and really went above and beyond the call of duty, but…. when you have friends working with you (many volunteering their time), sometimes the boss/friend line becomes a little blurry for them.  I’m guessing in everyone’s circle of friends there’s that one guy who is probably more suited to prison or a psych ward than a movie set. All the hired help were really professional and did their jobs without question, while some of the friend types were off cutting down things with Ed Gein’s chain saw.  But all joking aside, I can’t imagine working with a better crew.  In fact, we set one of my best friends on fire, beat him with a steel pole, ran over him with a Masarati and yanked him 30 feet through the air.  His name is Patrick Gallaway.  He’s a professional stuntman and the best fire guy around, but that’s still a lot to ask of a friend.

UKHS – You’ve hinted at a few issues that perhaps hindered the making of Death Factory – would you care to elaborate on these at all?

DD – One day, Dave, maybe we’ll get together over a beer or two and have a good chat about some of the more disquieting things that took place, but that’s better left unwritten.  I’ll give you a couple of the more tame examples.

First, location:  We originally planned on filming in a creepy old factory in Oklahoma, thus the title The Factory.  Two weeks before we started to shoot, we received a call stating that our factory was full of asbestos and we couldn’t film there.  Everything was already set up for the Oklahoma shoot, so we had no choice but to find another location and quickly.  Stephen knew a guy who knew a guy who had an old movie set in the middle of the desert in California that he said we could use for 14 days and 14 days only.  A place called the Blue Cloud Ranch.  They used to film a lot of old westerns there in the 50s and 60s.  Point being, we had no time to spare.  Fourteen 16-hour days without a break, and no built-in time for things that might go wrong.  Our poor director Steve Judd couldn’t get the shots that he really wanted: “Please, can I just set up the circle dolly?  It’ll only take 12 minutes” and us going, “Are you f***ing crazy?” etc.

Then cast:  You may notice in the bus scene that Star, our lovely Goth girl, Tonya Kay, has a head of long black hair obscuring her face.  That was the last scene we had to shoot and was filmed a couple of weeks later. (That was a whole situation unto itself.  We forgot to mention to anyone that we’d be filming a movie on the bus).  In the meantime, Tonya got a really cool gig hosting a reality T.V. show that commenced on that day, so she was no longer available.  Since this was the scene that introduces all the characters, Star had to be in it.  Again, someone knew someone who looked a little bit like Tonya, or at least was female, so she was Star for a day.   Instead of speaking lines as originally planned, we quickly changed it so that she was badly hung over and once everyone was off the bus, Star was bent over, barfing in a ditch with her hair covering her face.

Last, but not least, Pestilence:  Another issue that cost us a lot of time was the pest problem.  We set up craft services in one of the buildings on the grounds.  I was quite proud of myself for putting together such a nice spread and, as such, really bragged about all the great food the cast and crew were in for.  When dinner time came, Mara Hall, who played Auntie May, opened the door to the room and mice ran everywhere!  Except for one, who stood on the table holding up a Little Debbie snack cake.  I’m not kidding.  A big, fat rodent stood up on its hind legs holding a snack cake.  No one could eat and it was probably the worst night of my producing career.  Never, never come between movie crew people and food!  Also along those lines, as part of the film, we had vials of the serial killers’ “blood” sitting on dirt mounds in the miscellaneous cabins.  Art, our special effects guy, kept forgetting to fill the test tubes with blood.  He swore he had filled them and after getting chewed out several times, we happened upon one that still had a little blood in it and several thousand ants.  As you probably are aware, some sort of sugar base is used to make the blood and the ants were eating every trace of it and leaving.  They don’t teach you that one in film school.

Anyway, Dave, I could go on forever with this particular question and as I said, maybe someday.

DITTLINGER 002

David Dittlinger (right)

UKHS – That Star story is hilarious! I genuinely didn’t notice. The shoot sounded pretty arduous David. Once you had the film in the can though, what was your thinking? Were you satisfied with what you had shot?

DD – Many scenes I love, like anything with Ed Gein (Gary Kasper) in it.  He is one intimidating dude.  Our stunt guys were also amazing.  Damien Puckler, who played Simon, is a former World Champion kick boxer and one of the coolest guys around.  He got a big part in a US network series called Grimm based on his work in this film.  He plays a role much like the Simon character on the show.  Fans went crazy for him and the L.A. Times did a big write-up a couple of months ago about his life and career path.  Mara Hall, who was brilliant as Auntie May, also landed a recurring role on Grey’s Anatomy right after her work on The Factory.  We’re grateful to all our performers because there was a lot of pressure on them.

We had to shoot some scenes in one take so we had very little coverage and it made our cuts tougher to put together.  David McClellan, our editor and everything else Post Production, had technical issues that drove him up the wall.  Issues I would never notice because I’m not an editor, but he did.  We didn’t have a chance to watch dailies like we should have, so some problems didn’t surface until weeks later.  I don’t know an indie producer alive who doesn’t wish they had more money, more time.  But to answer your question, Dave, overall I’m very proud of what we accomplished.  My brother-in-law who wrote a Hugh Grant comedy once had a critic say he wanted to hunt him down and kill him.  So by comparison, yours is a rave review.

UKHS – How is the distribution process going? How easy was it to get the movie picked up in the UK? I see domestically you’ve had a name change to The Butchers now?

