Actor. Writer. Effects Man. Producer. And die-hard genre fan are just some of the words that describe Florida-based Bill Cassinelli, who has slowly but surely been making a name for himself in the world of microbudgeted B-movies throughout the last couple of decades.
With his latest movie, SCARY TALES (an anthology horror collaboration with Joel D. Wynkoop and director Michael Hoffman) receiving spectacular reviews and word-of-mouth, we figured it was time to catch up with Cassinelli and get his take on things.
We found the horror-fan-come filmmaker to be a bundle of enthusiasm and humor, and it looks like he's going to be around for many years to come! Keep your eyes peeled!
Q: How and when did you get started in the independent horror genre?
BILL: Well, I'd grown up in Long Island a horror fan. I had a second cousin named Tom, who, whenever I'd stay over his house, would let me read his back issues of Famous Monsters magazine. We'd watch movies like Psycho, The Mad Ghoul, and Creature From The Black Lagoon on his 8mm projector. He also got me into the old Aurora monster model kits. I'd read Fangoria since 1979; seen every horror movie I possibly could sneak into.
One day in the 1980s, I'd answered an ad in the back of Fangoria, looking for horror fans local to me. That developed with a longtime friendship with a guy named David Brudie. He became my mentor. We started making little horror movies on his Super-8 camera. I recall going to school stained red, from the food coloring in the blood we used. Another vivid memory with Dave was in 1985. Re-Animator had just hit theaters, but it was rated NC-17, and I was only 15 or 16. Dave and I actually cut some of my hair and spirit-gummed it to my lip to create a makeshift mustache. I can honestly say that it was perhaps the most uncomfortable thing on earth. It itched worse than anything, and having strong spirit gum on the sensitive area began to hurt a bit. When we got to the theater, Dave bought the tickets. I was standing there, with this phony looking mass of hair glued to my face, wearing dark sunglasses at 9 o'clock at night. As soon as the ticket was obtained, I hurried into the men's room faster than Rosie O'Donnell eating a Twinkie. Ripping the stuff off and removing the glasses, I casually walked out, right past the ticket girl - who gave me a double-take, and proceeded to sit down and watch one of the coolest movies of the decade. She didn't have me thrown out, though. Maybe she thought that with all the trouble I went through to see the film, it was worth letting me in.
After moving to Florida, I attended a screening of Tim Ritter's Wicked Games, where I met Tim and Joel Wynkoop. I had been a big fan of theirs since Truth Or Dare and Killing Spree, and practically BEGGED them to be involved in their next project. Surprisingly enough, I got a phone call, asking if I wanted to help with the special effects on Creep. The rest is history.
Q: What individuals inspired you to make indie horror flicks?
BILL: Oh, there are so many. Here's a few:
Herschell Gordon Lewis - The master. I remember my video store couldn't even display the box for Color Me Blood Red.
Sam Raimi - To think that a few friends with little money made such a horror masterpiece.
George A. Romero - I had read somewhere that on the night of his prom, he lied to his parents and told them he had a date, but really spent the evening at in a movie theater, in his tuxedo.
Don Coscarelli - Phantasm scared the hell out of me the first time I'd seen it.
Mark & John Polonia - They sent Dave and I two films they had made called Halloween Night 1 and 2, which I really loved. When they got into Blockbuster with Feeders, I was very happy to see them "make it".
Q: You've done some wild turns as an actor. Tell us about some of your on-set experiences and how you got into character.
BILL: I'm still waiting for a wild "on-set experience" to happen! One funny thing on the set of Scary Tales, though. I was playing a guy who had just killed a famous horror writer of the past, and I'm dragging his sheet-covered body through a motel parking lot. We were filming on location, in a seedy motel, in a bad part of town. I'm dragging this body wrapped in a sheet, when a big pickup truck pulls up. A guy gets out, walks over toward me, and asks: "Is he dead yet?" Then kept walking to his room, without missing a beat. I wondered if people dragging bodies wrapped in sheets of thing happens all the time there.
Getting into character is easy for me. I just become the person I'm playing. I don't go as far as say, Deniro, and tattoo my entire body with vegetable ink, but I have no problem actually feeling the emotion my character is in for that scene.
Q: What other movies have you done that fans might not know about?
BILL: With Dave Brudie, I've made a movie called Deeply Departed. Check out his website for clips.
I was also involved in a pretty big film made in 1991 called Trilogy Of Fear. Sadly, it was Claude (Sheriff Lobo) Akins' last role. It was a horror anthology with three different directors. I think it was shelved soon after completion. Akins was a wonderful guy. He'd hang out with everyone after shooting, and more than a few times even bought beer for the crew. He was surprised when I remembered him in an episode of the horror series, Darkroom. I was really saddened to hear of his passing.
