A Life In Blood: Tales Of A Horror Queen Death House Exclusive: an interview with Writer and Director Harrison Smith

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Death House Exclusive: an interview with Writer and Director Harrison Smith.

This horror queen recently had the honor to have a great cameo as an evil nurse in the soon to be legendary Death House. In last month’s instalment of A Life In Blood: Tales Of A Horror Queen I discussed my role, and spoke to stars Kane Hodder, Michael Berryman, and Bill Oberst Jr. This month I give you an exclusive interview with writer and director of Death House: Harrison Smith.

Hi Harrison, Thank you so much for letting me send you a few questions. I am sure our readers want to hear more about Death House.

dhgen5Genoveva: 1. How did you get started in horror? And how did you come to direct and write Death House?

Harrison: *My grandmother watched a lot of horror. When I was a kid I grew up watching Dr. Shock and Creature Feature and Chiller Theater and the CBS Late Night Movie with her. So between the old Universal Monsters and Hammer and then 70s horror like Shockwaves, I got right into it. By the time I was 8 years old I knew who Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi were. I saw “Jaws” when I was 8 as well and I knew leaving the theater that’s what I wanted to do: make movies. “Jaws” is the movie that made me want to make movies. These PC, over protective helicopter parent times draw shock when I say this. How could my mother take me to see “Jaws” when I was just 8 years old. Aside from the fact that “Jaws” was X-rated for anyone over 30 at that time, my reply is how do you let your kids watch Disney which allows the body shaming sale of sex to pre teens on much of its content disguised as “family” programming.*

*”Death House” was brought to me by Rick Finkelstein and Steven Chase of Entertainment Factory. They were brought to a sceening of my film “Zombie Killers” in Los Angeles. From there we discussed the project. They introduced me to Gunnar Hansen and here we are.*

dhgen3Genoveva: 2. What will horror fans love about Death House? Where did the idea for the story of Death House come from?

Harrison: *Real fans will appreciate the Easter Egg hunt in the film. There are so many visual and verbal references to horror. I am very proud of one involving Cody Longo, Barbara Crampton and Sean Whalen. They will also appreciate that we really did something fresh. This isn’t taking all the horror icons and putting them in cameos and slashing up a bunch of college kids. They will appreciate we gave a fresh story, no reboot, remake or regurgitation. We gave them a smart story too. They’ll appreciate the GREAT practical effects: plenty of blood and gore in this. Plenty. There is also a lot of action. This has the pace of a roller coaster. It builds up to the drop and then it rides up and down straight to the end. On top of it, I think fans are gonna have a slew more to talk about to their icons at the cons. It’s a great film.*

*Gunnar had the original story which involved a documentary film crew going into the bowels of a supposedly abandoned asylum. As you guessed, the place isn’t empty and hijinks ensue. He had this around 2010 and tried to get
into production. He felt the story needed work and someone else did a rewrite that took it in the opposite direction and basically made it torture porn. Gunnar wasn’t happy with that and the project dragged on. When it came to me, Gunnar said he wanted the concept of the “Four Horsemen” to remain and the title had to stay. I used zero from the rewrite that came before me. However Gunnar’s original script had this whole concept of what exactly is good and evil. I took that thread and weaved it into the present film. I was out working on the treatment one afternoon and
the preview for Jurassic World came on and then it hit me. Why does it have to be an asylum? We’ve been there and done that. What if Death House was a prison? Like an Area 51 of prisons? The place where the worst of the worst
were kept. What if some young cadets were on a tour and the ride broke down? So instead of “The Expendables of Horror” (a term we did not coin and one I think is inaccurate) we had “Jurassic Park Without the Dinosaurs?”*

dhgen1Genoveva: 3. What inspired you to bring together the biggest names in horror?

Harrison: *I did not bring them together. That was Gunnar who did all of that. It was simply handed off to me.*

Genoveva: 4. When can fans expect to see Death House and where? What are your plans after finishing this film?

Harrison: *The release date will depend on the distributor. I won’t give any firm date however I can tell you the film is in post production and moving ahead of schedule. My plans? Keep making movies, but I can say that 5 sequels are planned for this film.*

dhgen2Genoveva: 5. Are there any great moments on set you’d like to share with our readers?

