Bruce G. Hallenbeck is a writer/director/producer/actor who has worked in all of those capacities on numerous indie horror films. As writer, he contributed the screenplays of DR. JEKYLL AND MISTRESS HYDE, THE WITCHES OF SAPPHO SALON, MISTY MUNDAE MUMMY RAIDER and the upcoming remakes of CARESS OF THE VAMPIRE and VAMPIRE'S SEDUCTION for Seduction Cinema. As director/producer, he has made such films as VAMPYRE (1990), FANGS (1992) and his segment of Kevin Lindenmuth's anthology film BLOOD OF THE WEREWOLF (2001), called BLOOD REUNION. As actor, he appeared in Lindenmuth's ADDICTED TO MURDER (1998), Joe Bagnardi's SHADOW TRACKER VAMPIRE HUNTER (1997) and Bagnardi's EDGE OF REALITY (2004). Hallenbeck's pet project for the past several years has been something called LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, what he describes as "The X-Files Meets the Avengers Meets H.P. Lovecraft." Buried.com recently asked him about the upcoming action -adventure horror film.
Q: How did LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT come about?
BGH: Well, you might say it's been about forty years in development. Way back in 1965 or so, when I was twelve years old, I came up with a character called David London. At that time he was a secret agent, as it was the era of GOLDFINGER and THE MAN FROM UNCLE. Many, many years later, the character became the hero of a screenplay I wrote called LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, in which he was paired up with a female sidekick, ala THE AVENGERS. This was in 1979 or so, when I made a trip to England's Pinewood Studios to talk to Tyburn Productions about filming some of my screenplays. Tyburn was a small Hammer-like company that had already produced THE GHOUL and LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF, both with Peter Cushing, as well as PERSECUTION with Lana Turner and Ralph Bates. So this was my little taste of the "big time." Although Tyburn expressed interest in both LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT and another script of mine called FEAR IS THE COLOR OF DARKNESS, nothing ever came of it; as is so often the case, the money just wasn't there. At that point, the British film industry was in a terrible state of recession, and Tyburn only made a couple of more films before calling it quits. So it was back to the drawing board, and, finally, in 1997, I rewrote LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT so that it could be filmed in America.
Q: The title is familiar. Any relationship to the Lon Chaney film of 1927?
BGH: Actually, no. It isn't a remake. I just thought the title was a fun play on words, as London is the character name in my story, not the city. Besides, the original LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is considered to be the Holy Grail of lost films, so I thought, well, if we can never get to see that one, at least people can see mine. At least I hope they will!
Q: You've directed many other horror films. How does LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT compare?
BGH: Well, LAM, as I affectionately call it, was a very ambitious project. I broke the first rule of making low-budget films, which is: don't try to compete with Hollywood. I took what was essentially a high-concept, action-adventure horror script and attempted to film it for little or basically no money. And it's taken me a very, very long time for a number of reasons.
Q: How long has it taken?
BGH: Seven years. We actually started filming in late 1997 on weekends. We were still shooting pickup shots three years later. Of course, you have to remember that during this period, I had to make a living, and I was also writing freelance scripts for ei cinema, for Kevin Lindenmuth and others. I wasn't devoting all of my time to LAM. So what I thought was going to be my fourth feature, LAM, ended up being my ninth. It's been, as they say, a long and winding road.
Q: In early publicity for the film, you've mentioned the Lovecraft influence. Just how Lovecraftian is the movie?
BGH: It's pretty Lovecraftian. We use some of Lovecraft's elder deities, such as Dagon and Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Wood With a Thousand Young. Neat stuff like that. In the story, David London and his partner, Holly Gemini, are paranormal investigators who do things like rescue people from Satanic cults. When an old friend of theirs tells them that he thinks his son may have been abducted or even murdered by a cult devoted to Shub-Niggurath, they go to a little town in Massachusetts where the cult is centered. And sure enough, they find a lot of interesting things: a rich and charismatic cult leader named Raven, a group of zombies who work in a goth nightclub, and even Shub-Niggurath itself.
