Q: This a very different type of horror movie than SLEEPLESS NIGHTS. Why did you decide to go in this direction?
After we managed to get a distribution deal for SLEEPLESS NIGHTS, I spent a lot of time thinking about what we could do as a follow-up. SLEEPLESS NIGHTS was a long and difficult production and I felt it was almost miraculous that we were able to finish it and get distribution for it. But in looking back on it, it was obvious where we had made our mistake. We were trying to do a lavish gothic melodrama on a ridiculously tiny budget. All the things such a film might have had that would be attractive to a mass audience were things that were completely beyond our budget - things like name actors, good cinematography, properly dressed sets, nice costumes, good makeup, convincing special effects - the things that add so much to the budgets and to the popularity of movies like Underworld, Blade or Interview With the Vampire, to name just a few. Any one of those elements - the effects, the makeup, the costumes - in a fully-funded feature film, would cost more than the entire budget of our film. It was a ridiculous position we had put ourselves in. And making matters worse, other than the vampire angle, which was still a popular genre at the time, there weren't any other commercially exploitable elements in the movie. There was no nudity or sexual content and there was very little explicit violence. Our leading lady, who had breasts large enough to receive co-star billing, kept them safely out of view for the entire production. And other than a few brief shots, like the dead baby in the villain's refrigerator, the whole thing was bland and chaste enough to seem like something co-financed by the Vatican. So in looking back on how commercially naive we'd been, I decided that I wanted to make some dramatic changes heading into our next production. Right around that time, like a lot of people apparently, I started to develop a taste for more violent horror films, particularly slasher and zombie movies from the 70s and 80s. I found myself watching Lucio Fulci's films, like ZOMBIE, and Lamberto Bava's DEMONS movies and just about everything from Dario Argento. I also revisited Romero's zombie trilogy, which I found held up very well. My affection for these films and other 70s flicks like SHOCKWAVES, CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS and the TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD films, caused me to begin planning my own zombie movie. And since this was in early 2003, before the onslaught of zombie movies that followed the US release of 28 DAYS LATER, the idea of doing a zombie movie was still a fairly fresh idea. Of course, once I got into writing the script, things changed considerably. I was also watching a lot of the old Corman Poe movies at the time, and a lot of Hammer stuff. So that began to have an influence on me as well and the story moved away from being a conventional zombie flick. It also moved away from the tone of gritty reality I had original intended to a more romantic or fantastical tone. In the end, the script has elements borrowed from a pretty wide range of films and books. Everything from THE DEVIL RIDES OUT to Lovecraft's stories to ROSEMARY'S BABY to LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH and HORROR HOTEL. Hopefully I was able to work all these borrowed elements into something reasonably coherent and enjoyable and maybe put in a few fresh twists. Ultimately my goal was to make something that was as purely entertaining as some of the films I just mentioned. I didn't imagine we would be able to create a blockbuster to rival the mega-productions being turned out by the big studios. I just wanted to make something that would be reasonably involving and entertaining. A diversion. Something to escape into for 90 minutes of simple thrills and fun, that isn't too insulting to one's intelligence.
Q: Where was the movie shot?
The bulk of the film was shot in St. James, Long Island, a rather remote area. There was a lot of traveling time involved in getting the actors and ourselves back and forth from New York City to the location we were using. But it was such a great old house with acres of really beautiful property surrounding it, it was worth the time and expense to travel out there. I think it adds enormously to the overall look and feel of the film. Additional scenes were shot at a location in Huntington, Long Island. And various pick-up shots were done at locations in the Bronx and Manhattan.
Q: How did you go about getting your actors?