Harrison: *There were a lot of great moments. I think one of the best was was watching Kane Hodder, Bill Moseley and Michael Berryman do a harmonizing Three Stooges “Hello….hello….hello…!” while on set. I turned to my AD and said, “we are seeing something pretty cool here.” Horror actors are some of the nicest people. They really are. There’s this kind of camaraderie and they are easy to work with. Felissa Rose who appears in the film as well as associate produced always is a fun time and brought along a number of names that were equally as fun and I am so glad were a part of this film. Lloyd Kaufman provided a lot of laughs and smiles on our last day of East Coast shooting. Such a gentleman and a legend. That word is thrown around a lot, but Lloyd is one of the last of his kind, a filmmaker who came from the ground up in the beginning of the guerilla film movement along with Carpenter, Arkoff and Corman. It was a great experience to have Lloyd make a came in this film for all he has done for the medium.*

dhgen4Genoveva: 6. Do you have any fond memories of Gunnar Hanson you’d like to share with his mourning fans?

Harrison: *Gunnar was a gentle giant. It’s odd that he’s iconic for Leatherface when in a parallel universe he could have been Santa Claus. An artist, thinker and a man who loved the genre that gave him a career. He told me so many
stories of being on set, the experiences that have shaped and changed horror filmmaking and most of all was just so accessible and open. I met with him in person several times for long story meetings and talked often by phone. Horror lost a good person last fall. *

Genoveva: 7. Any final thoughts on DeathHouse?

Harrison: *My “Cynema” series published here http://zombieapocalypse.net/author/harrison/ makes it clear horror fans need to step up their game. Horror is more than blood and gore. It’s more than tired franchises and their seemingly endless reboots. They need to think independently more. For example, back in 1978 Michael Myers appeared. While he was clearly a little boy, he could somehow take bullets to the chest, fall from second story balconies and somehow survive this and a number of other physical onslaughts through a number of sequels. Hell, he
even, somehow, survived two shots to the head and an inferno in the mediocre “Halloween II.” Yet the audience never had to have “why” explained. it just was. Pleasance offers the only explanation, the guy was evil. That’s it. There was no “Midichlorian” type explanation for this evil force. You accepted it, because evil is pretty open and liquid.

There may be rules but they’re broken all the time. Freddy didn’t need explanation for how he could enter dreams. Were there others who could do it too? Other killers entering dreams? Jason Vorhees was clearly a frail, mentally
incapacitated kid when he DROWNED to death at Camp Crystal Lake. Yet in the second film he returned as some giant, hulking guy that not only cheated death, but discovered a shitload of body building cheats to boot. We never
find out why the guy regenerates, why you can’t kill him. Didn’t Corey Feldman chop his head off in Part IV? How did it get back on his shoulders in Part VI? The AUDIENCE is supposed to fill in those gaps and suspend their disbelief and not be so literal. Space ships don’t explode in space, nor do they belch fire when they do or smoke for that matter. But we accept it.

dhgen6So now here is my point: Kane Hodder’s character, Sieg, in “Death House” can heal physical trauma quickly. He is able to heal his body. Our one 20 something editor watched the rough cut and said “How can he do that? Why don’t you explain it?” I asked him if he saw any of the “Friday the 13th” films. he replied yes, he’d seen them all and loved them. So I asked, “How does Jason keep coming back? How does he heal?” And he looked at me and said, “You know, I never really thought about it.” So in other words, because Kane is without a mask here, you question it. But not once in all those films did you ever question Jason’s healing and resurrection abilities? This is my point. We give plenty of information that Sieg studied the occult,. He found something. Do we have to spoon feed it and dumb it down for the audience? if so, then stop calling “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” classics. *

*Horror is more than “The Walking Dead” and zombie films. It’s more than the latest “Paranormal Activity” instalment. It means a lot of different things to people, but it shouldn’t be stupid and expect it’s audience to be morons and just blindly wait for the food to be forced down their throats. Expect more of your entertainment and you’ll see originality return to the screen.*

Genoveva: It was great meeting you on set in Philadelphia and thank you. As luck would have it I am now being managed by Matt Chassin, Bill Oberst Jr’s manager. I am a huge fan of Oberst so this is a huge honor.