Q: So Lovecraft has been a great influence on you?
BGH: Absolutely. I discovered the works of H.P. Lovecraft for myself when I was 17, and I was just enchanted and drawn into his unique world. The fact that I have the same birthdate as him-August 20-just adds to my feeling of "closeness" to the old boy. I've always wanted to film Lovecraft, and in fact when I was in my early 20s I did a shot-on-video short of THE STATEMENT OF RANDOLPH CARTER for a local TV station. I also did a version of his story IN THE VAULT for my anthology film BLACK EASTER, which, sadly, may never be released.
Q: What is BLACK EASTER?
BGH: It's an Amicus-styled anthology film with a framing story about a demented Easter bunny. It stars Hammer's Veronica Carlson and Queen of the B's Debbie Rochon. I think it's a pretty good movie, but unfortunately the producer-who is also the editor-has held up the film for reasons that I still can't begin to understand for about ten years now. As the movie was entirely financed by him, there isn't much I can do to take it over, so it's languishing in the vaults right now. It's unfortunate, because both Veronica and Debbie are very good in it. Actually, the fact that BLACK EASTER was being held up was one of the reasons I decided to make LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT: I did that film with my own money so that nobody else could take control of it. And now it's taken me seven years! Oh, well, that's the indie business for you!
Q: What are some of your other influences besides Lovecraft?
BGH: Well, of course, anybody who knows me knows that I'm a huge Hammer fan. It was no mistake that I've cast Veronica Carlson in two of my films. I've always loved the work of Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis and the other Hammer-styled directors. I'm even credited as Assistant Director on the Hammer documentary FLESH AND BLOOD. On LAM, the chief influences, though, were Lovecraft and 60s-styled action/adventure shows like THE AVENGERS and THE MAN FROM UNCLE. It's all the stuff I grew up with; in LAM, there's a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor and a lot of action. It's always difficult to do action when you can't afford real stunt people, but that didn't stop us from trying! And I think we pulled off some pretty good sequences, especially when Holly is chased through a graveyard by an unstoppable henchman called Armstrong. She tries karate on him, hits him in the face with a shovel and finally has to run over him with a car to get rid of him.
Q: Was anybody hurt making the film?
BGH: No humans or animals were injured in the making of this film! Our lead actress complained that there was a spider in the tree to which she was tied in one scene, but that's about it. Wait, I'm wrong. In the opening scene, an actor who was playing an evil cultist almost had his head chopped off! The actor playing London got a little too realistic with his sword, and you can actually hear the clang of metal hitting bone when he attacks the cultist in one of our out-takes.
Q: Tell us about the actors in the film.
BGH: I always like to use people that have some stage experience. I find that I like that "theatrical" style of acting, and that it's much easier to tone actors down than it is to bring them up, so to speak. David Louis, who played the lead role of David London, has a lot of stage experience. He was in a professional production of OUR TOWN here in Albany, New York, and he's done numerous commercials and things of that sort. David was very good in the role, tossing off one-liners, romancing Holly and even decapitating people with panache! Now I have to point out that, during the course of shooting, David was diagnosed with cancer. This was a shock and a real blow to all of us. I told him that I would rewrite the film and write his character out, but he wouldn't have it. Trouper that he was, he persevered and completed shooting all of his scenes. At one point he had to wear a wig because the chemotherapy had caused his hair to fall out. But he was always there, always professional, and he did a great job. I understand that now his cancer seems to be completely in remission, which is wonderful. As his sidekick Holly, Prudence Theriault is kind of the Emma Peel character. The main difference is that John Steed and Emma Peel never slept together, but David London and Holly Gemini do. The other thing that's interesting about Holly is that she's a psychic and she reads Tarot cards. As it happens, Prudence reads Tarot cards professionally, so she was kind of the "technical advisor" on the film. Again, she's a stage actress, and she recently appeared in a local production of DRACULA as Mina.