DD – We were fortunate, because distributors actually courted us.  We made this movie with distribution in mind, which I think helped.  We know that buyers tend to like horror, action and pretty girls.  So we gave everyone some of what they want.  As far as the UK, we had a couple of different distributors interested and ended up going with 4Digital Media.  They retitled it from “Death Factory” to “The Factory” and redid the artwork, which I think is beautiful.  Joe Hopkins did the original art, which I also think is pretty amazing.  Every country seems to want to do their own thing when it comes to the presentation.

Uncork’d, which will be distributing in the US and Canada, thought that the title Death Factory was a little too violent so they changed it to The Butchers.  Go figure.  The release is planned for October/November.

UKHS – I agree David, the sleeve is very eye-catching and it’s certainly a major selling point over here in the UK. One of the things I find deplorable though – and I underline the fact this is something that’s out of your hands – is the use by certain UK distribution companies of bogus cover quotes. The Factory has two, “An intense brooding horror, with some really extreme shocks” say ‘Darkside’, while ‘TerrorNet.com’ call it “deeply scary, with moments of pure terror”. I think it’s fraudulent. A lot of people really pay attention to these quotes but don’t think to check them out to see if they are credible. What’s your opinion on this?

DD – I was very confused on that one myself, Dave.  I was unaware of the quotes until the DVD came out and was quite excited and searched everywhere for the official reviews.  I figured I was looking in the wrong spots or they hadn’t officially been posted yet.

DITTLINGER 004UKHS – So with your film released in the UK and with US distribution looming, you’d have to say that irrespective of any critical opinion – this has been a successful project? Do you see yourself assuming the role of producer at any point in the future?

DD – For me, it has been an incredibly successful venture.  I live in a fifteen square mile plot of land where everyone is trying to make, write, act in or, somehow or another, be part of a movie.  We not only made a movie, but got it distributed, which surprisingly only 2 out of 100 films actually do.   I made a lot of new friends, bolstered a few acting careers and learned more about this business than I ever could going to film school.  Although it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, some people are really enjoying it, which is very gratifying.
As for me personally, I definitely am on to the next project.  Stephen Durham and I are currently working on a follow-up project that we already have a distribution deal for.  This one will have a higher budget and we will take the lessons that we’ve learned and make a great film.  I’m aiming for a BAFTA award, but I’ll settle for a good review from you.

UKHS – Well, who knows David – I certainly look forward to that next project, and I thank you for the time out you’ve taken for this interview which has been more fun, and more fascinating than I thought it would be! It’s been a great insight into the world of low budget filmmaking.
DD – I really appreciate the chat Dave and as I said before, you’ve got a new fan.

The Factory is available now in the UK from all the usual retailers.
Check out the official Facebook page [here] where you can follow all the developments with regard to the movies US distribution and reception.

UKHS Does the Nasty! Video Nasties: Draconian Days – An Interview with Producer MARC MORRIS

Layout 1 (Page 1)UKHS Does the Nasty!
Video Nasties: Draconian Days – An Interview with Producer MARC MORRIS

After founding Nucleus Films with director Jake West a little over ten years ago, Marc Morris (along with West) is renowned for producing a number of acclaimed supplementary features for DVD releases; perhaps most notably the outstanding Phantasm Phantasmagoria documentary. In 2005 Nucleus branched out into DVD distribution with the release of Pereira’s Between Your Legs (1999), before notching up a fine catalogue of niche titles for UK distribution such as Death Ship (1980) and the one-time video nasty Night of the Bloody Apes (1969).

Having had a hand in the worthy documentary Ban the Sadist Videos! (2005), Morris and West teamed up for a more in depth look at the video nasties panic and released the highly acclaimed Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide in 2010. Now, a few years on and with much more on the story of the BBFC’s role in the UK film industry to be told, Marc and Jake have made a sensational sequel [read our official lowdown HERE] about which Marc took some time out to speak to UKHS…

UKHS: Marc, thirty years on, what do you think it is that makes the Nasties still so appealing after all this time?

Marc Morris: I think it’s just simply the banned aspect and the fact that people always want what they can’t have. I was watching them prior to them being banned and I remember seeing that Nightmares in a Damaged Brain was one of the titles. I thought “wow – I’ve just hired that”, and I managed to go and buy myself a copy for five quid before it was outlawed. I just collected everything I could before they disappeared. I’d get the train every weekend and go off all over the place. Funnily enough some of the most notorious films I’d get from video shops that were right by police stations and you’d actually find out the police were renting them.

mm2

Draconian Days director Jake West (left) and Marc Morris (right)

UKHS: Draconian Days: How did it come about? Did you plan to make a sequel after you guys did the first one or did it just seem to happen?

MM: We really had no plans for a sequel. The first one was so much hard work, but after its release and after gauging the interest, then Jake suggested that it could be a good idea. There was also the aspect of the black market that came into play – especially the fanzines. In part 2 I’ve got scans of three-hundred fanzine covers, they were so important as it was the only way that you could find out about these movies. Initially I thought about doing a trailer reel of rejected titles but I gave up.

UKHS: Rejected titles?

MM: Yeah, just films that the BBFC refused to classify at all. I began it and got some way into it but I gave up. There’s no master for a lot of them; there’s nothing on the internet so it’s just a matter of trawling though VHS titles to find them.

UKHS: The DPP section 3 list [which you can read in full at the bottom of this interview]: It’s a bizarre selection of films they’ve drawn up isn’t it?