Harrison: *Bill was a joy to work with. I am so happy to have had him in this film and his cameo is a stand out. I
would love to work with again. He’s brilliant.*

Stay tuned for next updates and news on Death House! Also tune in next month for another chilling instalment of A Life In Blood: Tales Of A Horror Queen and here more about my life in horror!

Yours in screams, Genoveva Rossi
Check out my new website: www.genovevarossi.com
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A Life In Blood – Tales of A Horror Queen by Genoveva Rossi #5 – A Death House Special

A Life In Blood – Tales of A Horror Queen by Genoveva Rossi #5 – A Death House Special


gendh5Shock and sadness ran threw the horror community in November 2015 when Gunnar Hansen died of pancreatic cancer. Horror fans all over the world mourned the passing of Leatherface, but Hansen was able to leave loyal fans with a parting gift: Death House.

What is Death House? It is an incredibly ambitious horror film written by Gunnar Hansen and director Harrison Smith. This film has been called “The Expendables of Horror” due to it’s spectacular casting choices: Adrienne Barbeau, Bill Moseley, Kane Hodder, Sid Haig, Michael Berryman, Tony Todd, Barbara Crampton, Dee Wallace, Tom Savini, Bill Oberst Jr and more. Directed by Harrison Smith.

gendh1I am truly honored to have a cameo among such a talented cast and crew. It was great to spend some time on set with horror icon Kane Hodder. We have both been guests at the same cons a few times, but Death House is our first film together. While on set, Hodder said, “It is truly an honor to be in Death House. This is an amazing film.”

Michael Berryman and I previously worked together on a Sci-Fi thriller called Apocalypse Kiss and it was great to be in a film with him again.

“I was very proud to be a part of this film. Gunner was a good friend and the story is solid with a cast that includes many friends and the best actors in our genre. Harrison is a keen director with an editor’s eye as the scenes are composed. I know that this film will be well received.” -Michael Berryman

gendh3“Harrison Smith is an actor’s director with affection for our genre’s past and a real vision for its future. Gunnar Hansen would be very, very proud of what Harrison has done with DEATH HOUSE, and speaking as a life-long fan of classic horror, so am I.”
-Bill Oberst Jr.

A big thank you to “Scary” Sheri Fairchild and her husband Frank Nicosia. I have worked with both actors on a few film projects in the Buffalo area and Sheri reached out to tell me Death House was looking for more actors.

gendh4I was going through my own spiritual upheaval at the time. I had found my poor mother passed away of a sudden heart attack on Easter Sunday. That huge loss had left me shaken, but not beaten. My mother always said, “My daughter is tough” and lately I have been challenged to continue to prove her words right no matter the obstacle; even losing her so tragically. But God only gives us what he knows we can bear.

So I got in touch with the casting director of Death House and ended up on set in Philadelphia at the beautifully grotesque and haunting Holmesburg Prison. I had the good fortune of being in a scene with screen legends Barbara Crampton and Dee Wallace.

gendh2While on the set of Death House I was able to sit down and talk with producer Rick Finkelstein. He explained, “This film was started by Gunnar Hansen. It has really come together better than we ever imagined. We have the best locations, best cast, horror icons, and an amazing script.”

Even the location was perfect, Holmesburg Prison, which is part of the Philadelphia prison system. It’s history already sounds like a horror movie. For thirty years chemical companies tested on inmates with sometimes horrific results. Also the prison warden and assistant were murdered mere steps from where we conducted our interview.

gendh6Watch for Death House for it’s amazing cast, horrific special effects, and to see Gunnar Hansen’s last blood splattering performance. This film was Leatherface’s baby, it was Gunnar’s dying wish that Death House be finished, and made into a huge success in the genre. Horror fans are sure to enjoy this truly epic film. Finkelstein promises, “When you leave this film you will be questioning your own thought processes and concepts of good and evil.”

gendh7This article is dedicated to the memory of Gunnar Hansen and my mother.