A few years ago, I jokingly wrote a horror/parody/drinking game called Night Of The Drinking Dead (which also became an in-joke in Scary Tales). It was intended to be a comedic gore fest with a gimmick, and it was going to be filmed for Troma. I even had the idea to do the DVD commentary with Mike Hoffman while really getting drunk, too. I pitched it to Troma's acquisitions person, who seemed to like the idea, but informed us that it would have to be shot on film for them to accept it. The funny thing is, almost a year later, Troma released Cannibal The Musical (one of my favorites) on DVD, on which Trey Parker and Matt Stone get drunk doing the commentary! I'm not saying the idea was stolen from me; I just thought it would have been cool to do it first.
Q: You're also a writer. How does the creative process work for you and where do you come up with your ideas?
BILL: I have, what I call, "creative spurts". I could be in the middle of traffic, and suddenly this idea will come to me. My problem is that if I don't get the idea on paper within a day, it is forgotten forever. My current girlfriend finally understands that when I yell, "Honey, I've got a spurt!", she'll make a point to get a pen and paper in my hands immediately. In all seriousness, I just have those days where I'll wake up with an idea in my head. Some days I do not, and can stare at Final Draft for hours without getting past the words, FADE IN: . When I do get the ideas, I'll run them past some friends to find out what they think. Will it scare/surprise/shock them? Is it original? Etc.
Q: How did you like the end results of 'Scary Tales'? Any on-set experiences you'd care to share on the making of that movie? How is it working opposite cult actor Joel D. Wynkoop?
BILL: I was quite pleased with the end result of Scary Tales. The funny faces, the bad acting I did in some parts - were all homages to other films I had loved. I'm not sure how many people will "get" that, but it was intentional. The faces during the doll segment, for example, were in homage to Bruce Campbell's faces in Evil Dead 2. Plus, Mike did a great job editing and putting music to the film, as well. I think people are going to really enjoy the movie. It's meant to be watched during a slumber party, or with lots of friends and a case of cheap beer. I also hope people keep watching after the credits for the Jackie Chan-style bloopers. There's also a stinger way after the credits have finished, too.
On the set, we'd find stuff that made us laugh, and insert them into the film. For example, Mike and I are both fans of really bad horror movies. We'd make it a point to go out and rent some of the worst ones we could find. In one of these, a film called House Of Terror, one of the characters gets killed at the beach on this really ugly sheet and pillowcase set that had a rainbow on it. Going through my mother's house for sheets one day, we found the EXACT same pillowcase and decided to throw it into the movie. Filming in the bookstore for the astral segment, we found a hilariously titled book, "Man's Body - An Owner's Manual". We had to stick that in, as well. In fact, I still have that book to this day. One critic was convinced that either me or my character was gay. The rainbow sheets, the book, the goofy faces I made in the beach dream sequence...
Joel D. Wynkoop is extremely hard to work with. He always shows up on the set smelling of vodka and never remembering his lines. And don't get me started on how he enjoys bossing people around! Once, this kid didn't bring him his morning Irish coffee hot enough, and he threw it in the poor kid's face, burning his eyes and causingpermanent damage. I'm only kidding! Joel is fantastic. He is a wonderful actor and an even more wonderful human being. He's also one of my closest and dearest friends who I'd do anything for. We hit it off very well on the set of Creep. We'd hang out off camera and discuss similar interests, like Star Trek, Marvel Comics, horror movies, and kung fu. Joel always goes out of his way to immerse himself in every role, and can play any role given to him, from a karate-chopping hero to slobbering psychopath.
Q: What's it like seeing your work on the silver screen? You've had some movies play in theaters!
That is the true accomplishment of any indie filmmaker. To sit back and think, "Hey, my movie played on the big screen!" really wakes you up, and makes you want to hurry and start the next movie.
Q: Tell us about your Twisted Illusions website and how all that evolved.
BILL: I started it back in June of 1997. I would go through USENET, in alt.horror and alt.cult-movies, and read posts from the fans about Tim Ritter's movies, but there was no "official" Twisted Illusions website. I threw something together on Geocities and got Tim's approval. He and Steve McNaughton would keep me up to date on what was going on, and I'd post the updates. Since then, I'd added a behind the scenes photo scetion, a message board, and a whole new redesign of the site (with much help from Dave Brudie). We get people from all over the world posting about the films. We get posts from people who have seen Tim's "Ransom" segment from Alien Agenda in FILM SCHOOLS! The URL to the website is www.geocities.com/fxguy1969
Q: What future projects are you working on and anything you'd care to add?
BILL: Right now, I'm trying to flesh out (no pun intended) a gory little story involving a succubus (a female sex-demon), cannibalism, and erotica. You know, something the whole family will enjoy! Also, I'm toying around with the idea of making a decent slumber party-type screenplay. One with lots of gore and nudity, yet also has a pretty cool plot. I was inspired after seeing the horrendous "Last Slumber Party". I'd like to make a genre flick that we all used to love: equally gratuitous shots of breasts and gore, and maybe a cool little plot-twist at the end. I am getting very sick of these "smart horror" films written by pretentious, smarmy, Kevin Smith wannabes. And lastly, allow me to add that if Freddie Prinze Jr gets within 50 feet of any of my sets, I'm eating a bullet.