We approached the casting of the film in the same way as our previous film. We ran ads in Backstage and some of the other trade papers. We sorted through the ton of head shots and resumes we received and set up auditions with those actors that seemed to be the most promising. I was willing to consider anyone who had talent, even if they didn't fit my preconceptions of the role. It's always possible to rewrite the part to fit the actor, but if you don't have talented people to work with, it doesn't matter how closely they physically resemble the characters you had in mind when you wrote the script. In the end, I think we were very lucky. We were able to put together a really terrific cast. Most of them were fairly new to film, having had most of their experience in theater, so it was ideal for us. We ended up with a cast of gifted actors whose excitement and enthusiasm about working on a feature film made them more willing to tolerate the various inconveniences and discomforts that come with working on a very low budget production. Everyone did a terrific job and everyone was pleasant and professional. The supporting actors, Joe McClean, Eli Kranski, Chad Kessler, Amanda Knox, Stephanie Roy, were all great. And my hat's really off to our leads, Alexis Golightly, Damian Ladd, Bashir Solebo, Laurie Miller and Will McDonald. They all did a tremendous amount of really hard work under very difficult conditions and they maintained their sense of humor and kept the quality of their work at a very high level. Alexis was particularly remarkable. I would guess she's on screen for nearly half of the film's running time and most of her scenes are either emotionally or physically grueling. She spends a good part of the film made up to look deathly ill, smeared from top to bottom with blood and other forms of supernatural ooze, and when she's not impeccably delivering long speeches describing her character's misfortunes, she's screaming at the top of her lungs or crying her eyes out or both. And despite the difficulty of her role and having to deal with the stress of having the lead in a feature film, she was always bright and pleasant and enthusiastic - totally committed to the work. She was wonderful. I should also mention how great it was to work with Will McDonald. The shoot was as physically demanding for him as it was for everybody else and he had quite a few years on the rest of the cast. Still, whether he was skulking around the woods late at night in his cultist robes or kneeling over glowing pits muttering mystical incantations, he was always a total professional and real gentlemen. He attacked the role with great élan, bringing to it a great sense of wit and style, and conjuring up in my mind memories of the old horror masters like Boris Karloff and Vincent Price.
Q: How was Zaso to work with?
Joe is a terrific guy and really great to work with. And even though he doesn't have a very large role in DEMON RESURRECTION, I think his extraordinary physical presence has a big impact on the film. He only worked on DEMON for a few days but his scenes are spaced throughout the film so that he seems like a constant presence - skulking in the background, scowling, menacing. In the original script, the villain Toth was supposed to have two assistants. But when I saw Joe, I realized that he was enough all by himself. He only has two lines in the film and they come very near the end, but they serve as a simple, understated summation of how badly things have turned out for Toth and Joe gives a very amusing reading of the lines. It was also fun to work with someone who has such a thorough knowledge and understanding of the genre. He seemed able to instantly identify the specific films I was borrowing from in certain scenes, even the more obscure titles. He probably was the only person on the set other than myself who had even heard of those films.
Q: The resurrected corpses reminded me a lot of the undead in THE BLIND DEAD movies. Was that intentional? And the black character - was that a nod to zombie movies NIGHT and DAWN OF THE DEAD?
I always thought the dead Templars in THE BLIND DEAD movies were very effective and I kept that look in mind when we were considering what our zombies should look like. And as a lifelong fan of Ray Harryhausen, I also had fond memories of the scenes in his films that featured animated skeletons - like the crowd of bony attackers the hero has to fend off in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. Early in the pre-production phase of DEMON RESURRECTION it was suggested to me, by more than one person, that it would be simpler and cheaper to go with conventional zombies. That is, folks in ripped-up clothes, with their hair mussed, some white makeup on their faces, dark rings under their eyes and maybe some blood on their mouths - the sort of zombies we've seen in just about every zombie movie, big budget and low, for the past several decades. But I was kind of tired of that look and I couldn't be sure we'd be able to get the same extras out to the location day after day. If we'd had a completely different crowd of zombies showing up every day of the shoot, it would've created enormous continuity problems. What's more, we had no special effects makeup artist. Our makeup artist, Ashley Benetar, was responsible for the beauty makeup and hair for the main cast. She also contributed some excellent gore effects. But by herself she wouldn't have been able to do individual makeup for every zombie extra we brought in. So for all of those reasons and also because I just liked the idea of them, we went with less traditional zombies -- what are really walking skeletons. And we were able to devise a one-size-fits-all costume that anyone could jump into if we needed more zombies on the set. They weren't comfortable costumes for the actors and I would've liked to have been able to come up with masks that were a little more expressive, but all in all, I think they worked out pretty well. And now, with all the conventional zombie films that have been coming out in the past few years, I'm glad we went with something a little different.