MM : Yeah, I think it’s just a case of the people in power not being in any way film literate. Obviously they had a certain number of things that were a no no, such as cannibalism…

mm3UKHS: You mentioned rather frighteningly at your Q&A at the Nottingham Broadway how during a recent meeting with the BBFC they alluded to some kind of internet restriction…

MM: They just want to tackle the internet next and put age restrictions on various sites – YouTube being one of them. I don’t know how far they are with it, but it’s what’s on their agenda.

UKHS: The most shocking parts of Draconian Days involved the raiding of and the seizing of stock from video stores. As the owner of an independent store myself, the thought of it happening to me is a little surreal and quite frightening…

MM: You used to have a video shop?

UKHS: No, I do now…

MM: Now? I thought everyone did Lovefilm and Netflix?!

UKHS: Yeah… There’s not many of us left! As an avid collector yourself though, what was it like living through that? Did it ever lead you to question your “horror fan lifestyle”?

MM: It was scary. I remember getting a phone call to say they’d raided one of my friends’ houses, and I knew that he had a copy of my list of films which listed my address on it! I just had to make sure I stashed them wherever I could – behind the bath panel, anywhere. There was always a chance you could have a knock on the door at five AM. It was certainly a climate of fear, but thrilling at the same time. It’s quite surreal to look back on it.

MM4UKHS: Just out of interest, what are your thoughts on the modern fascination with VHS? It’s really “in” again at the minute…

MM: Yeah, a lot of it I think is down to the artwork being so collectible. A lot of people I know don’t buy to watch they just buy to collect. It’s amazing – people create video rooms in their house with the old fixtures from video shops pinned to the walls for them to display the cases. It reminds them of their childhood I suppose.

UKHS: How about the prices though?

MM: Well they’ve got more money than me! It’s supply and demand though. I remember selling a title on eBay for £500 then a little while after that the same film went for £1500!

UKHS: Viewers in other countries have questioned whether the Video Nasties docs are mockumentaries or not (!). How do you think the Nasties era affected home entertainment in the UK?

MM: To be honest people were already hiring them anyway, and they were already being seen by the public. For me the annoying thing was the fact that the press questioned their legitimacy. It was a scary time, and when you look back with a sense of perspective it really opens your eyes as to what happened.

UKHS: Slipping into the realm of fantasy for a moment, what would you do if you were appointed head of the BBFC?

MM: I’d be pretty powerless to be honest, as of course the BBFC is governed by law and any changes would have to be lobbied to the government. The BBFC though has changed in its relationship with the public, and even today there are films coming out that only a couple of years ago would have been refused –Nekromantic, Bloodsucking Freaks, Island of Death…
For me though the frustration lies with a film like Axelle Carolyn’s Soulmate.

MM5UKHS: I’m not familiar?

MM: The one with the wrist cutting? The BBFC refused it an 18 certificate unless they removed the scene of a girl slashing her wrists. Apparently because it’s shown realistically instead of slashing across like you see in most films, they’re refusing it a certificate. It’s ridiculous! You see can see people committing suicide of TV by jumping in front of a bus, but you don’t suddenly see people copying that behavior.

UKHS: Nucleus have had some outstanding releases the last couple of years from Death Ship and the Grindhouse Trailer series, to Fantasm and Night of the Bloody Apes. Where do you think the future lies in what is becoming an increasingly difficult market?

MM: It’s just about finding the right films. We’ve got the materials to release Bloodbath in the House of Death on blu-ray, but I just don’t think that’s a title that suits that format. We get offered films all the time though – the Alain Robbe-Grillet box-set being one, but I just didn’t think it was right for Nucleus. It was more of a BFI type of release, so I phoned them up and said that this is something you should take a look at but they turned it down. Presumably they reconsidered at some point!
We’ve got a deal with Severin as well in the US recently too.

MM6UKHS: Yeah, Video Nasties Part 1 has just come out over there!

MM: Yes, and we’re releasing the first Grindhouse Trailer Classics over there as well. I’ve just re-mastered the whole thing into NTSC. We should be able to put out a Grindhouse Trailer Classics 5 as well back here. This afternoon I’m off to film some stuff for Odeon’s blu-ray of Whip and the Body.

UKHS: Really? Cool! Well on that note Marc I shan’t keep you any longer, and again thanks for taking the time out of your day to speak to UKHS.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide Part Two – Draconian Days is OUT NOW. It’s available at all well-known internet retailers but is perhaps best purchased from the Nucleus Films online store
http://www.nucleusfilms.com/video-nasties-the-definitive-guide-2.html

 
Video Nasties: THE SECTION 3 LIST

From the Nucleus press release:
This [list] presents the official additional 82 titles that were designated under “Section 3” of the Obscene Publications Act by the Director of Public Prosecutions. These titles were liable for seizure and forfeiture by the police, removed from sale or hire and then destroyed; although they were not ultimately prosecuted. This amazing list was discovered whilst researching legal paperwork for the original “VIDEO NASTIES: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE” and finally clears up why so many additional titles were historically considered to be “Video Nasties”.
The 82 “DPP Section 3” Videos were:

MM DPP Sec 3 1Abducted (Don Jones, 1973)
Aftermath, The (Steve Barkett, 1980)
Black Room, The (Elly Kenner & Norman Thaddeus Vane, 1981)
Blood Lust (Marijan Vajda, 1976)
Blood Song (Alan J. Levi, 1974)
Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, The (Carlos Aured, 1973)
Brutes and Savages (Arthur Davis, 1977)
Cannibal (Ruggero Deodato, 1976)
Cannibals (Jess Franco, 1980)
Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, The (Fred Schepisi, 1978)
Child, The (Robert Voskanian, 1977)
MM DPP Sec 3 2Christmas Evil (Lewis Jackson, 1980)
Communion (Alfred Sole, 1976)
Dawn of the Mummy (Farouk Agrama as Frank Agrama, 1981)
Dead Kids (Michel Laughlin, 1981)
Death Weekend (William Fruet, 1976)
Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975)
Demented (Arthur Jeffreys, 1980)
Demons, The (Jess Franco as Clifford Brown, 1972)
Don’t Answer the Phone! (Robert Hammer, 1979)
Eaten Alive (Umberto Lenzi, 1980)
Enter the Devil (Frank Q. Dobbs, 1972)
MM DPP Sec 3 3Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, The (Jess Franco, 1972)
Evil, The (Gus Trikonis, 1977)
Executioner, The (Dominico Miceli as Duke Mitchell, 1978)
Final Exam (Jimmy Huston, 1981)
Foxy Brown (Jack Hill, 1974)
Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980)
Friday the 13th 2 (Steve Miner, 1981)
G.B.H. (David Kent-Watson, 1983)
Graduation Day (Herb Freed, 1981)
Happy Birthday to Me (J. Lee-Thompson, 1980)
Headless Eyes (Kent Bateman, 1971)
MM DPP Sec 3 4Hell Prison (Eduardo Mulargia as Edward G. Muller, 1979)
Hills Have Eyes, The (Wes Craven, 1977)
Home Sweet Home (Nettie Peña, 1980)
Honeymoon Horror (Harry Preston, 1982)
Inseminoid (Norman J. Warren, 1980)
Invasion of the Blood Farmers (Ed Adlum, 1972)
Killing Hour, The (Armand Mastroianni, 1982)
Last Horror Film (David Winters, 1982)
Last Hunter (Antonio Margheriti as Anthony M. Dawson, 1980)
Love Butcher, The (Mikel Angel & Don Jones, 1975)
Mad Foxes (Paul Grau, 1981)
MM DPP Sec 3 5Mark of the Devil (Michael Armstrong, 1969)
Martin (George A. Romero, 1976)
Massacre Mansion (Michael Pataki, 1975)
Mausoleum (Michael Dugan, 1982)
Midnight (John Russo, 1980)
Naked Fist (Cirio H. Santiago, 1981)
Nesting, The (Armand Weston, 1980)
New Adventures of Snow White (Rolf Thiele, 1969)
Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)
NightBeast (Donald M. Dohler, 1982)
Nightmare City (Umberto Lenzi, 1980)
MM DPP Sec 3 6Oasis of the Zombies (Jess Franco, 1981)
Parasite (Charles Band, 1982)
Phantasm (Don Coscarelli, 1977)
Pigs (Marc Lawrence, 1972)
Prey (Norman J. Warren, 1977)
Prom Night (Paul Lynch, 1980)
Rabid (David Cronenberg, 1976)
Rosemary’s Killer (Joseph Zito, 1981)
Savage Terror (Sisworo Gautama Putra, 1979)
Scanners (David Cronenberg, 1980)
Scream for Vengeance (Bob Bliss, 1979)
MM DPP Sec 3 7Shogun Assassin (Robert Houston, 1972)
Street Killers (Sergio Grieco, 1977)
Suicide Cult (James Glickenhaus, 1977)
Superstition (James W. Roberson, 1982)
Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
Terror (Norman J. Warren, 1978)
Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
Thing, The (John Carpenter, 1982)
Tomb of the Living Dead (Gerardo De Leon & Eddie Romero, 1968)
Toy Box, The (Ron Garcia, 1970)
Werewolf Woman (Rino Di Silvestro, 1976)
MM DPP Sec 3 8Wrong Way (Ray Williams (as Ron Kelly, 1972)
Xtro (Harry Bromley Davenport, 1982)
Zombie Holocaust (Marino Girolami (as Frank Martin, 1980)
Zombies Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978)
Zombies’ Lake (Jean Rollin & Julian de Laserna, 1980

________________________________________________________

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#UKHSNasty

An Interview with Banshee Chapter director Blair Erickson by Dave Wain

BANSHEE 001An Interview with Banshee Chapter director Blair Erickson by Dave Wain.

The Banshee Chapter – synopsis.

Journalist Anne Roland explores the disturbing links behind her friend’s sudden disappearance, an ominous government research chemical, and a disturbing radio broadcast of unknown origin.

 

UKHS) Hi Blair, can I begin with asking if the whole issue of this type of Government ‘research’ was something you were aware of prior to the movie, or did your first knowledge come with the story from Daniel Healy?

BE) I had been an avid researcher of the subject for years before the story started to take shape. I found the idea fascinating and began writing drafts that speculated and explored all number of crazy areas. Daniel Healy helped me shape it into a much more solid narrative structure, and really bringing out the more terrifying aspects of the tale.

BC07UKHS) I think the subject matter is fascinating, and with it being rooted in historical fact I found it to be a film that should really engage the viewer. How have you found the response since its release – both critically and from movie-goers?

BE) It seems to elicit quite a lot of terror from many audience members and
critics. We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive reviews and “scariest film”
awards.

But mostly it’s been really gratifying to hear from fans that our creepy
little horror tale scared the hell out of them. Several people have claimed
we caused them to soil their pants. Others say it almost caused them a
heart attack. I just want to go on record and say that the makers of
Banshee Chapter are not responsible for any health issues suffered during
the viewing of the film.

