Eric Stanze's third feature, ICE FROM THE SUN, is undeniably his best work to date. Sort of a cross between an "art film" and a snuff movie (lots of people get killed very gruesomely), it is about a woman who is resurrected by the forces of good and evil to stop a powerful sorcerer who has upset the cosmic balance of things. Caught in the middle of this battle is a group of six friends, who are forced to face their worst fears. Unpredictable, entertaining and uncompromising, it is what the independent horror film should be.
Q: For those who may be unfamiliar with your work, how long have you been making movies and what are their titles?
STANZE: The first movie I made that is available on home video was produced back in 1990. It is called THE SCARE GAME. It's a really weird, trippy, fucked up movie. But it is not a well-made movie! I was only 18 years old when I made THE SCARE GAME, so I was lacking in movie-making experience, to say the least. I took what I learned on that production and went on to make THE FINE ART in 1992. Remastered and extended re-releases of THE SCARE GAME and THE FINE ART should be out in late 1999 or early 2000. I made a movie called SAVAGE HARVEST next. This one was a very gory demon-possession flick. It got good reviews, so I must have struck a chord with the horror-fan target audience. SAVAGE HARVEST also gave me the reputation I needed to get investors to help me finance my next project, ICE FROM THE SUN. This film, a visually experimental dark fantasy, should hit video stores by the end of 1999. After I finished ICE FROM THE SUN, I directed a very harsh, nasty serial killer movie called SCRAPBOOK, which should be released within the first half of 2000.
Q: ICE FROM THE SUN is very similar in theme to THE SCARE GAME. Was this intentional--and why does this particular story appeal to you?
STANZE: ICE FROM THE SUN is actually a continuation of the story in THE SCARE GAME. We don't really call it a sequel; mostly because THE SCARE GAME is so far below our current abilities as filmmakers. We hesitate to associate our new ICE FROM THE SUN movie with an old, failed attempt at the same subject matter. However, DJ Vivona and Michael Bradley do play the same characters in both movies, and ICE FROM THE SUN does pick up the story where THE SCARE GAME left off.
This story appeals to me because anything can happen within it. The origins of the story are in the Dark Ages. Parts of the story take place on Earth in current time. And most of the story unfolds in an entirely different universe that exists as a giant game created by an evil, pissed off wizard. All of these very different environments provide a vast variety in the characters, visuals, and story points. Also, everything in this story is unique. The "odd" subject matter warrants a visual style that is more abstract and experimental than what is seen in other feature films. I get the opportunity to really explore different photography and editing techniques. ICE FROM THE SUN does not even come close to looking like any other movie I have ever seen.
Q: You often use many of the same actors in your movies such as D.J. Vivona--does this in any way affect your scripts? Are parts written specifically for certain actors?
STANZE: I generally do not write characters with an actor in mind. Even returning actors, who have been in other projects of mine, still go through the audition process like all the newcomers. DJ and Mike were exceptions, as they returned for ICE FROM THE SUN to play the same parts they played in THE SCARE GAME.
Q: The movie was shot in 8mm film, a format that is rapidly becoming extinct. Why shoot in Super 8mm as opposed to video, like the previous productions?
STANZE: I wanted to progress, to move up to a new budget level. When I started seeking financing for a new project, I didn't know what it would be shot on. I simply intended to shoot on whatever I could afford. If I could only get a few thousand, I would shoot the next thing on video. If I got a few hundred thousand, I would shoot 16mm. As it turned out, I got just enough to shoot Super 8mm.
Securing the financing, then understanding that the next project would be shot on Super 8 dictated the kind of movie we would make next. Amongst all the story ideas I had, ICE FROM THE SUN seemed most appropriate to what we could achieve shooting on this format. We knew ICE FROM THE SUN would hold up best if shot in an avant garde, art film, music video style. The graininess of Super 8 would not hinder this style at all. In fact, it would help it.
Q: What is your feeling on censorship? It seems that independent filmmakers don't have to worry about this so much--one of the benefits of self-producing--but do you see this affecting you and the films you make in any way?
STANZE: Obviously, I don't agree with censorship. My job is to make movies as best as I can; not to worry about my movies' content harming anyone. All of my friends who are horror fans are well-adjusted individuals. I write and direct material that many consider "offensive", and I am a well-adjusted person. So, if you simply watch a movie of mine and then start acting like a menace to society, then you were a moron long before you obtained a copy of my work. In most cases, my movies should not be viewed by children. This does not mean my movies should be censored. Children shouldn't drive cars either, but cars aren't being made illegal. Kids should be raised by their parents, not the entertainment industry.
Conservative people who label my work (or any violent and/or sexually explicit material) as harmful do not really affect my actions. In fact, negative publicity about a controversial film tends to increase sales. I'm sure if I ever obtain substantial financing for a bigger film with a wider potential audience, I'll run into some pressure to water things down. But I've been offered a few "deals" to make bigger budgeted movies, and turned them down because it wasn't what I wanted to do artistically. So dangling equipment or money in front of me ain't gonna get me to make Mary Poppins for you. I'd rather make a lower-budget movie and make it the way I want to make it.
Q: What/who are your influences?
STANZE: George Romero is probably my biggest artistic influence. I also admire (and have often stolen from) Sam Raimi. Some movies that have really influenced me include THE EVIL DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, APOCALYPSE NOW,THE FRENCH CONNECTION, and LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE. But in day-to-day life, I am most influenced by my grandfather. He views my movies with an open mind and actually likes them, which is cool because he is about 60 years older than our target audience! He always inspires me to work hard and make sacrifices to reach my goals. He seems to truly believe in my filmmaking abilities, encouraging me to pursue filmmaking even though its such a painful climb to success.
Q: What's currently happening with ICE FROM THE SUN?
STANZE: Well, ICE FROM THE SUN was supposed to be released in summer of 1999. Salt City Home Video is releasing this one to DVD as well as VHS, and the folks doing the DVD production are way behind schedule. So this has delayed the release, which is incredibly frustrating to me. But now the DVD production is in its final stages, so it shouldn't be too long of a wait from here. We hope to have it available before the end of '99. I'll get ICE FROM THE SUN out there, then start the whole process over Again!
Thanks to T. Ranstill from Brimstone Productions for conducting the interview and huge thanks to Eric Stanze for participating.