Q: So those are the heroes. Who are the villains?
BGH: The main villain is Raven, played by Peter Hughes. Again, a stage actor, but also a fan of comics and the genre. He used to work in a comic book store, in fact. He gives a wonderfully ripe, over-the-top performance as Raven that reminded me of classic Vincent Price. He's great. There are also a number of henchmen and some femme fatales, one of the best ones being actress/singer Shari Sklar, who says to London and Holly at one point, "I'll enjoy taking you two apart myself." Then there's Amy Kerr as Caitlin, a witch who wears short black skirts and does some interesting spells with blood. Another theatrically trained actress.
Q: Where was LAM filmed?
BGH: Pretty much all over my home turf in upstate New York. Raven owns a nightclub for the goth crowd called "The Funeral Parlor," and all those scenes were filmed at an actual goth club in Albany called QE2, which not coincidentally was where I premiered my first feature VAMPYRE back in 1990. The exterior of London and Gemini's house is actually a national historic site called Lindenwald, home of the eighth president of the U.S., Martin Van Buren. The graveyard that we used is Chatham Rural Cemetery, which we also used in BLACK EASTER and BLOOD OF THE WEREWOLF. It has some wonderful old tombstones and a vault that you can actually walk into, which Holly does in the course of the film. We also filmed interiors at a marvelous old restaurant called The Crooked Lake House, which hosted a lot of gangsters and movie stars in the 40s and 50s, and which is supposedly haunted. So I think we got some great production values, considering the fact that we didn't have to pay for any of these fantastic locations!
Q: Why has the movie taken so long to complete?
BGH: Well, of course David's cancer was a tremendous setback. But we also did re-shoots on some scenes, including the one with Shub-Niggurath, which, effects-wise, didn't really work the first time around. So we didn't actually shoot the last scene until late 1999, over two years after we started. But there was an advantage to this for me: around the time that we started filming, I met a wonderful woman named Rosa, who was working with me at a local weekly newspaper where I was the editor and she was the graphic designer. We really hit it off, and I ended up casting her in the film in three small but important roles: as a character in the nightclub, a cult member and as Shub-Niggurath! So, during the course of filming, we ended up dating, and by the time the last scene was shot, we were married! Yes, I married a Lovecraft deity, but she's a real goddess to me. Rosa also ended up doing storyboards, some audio work, costumes, make-up, you name it. She's a multi-talented gal and I'm crazy about her. Since then, she's acted for me in BLOOD REUNION and some other things, and she's co-written some scripts with me.
Q: Were there post-production problems with LAM?
BGH: Oh, you bet! That's the single biggest reason completion of the movie has taken so long. We shot on a Panasonic pro video camera, which was fine, but we'd never edited on video before on our home system. We put together the first two and a half minutes, and the system crashed. So we decided to farm the post-production out. We approached a couple of professionals, but one of them couldn't do it because of previous commitments and the other charged too much money. Then a couple of local filmmakers said they would do it for us on their computer system. They tried-and their system bombed! All the footage that they had cut together was lost, and we were back to square one. So, finally, filmmaker Jeff Kirkendall, who has worked with me on a number of projects including BLACK EASTER, stepped in to save the day. He's finishing it now for a 2004 release from Brimstone. So, hopefully, the happy ending is coming soon.
Q: What kind of special effects can we expect?
BGH: There will be some digital effects, courtesy of a friend of mine who is a TV producer. He works with a $30,000 Avid, and he's offered his services. It's great to have friends in the business! He'll be adding effects to the live footage we shot of Shub-Niggurath. And there were a lot of "floor effects," on-set effects that we shot live, including a decapitation in the opening scene, some smoke effects, and some zombie make-up, as well as people's faces disintegrating. So I think it will be fun for all.
Q: Any advice for would-be indie filmmakers out there?
BGH: . Sure. As my friend Joe Bagnardi says, always have a plan B!