BC14UKHS) One of the most enjoyable aspects I found was the chemistry between Anne and Thomas, I thought they really worked well together and it added to the films narrative in essentially providing two very well rounded and believable characters. I find horror movies can often slip into the predictable character profile of generic caricatures. You must be thrilled with how the two lead performances turned out?

BE) Yeah that’s true. There’s a lot of generic characters in bad horror. Whereas good horror is usually defined by its characters. In this case, we had two terrific actors, Ted Levine and Katia Winter, who were really able to bring their roles to life.

The toughest part is always maintaining that serious commitment to the role and taking risks with the characters. You want to push something in a way that feels new and explores something unexpected. Mixing a straight laced millennial girl with a deranged counter culture author from the baby boom generation has a lot of fun social subtext that you rarely get to see.

BC09UKHS) The usage of found footage in the film is fairly minimal. Were you ever tempted to shoot the whole film from this perspective? How do you feel about found footage in general?

BE) I love a few found footage films. Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity are terrific examples of how well that technique can work if you really work to build that immersion. In our film we toyed with the idea of shooting the whole thing that way, but ultimately found it to be too restrictive on the narrative.

Doing found footage for all the archival events allowed us to subtly blend real footage into the recreated stuff. It added to the realism of the story. And then shooting in that kind of cinema verite flavor for modern events kept a kind of realism on the story that pulled together all the strange surreal elements of government conspiracy and Lovecraftian horrors.

BC15UKHS) One of the most notable things with Banshee Chapter is its ability to create atmospheric scares. For example the scene where Anne discovers that somebody is already in the building she’s snooping around, and that they entered a number of minutes prior to her going in. Many other horror’s would implement a jolting shock right there – but you don’t. You let the tension gradually build until its palpable. Its quite a rare technique these days. What was your thinking behind it?

BE) A long dreadful period of silence is far more terrifying. It allows you plenty of time to consider and anticipate and imagine what’s coming. It forces your brain into the same anxiety that Anne is feeling at that moment. And for a brief moment you completely share her fear and forget that it’s only a movie.

The film is really mostly about what’s going on inside our brains, in many ways.

BC10UKHS) I said in my review for UK Horror Scene that Banshee Chapter was the first seriously scary release of 2014. It really did unnerve me! What do you find scary? Indeed – what are your influences in the horror genre?
BE) Growing up I was always into Nightmare on Elm Street, Candyman, and Jacob’s Ladder. I loved the over-the-top gory H.P. Lovecraft movies of Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon. I think those probably introduced me to the writer himself. And even the Spielberg films like Jaws and Poltergeist had a big impact on what was possible with horror. It really could explore anything.

My influences in film tend to be all over the map. Not just in horror.  I always loved Michael Mann’s run-and-gun shooting style in Heat and Collateral. David Fincher’s surreal camera and sound style blurring lines between truth and illusion always got me. And even a lot of documentary work, like Errol Morris’s Fog of War fascinated me.

BC05UKHS) Now that everything has wrapped and the film is on general release, how pleased are you with the finished product?

BE) I’m really happy with it. I’m mostly thrilled that the story scares the hell out of so many audience members. On that side, it’s clearly mission accomplished. The film is a success for me on that, no question.

UKHS) It was your directorial debut – is directing something you’ll return to?

BE) Already working on the next one. It’s incredibly different than this one. Can’t wait to share it.

 

Many thanks to Blair Erickson and you can get hold of Banshee Chapter from the links below!

Amazon: HERE 

ITunes: HERE

Empire of The B’s – The Dave Jay Interview by Dave Wain

CB 001EMPIRE OF THE ‘B’S – DAVE JAY INTERVIEW

BY DAVE WAIN

 

DW: Dave, thanks so much for taking the time out for this interview. First things first, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe just how much I enjoyed reading this book. From a personal point of view my first encounter with Charles Band was renting Robot Jox on VHS as an impressionable 14 year old in 1991, and since then I’ve been obsessed. How did you begin to fall under his spell?

 

DJ: “Well, I take it from that question that I’m a little older than you, as my first notable encounter with the films of Charlie Band was thanks to EIV’s VHS release of Ragewar in 1984, when I must have been 13. I randomly rented out the tape to watch on a Friday night with my long-suffering friend, Spencer, who spent 70-odd minutes staring into the middle-distance while sighing loudly and shifting from buttock to buttock. I, on the other hand, was enthralled – there was something about the ramshackle ambition of Ragewar that really appealed to me, and I ended up watching it a couple more times before reluctantly returning it to the video store. There and then, I decided upon tracking down as many films by this Charles Band chap as possible. Now, today that would mean no more than pressing a few keys to find his page on IMDb. However, back in 1984 you had to be made of sterner stuff: I spent many an hour at my local ‘Mr. Video’ scanning the cover of every movie they had in the hope I would find Band’s name on there somewhere, anywhere!

 

The following year, I noticed there was a double-bill of Ghoulies and Trancers playing at a nearby fleapit cinema. So I again dragged along Spencer (poor Spencer) who spent the entire three hours tutting under his breath and nicking lemon sherbets from the foyer pick-n-mix. As for me, it was a done deal – I was a Charles Band fan for life.”

 

CB 005DW: How did the collaborative nature of the book develop? Can you tell us a little about its inception?