As to the black character, Denton, played by Bashir Solebo.... When I was writing the original script and when we were casting the film, I wanted to have as diverse a group of actors as possible. I regretted not having a more diverse group in my first film and I wanted to correct that mistake this time out. As soon as we auditioned Bashir, we recognized he was very talented. I knew I wanted him to be in the film and the character of Denton seemed a perfect fit. Denton clearly has a great deal of affection for his friends but as the only black guy in the group, he's just a little bit removed from them. He stands back a bit from the others and observes, with some amusement, their various foibles and general self-absorption. So, as a little bit of an outsider, he's in a better position to notice some of the strange things that are happening - things that all the other friends are oblivious to. Now obviously I was aware that in casting a black actor in a lead role in what is essentially a zombie film, we were following in the tradition of Romero's films, but that seems to me to be a pretty good tradition to uphold. Not that we really have anything to pat ourselves on the back about here. There's really no excuse in this day and age, in a film with a cast as large as ours, not to have a little diversity. At the very least, Bashir and several of my friends who are black have told me that they find it very refreshing to see a black character in a film like this who is able to survive past the first twenty minutes of the movie.
Q: What was the most difficult aspect of the production?
Anytime you're making something like this in a remote location with a large group of people that need to be fed and housed and taken care of, and your script is filled with special effects and stunts and special props and sets, and you're trying to do the whole thing on a $1.99, the entire enterprise begins to feel like one long challenge to your brain power, your talent and your physical stamina. Everything costs money and usually far more money than you have. Everyone you encounter seems to have some new unforeseen problem to put in front of you. And our producer, Frank Cilla, our co-producer Ed Wheeler, our associate producer Billy Murray and myself were really put to the test to see if we could pull this thing off. It was the most challenging and exhausting project I've ever been involved with and I'm sure they would probably say the same. But having said all that, I think for me the single most difficult aspect of the production was trying to work with the actors to make the non-action, non-gore scenes work. In a horror film like this, it's fairly easy to get a reaction from the audience if your leading lady is being stripped naked and branded with hot irons, or if the other members of the cast are having their guts ripped out and strewn around the set. But simple, quiet scenes - Grace and Kate talking together in the bedroom, or John and Denton discussing things in the backyard - trying to make those scenes work, trying to make them involving and compelling, that's considerably more difficult than staging the action/horror scenes. The love scene was also a challenge because, unlike the rest of the film, I was hoping to create something that would be beautiful rather than repellent. Probably the reason many first time filmmakers go with horror themes is because it's fairly easy to put bizarre, grotesque and revolting things up on the screen and get a strong audience reaction. But trying to shoot a scene that would be pleasing to the eye, be strongly erotic and also give the audience a clearer understanding of who these two people are and how they feel about each other, that was considerably more difficult - in the shooting and in the editing - than most of the rest of the film.
Q: What is your favorite part of the movie?
Well, other than those quiet moments I just described, I guess the segment of the film that works best in every respect is the twenty minutes or so following the first attack by Toth's army of resurrected corpses. From the time they show up in front of Michael and Barbara's car, right through to the moment when Grace dispatches her newborn child, the film really moves and has a lot of little bits of business to excite and please an audience. The crowd that turned out for the film's first screening at New York's Pioneer theater recently seemed to really enjoy that portion of the film and I can see why. But it wouldn't work as well, I think, if we hadn't laid the groundwork with the slower, quieter scenes in the film's first half hour or so.
Q: What's happening with the movie now? How can people get more info on it?
We're now in the process of shopping the film around to distributors and, from the reaction the film has received so far, I'm optimistic that we'll soon have a distribution deal. Of course we'll make that announcement on our website as soon as it happens along with info on how people can obtain the DVD. I'm hoping we won't have long to wait before the film is widely available.