 

DJ: “Back in 2001, I put together a very scrappy-looking website solely dedicated to Band’s Empire output. It was nothing to write home about but was one of the very few Band-related sites on the web at that time. Through that, writer Torsten Dewi got in touch to say that he was considering putting together a book on Band, at that time intending to cover the entirety of his career. I initially signed up to the project as a researcher, but Torsten was busy writing screenplays for the likes of the Sci-Fi Channel and producer Harry Alan Towers (he wrote a great script for a proposed remake of Jess Franco’s 99 Women, which was greenlit by Towers but which unfortunately fell apart just prior to shooting).

 

During this time, Torsten encouraged me to contribute towards the book as a writer and once handed the baton I ran with it, tracking down the directors, producers, actors, etc. I’d grown up watching and admiring. This in turn led on to what would become a real journey for me: meeting David Schmoeller in Paris as Tourist Trap and Crawlspace were being screened at the Cinematheque Francaise in 2007; discovering that director Peter Manoogian had moved to the UK and spending almost five hours interviewing him at the Charing Cross Hotel, not only about his Empire and Full Moon experiences, but also his work on the likes of Humanoids from the Deep, The Slayer and The Howling, not to mention his father’s mentoring of Martin Scorsese; and spending time chatting with Tim Thomerson on the phone about Jack Deth, Richard Pryor, Robert Altman and, most surprisingly, his love of old UK crime thrillers and Stanley Baker in particular. Then there are the phonecalls with Band himself, discussing his remarkable upbringing and subsequent career. As a genuine b-movie fanboy, they’re all memories that’ll remain firmly lodged in my brain.

 

Additionally, John Klyza (producer of Sleepaway Camp IV) wrote a wonderful, detailed chapter about the rise and fall of Band’s Wizard Video and Cold Fusion founder Nathan Shumate also came on board, writing extensively about the likes of Band’s Moonbeam Company and his doomed association with J.R. Bookwalter’s Tempe Entertainment. Unfortunately, the book was growing at such an exponential rate that at some point we had to cut it in half, concentrating firstly on Band’s ‘70s/’80s output, and then on to the Full Moon years. Thus, Nathan’s contribution to the first book is minimal. But there’s plenty more to come!”

 

DW: One of the things that struck me in the book is that despite it being written from the point of view of a fan, you have retained a notable level of critical analysis – in fact you’re fairly damning about some of the Empire titles, especially those by Tim Kincaid!

 

DJ: “How could I not be? I’m passionate about Empire’s catalogue, but not blind to its occasional inadequacies. I truly feel that certain movies such as The Caller and Enemy Territory deserve more respect from the cult community than they currently receive, and I’m hoping that my championing of such titles will get a few more people to sit down and actually watch them. But I don’t think those people would take me seriously were I also to be defending the likes of Kincaid’s The Occultist or Gorman Bechard’s wretched Cemetery High (which might just be the single worst film that Band released during the Empire era).”

 

5.1.2DW: Having been a close follower of Charlie’s career purely in an online capacity, it’s a common occurrence to run across his detractors. The book though is surprisingly light on negativity with regard to his business practices, with the only criticism being from the long-standing rift with Brian Yuzna (Re-Animator producer) and Jefery Levy, who felt he was due some Ghoulies money. It seems that in actual fact Charlie is very highly respected, do you think this is the case? Do you also think that any animosity is just simply a natural fallout of the low budget world of movie making?

 

DJ: “Well, Gorman Bechard also stated in no uncertain terms that he’d like to cut up Charlie’s face with a broken beer bottle! So I guess there’s no love lost there. But I didn’t lead the interviewees in any way, shape or form. I just tried to remain an unbiased listener. Had the likes of David Schmoeller, Ted Nicolaou, Stuart Gordon, Peter Manoogian or Albert Pyun had anything overwhelmingly negative to say about Band, I would have kept it in the book. But their most common criticisms were not necessarily financial, more that they found the Empire (and Full Moon) way of making movies rather restrictive from a creative point of view.

 

From what little I’ve read, Roger Corman may well be the personification of best business practice in the b-movie world. I’ve never heard a word said against him in that area. But if so, he was definitely in the minority. A lot of these companies (FVI, Trans-World, Cannon et al) were robbing Peter to pay Paul just in order to survive from year to year. And Band himself was often short-changed during the 1970s when he released his own films through the likes of Brandon Chase and Irwin Yablans. There was bound to be some fallout from such a situation, and I don’t shy away from making mention of it. But really, my main focus was the films, not the deals that begat them.”

 

DW: The people interviewed for the book are all so engaging, but did you find anyone who was reluctant to reminisce on their days working for Empire? Who was the most difficult to track down?

 

DJ: “The biggest omission from the book has to be John Beuchler. I approached him at least twice about being interviewed but he just didn’t seem interested. A real shame. But out of those I did manage to pin down, Tim Felix AKA Tim Kincaid was easily the most reluctant. I approached him very respectfully and, being a gay man myself, was not about to make judgements about his gay porn roots as some writers have. But he was not forthcoming in any way, and answered many a seemingly innocuous question with a terse ‘no comment’. Luckily, SPFX guru Ed French was far more lucid about his own work on the likes of Breeders, Robot Holocaust and Mutant Hunt. He proved to be both humorous and extremely informative, which saved the day.”

 

CB 007DW: How did you feel watching Charlie’s recent vidcast and seeing him with your book in his hands? It must have been quite surreal after spending so many years on the project!

 

DJ: “Funny you should say that, as that’s the exact message I sent to Charles Band when he asked me if I’d seen the vidcast. I e-mailed back saying that it was surreal – partly because there he was holding my book in his hands and mentioning me by name, partly because said same book had been a looooong time coming, and mostly because 13 year-old me would have been pissing himself with disbelief! Those long hours spent scrutinising VHS covers in Mr. Video when I should have been out trying to get laid had been of some use after all. Who would’ve thought?”

 

DW: He seemed quite relaxed about the contents of the book which does have a notable amount of criticism in it – be it his overly ambitious “2000 films by the year 2000” agenda, the Dinocitta purchase that ultimately caused Empire’s collapse or the sheer ineptitude of some of the films. Was he quite reluctant to contribute to the project?

 

DJ: “Not at all. Charlie’s actually got a good sense of humour and good sense of self (if you doubt it, watch William Butler’s Gingerdead Man 2, which playfully rips into Band’s Full Moon ethos with abandon, much in the same way that Joe Dante and Allan Arkush satirised Corman in Hollywood Boulevard). Brother Richard and producer Maurice Smith (Spasms) kindly recommended me to Charlie, basically assuring him that I’m not just some random nutcase who wants to track him down! After that, he was relaxed, open and only concerned that the book represents the way that things actually were during the ‘70s and ‘80s, both the ups and the downs. Mention is made of the effect that his father Albert’s death had on him. I wanted to make this book personal – not uncritical but hopefully fair. He read through the finished manuscript and made suggestions for two very minor changes (as they were admittedly no more than slightly bitchy hearsay). The rest was left untouched.”

 

DW: The detail that is provided for some of these films is astonishing, along with the trivia, stills and interview snippets – especially as some of them are notoriously difficult to track down. Which was the most difficult film to locate?

 

DJ: “None of the movies were difficult to locate, bar one. Band’s first foray into film, Last Foxtrot in Burbank, remains lost to the elements. Charlie himself hasn’t retained a copy and film archivists the world over have yet to uncover a print. It has become the holy grail of the Band universe.”

 

CB 008DW: As a fan I’d imagine that having such in-depth knowledge about Charlie’s films meant that you had a certain familiarity with his filmography. Was there anything you discovered along the way though that surprised you in regard to its quality? (From a personal perspective, a friend leant me an HD transfer of Albert Pyun’s Vicious Lips last year and I was agog at how good it was – AND how good it looked).

 

DJ: “I’ve watched Band’s ‘70s and ‘80s oeuvre constantly over the years, so there were no major surprises. Vicious Lips is a strange beast but does look amazing considering it was shot for only $80,000 (with Pyun later shooting pick-ups on the set of Cannon’s Dangerously Close). Mansion of the Doomed has aged particularly well – a real shame that distributor Brandon Chase is currently making the rights so overpriced that no DVD label can afford to give it a decent release. And obviously TerrorVision has gained a legion of new fans by being such a concise encapsulation of 1980s excess. A genuine time capsule.”

 

DW: It’s baffling to me how Charlie isn’t afforded the level of respect or even notoriety given to Roger Corman or perhaps Lloyd Kaufman. Even a cursory glance at his IMDb page (inaccurate movie database as you refer to it!) there’s an absence of a photo, minimal biography and a forum that has seen only two threads started in two years. How do you think film historians / film aficionados will look back on the career of Charles Band?

 

DJ: “For me, that’s a real bone of contention. Whatever your view of his legacy, I can assure you that Charles Band LOVES movies, whereas I’m not convinced that Lloyd Kaufman sees them as much more than a means to an end – the end, of course, being his bank balance. To me, Kaufman patronises his audience, in effect stating, “I make shit because you like shit and don’t know any better.” There’s no genuine passion for the world that he inhabits, he’s just goofing off at our expense. However, I’m hoping that people are finally coming round to the fact that Empire Pictures, while not perfect, at least encapsulated a time when b-movies dearly wished to directly contend with major-studio product. They were, with the odd exception, made with care and ambition. They weren’t afraid to dream. There’s talk of a Band biography being written soon (I’m not in a position to say by whom, as it’s not my place), so I’m hoping that Empire of the ‘B’s is but the first in a long line of books that will give time and space to a man who deserves a little light shone on what has been an amazing 40-year career. Lord knows, we don’t need yet another book on Corman.”

 

DW: Any plans for a sequel to focus on 1989 onwards and Full Moon Pictures?! How do you view this next phase of Charlie’s career?

 

DJ: “As I mentioned earlier, we do plan on bringing out a Full Moon volume at some point. Originally, this book was meant to cover his entire filmography, so there’s a shedload of unused research, reviews and interviews waiting in the wings. The only difficulty I see is that Band’s ‘70s/’80s career encapsulated four or five companies (if including his video arms) and only 65-odd films. We were able to approach each title individually in the book and it was relatively easy to keep a handle on. By contrast, the Full Moon catalogue is currently running close to 250 films, with a near-maddening succession of sub-labels having been started up and swiftly abandoned since 1989. So we’re going to have to approach the material in a more generalised way while also attempting to do the subject justice.”

 

CB 009DW: Is it true that you’ll be contributing to Delirium magazine, Full Moon’s new bi-monthly publication?

 

DJ: “Well, I’ll be contributing to the first issue in the form of a Tourist Trap retrospective (adapted and expanded from the book). I’d definitely be willing to contribute to further issues, but haven’t yet been approached to do so.”

 

DW: Finally, what are your top 5 Empire Pictures releases?

 

DJ: “This obviously shifts from week to week, but right now it’d have to include The Caller, Enemy Territory, From Beyond, Walking the Edge. And Trancers, always Trancers.”

 

An interview with director Drew Cullingham by Dave Wain

DREW 001Drew Cullingham is well on his way to gaining a notable reputation for creating challenging cinema. His new film The Devil’s Bargain was shot using an innovative pinhole technique along with the ambitious storyline of an impending apocalypse. I caught up with Drew to quiz him on his new picture, his career, as well as life behind the camera

 

I really enjoyed The Devil’s Bargain for many reasons. Firstly its ambition – the era, the impending apocalypse, but secondly – and conversely, its simplicity. How do you feel it turned out?

I’m happy with it. In some ways the simplicity is deceptive, because the editing and grading process was far from straightforward and a lot of work (and the impressive talents of sound designer, JD Evans) went into creating the soundscape behind it all. The main remit was to get a real ‘retro’ feeling look and an almost hyper-naturalistic soundscape, and I hope we achieved that.

 

The pinhole technique seemed to require a lot of effort to make it work. Was there any point during shooting where you thought about reconsidering using it?

It wasn’t so much the effort. In fact it simplifies the camera to the extreme. There’s no need for focus pulling or lens changes, so everything is much faster and more organic to shoot, which is certainly an aid to letting actors really get into things. The biggest issue with the pinhole is the amount of light it needs to even register a picture! There was, however, no point in which we reconsidered. It is a character all to itself, and very much a part of the style of the film.

 

DEVIL 001The shooting schedule for The Devil’s Bargain is something else! 4 days? 24 hours? How difficult was this to achieve?

This was largely down to the pinhole again. When there was sufficient light we could move very fast with virtually no time between set-ups. The notion behind that, amongst other things, was to really let the actors dive into the scenes and let them play out in long takes, with the camera effortlessly moving around them. It’s great for performance, and it meant we needed only the smallest of crews. Very organic. On the flip side, if even a little cloud decided to slip in front of the sun, we had to wait it out, which can get frustrating. On the whole we were fortunate with the weather! Given the time pressures, we were also fortunate enough to have all the locations within a few minutes walk of each other – so we were literally shooting every available sunny minute of those days.

 

The Devil’s Bargain is released straight onto VOD, but you’ve experienced the ‘traditional route’ before with the release of Umbrage: The First Vampire through Left Films. How enjoyable was the process of releasing your own work into the UK marketplace?

Time will tell! I have faith that, with the internet being what it is, a film can find its audience there. I won’t say this way is right for every film, and I have been fortunate enough to have Umbrage: The First Vampire sit on shelves here and in North America (where Lionsgate put it out as ‘A Vampire’s Tale’). People do tend to have an attachment to physical products, but more and more I think we are learning to consume films, as music, in a digital one. At the moment there’s room for both.

 

DREW 003You’ve directed four films now – how would you assess the state / health of the British horror scene?

It would be so easy to bemoan the state of the British horror scene, if not the state of the UK film industry in general. We definitely have the talent, but whether it’s the seduction of foreign shores or just that filmmakers don’t get enough opportunities here it does seem that many of our best talents end up being behind non-British films. That said, I think we’re definitely on an upward curve.

 

59 British horror movies managed to get a release in 2013, either by DVD, VOD or a short cinema run. What is your preferred method of distribution, or do all avenues have their advantages?

I think it partly depends on the film. All have their advantages. But then you only have to look at what they did with ‘A Field in England’, a cross platform release, to see that all these methods have their own merits. The important thing is to not necessarily see one as better than another. The way we are consuming films is changing. Some people want to watch a film on their tablet on the way to work. Others want the thrill of the cinema. Others still want the comfort of their ‘home cinema’. I think it’s just a matter of giving people what they want and just making films available at all levels.

 

DEVIL 002Presumably its harder and harder to get a DVD release. I spoke to Left Films recently, and despite a great catalogue that includes Umbrage as well as Stag Night of the Dead and Blood Car, they say they’re on hiatus simply due to the state of the market. Is there anything small distributors can do to reinvigorate the home entertainment market?

Blood Car’s a hoot isn’t it?! Loved it. It’s tough out there. Small distributors felt the pinch of the recession even more keenly than the filmmakers. It’s not even that it’s necessarily harder to get a DVD release, though by extension it certainly is – I think it’s more to do with the increase in VOD and online distribution. The smaller films that would normally be picked up by smaller outfits will increasingly find a more natural home elsewhere. It’s especially tough here in the UK, with far fewer retail opportunities than say the US. The prime real estate here in terms of shelf space is supermarkets, and what little space is left there after the chart-toppers is keenly sought after.

 

My day job is that I run one of the last UK independent video stores – and in recent years have found a new generation somewhat cynical about micro-budget horror. It seems some sections of the audience are conditioned to multi-million dollar generic horror films and unwilling to embrace independent features. With your ambitious approach though and the ingenuity you use in your projects, you must retain a confidence that you can tempt people away from Paranormal Activity 7 and the like?

It’s funny isn’t it, considering the first Paranormal Activity was shot in seven days on a shoestring budget and waited a couple of years before Paramount picked it up. And since then there’s been several modestly budgeted horrors that have done well, like Insidious. But yes, there will always be people who don’t want to look beyond the generic safe popcorn fare that litters the multiplexes. Again though, I think with the rise of the internet, and the facilities for getting films out there, any film can find its audience – and I’m confident there are more than enough discerning film-lovers out there that want something a little different.

 

The Devil’s Bargain is released on VOD on January 17th at distrify.com and facebook.com/TheDevilsBargain