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Horror Interview by The Gravedigger
Q: You first started making short films before you did your first feature with THE BLOODY APE. Were those also influenced by "exploitation cinema"?
I started making short films around 1978. I was about 13 years old, one of the first shorts I made, which ran around 15 minutes or so was called DRACULA IS ALIVE & WELL & LIVING IN HEWLETT (Hewlett was my home town). So yeah, no doubt about it, I was always being influenced by the horror films I was watching on TV or seeing in the theater. My 16mm work in college was also coming from the horror and exploitation school, short films with titles like THANKSGIVING DAY, DeSADE '88 and ONE GRAVE TOO MANY. A ZOMBIE'S TALE was my first sound 16mm film. My whole life was a steady diet of horror films. At first they scared the hell out of me, I was a frightened child. Later, they became my best friends, having the opposite effect and taking the anxiety out of me. Horror films are excellent therapy and very good for the soul.
Q: In 1987 you started printing THE EXPLOITATION JOURNAL, a zine which you still publish. What was the main reason you started the magazine?
EXPLOITATION JOURNAL was started because in college the other students were heavily influenced by Hollywood filmmaking, and I in turn was coming from the under-ground film scene. Video stores were the rage in the day, and product was plentiful, so I was watching all sorts of fantastic horror from all over the globe, stuff the regular fami-lies were not even paying attention to, titles that would sit on the store shelf and collect dust. I decided to write about these films, I wanted to expose the other students to these movies; Hence the birth of the EXJ. We gave it away at first, a free underground college newspaper. Later we received distribution through a company called Desert Moon Peri-odicals, they are long out of business now. Anyhow, EXJ is not officially gone but it is on hiatus, the internet has made printed periodicals unfavorable, so until that opinion turns around, and it will, the EXJ will be on hold. My website, Cinefear.com, now contains ar-ticles that would have ended up in the EXJ.
Q: What tend to be your favorite types of movies and why?
I love period piece horror, films set in times such as the 18th and 19th centuries, stuff set in the medieval times, etc...I like costumes, sets, anything different from the way we live today only because I feel the contemporary times are rather boring and a big part of fan-tasy is placing yourself in another situation all together different. Films such as Ken Russell's THE DEVILS, Michael Reeve's WITCHFINDER GENERAL and Michael Arm-strong's MARK OF THE DEVILl rate as some of my favorites. I saw a midnight double feature of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and FREAKS when I was a kid, so those two rate as faves. More than anything movies need to have a really good story with engag-ing characters, and that's something we don't tend to get any more. THE WRESTLER, with Mickey Rourke, was one of the best movies made in ages. That's the type of film that makes people like me want to make films.
Q: What I like best about THE BLOODY APE is that it really seems like a movie that was shot in the 70's, because of the look of the grainy Super 8mm film. What was the most challenging aspect of shooting it in Super 8?
THE BLOODY APE, technically, is supposed to take place in the 1970's. A lot of folks think I blew it by including the video store scene, but in NY video stores were up and running by 1977, Video Shack in Manhattan was a perfect example of that. So yeah, Bloody Ape is a period piece, more so in mood than anything else. I shot Ape on film for two reasons. For one, film was what I had used throughout the late seventies and early eighties, I was trained in film in college. The other reason Super 8 was used was be-cause video at the time looked quite horrid, it was a flat, dull image and I couldn't stand it, you couldn't develop pacing or mood with it. Shooting film can be intense because you never know just what your going to get back from the lab, and if they are going to damage your film in the processing. Your biggest concern while shooting is getting the exposure right, keeping everything in focus, etc...etc...The final reward of the finished film is well worth it though, usually your anxiety pays off.
Q: Who did the effects on that movie, especially the ape?
Both myself, Larry Koster and George Reis did the special effects on the film, calling ourselves the Cinefear Effects Troupe. We were going for that Andy Milligan style gore, old school all the way. The Ape suite was a ratty magic shop suite rental that was popu-lar at Halloween time. We were aiming for that 1940's "gorilla on the loose" film look like something out of Bela Lugosi's APE MAN. George Reis played the Ape.
Q: It seems like the movie is getting a resurgence through the DVD release through WILD EYE....any chance of a sequel?
Bloody Ape had a life on video cassette as well, we were carried by the art house label Vanguard during the late 90's. But Wildeye has given Bloody Ape the boost it really needed as far as getting it out to the masses with tons of neat publicity. We even had a theatrical showing at the Pioneer Theater in NY last October, and we are playing a date in Stroudsburg Pennsylvania this January. The only time I ever thought about a sequel was when I went to New Orleans in 2001, the atmosphere is very French, as is the look of the rooftops and houses there. Poe's story, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, of which Bloody Ape is based on, takes place in France. George Reis and I do have a story for a Bloody Ape sequel but I'm very disinterested in sequels and spin offs so it's very unlikely that will happen...
Q: BLITZKRIEG: ESCAPE FROM STALAG 69 is extremely ambitious--a period Nazix-ploitation film shot in Long Island. What was your reason for choosing this as your second film? Why not do something a little easier to pull off?
Filmmaking as a whole should be a progressive art. Hence, I don't think my films should get easier but rather each one should be more of a challenge, kinda keep going till I reach a peak. Once I reach that peak I can then decide to make a smaller scale film, a nice tight little exercise in cinematic restraint. But BLITZKRIEG was the perfect project to do because no one else on Long Island was willing to try doing it. Most filmmakers these days are very lazy, video has made people very un-ambitious. I like to challenge myself. Plus pulling this off on my penny budgets really helps make a name for myself. On top of that, the idea had been kicking around since '95, and it never really left me. Now that I did it, my mind is clear and ready to move on.
Q: How did you even begin putting this together, from the locations to all the cos-tumes, down to getting those Nazi flags?
The film was helped tremendously by Keith Matturro of Shriek Cinema. He is a WWII expert, and has a large collection of authentic WWII uniforms and flags. So I often say I really couldn't have made that film without him. Plus it was his idea to use WWII re-enactors to create our battle scenes with. In the long run we ended up with close to 50 re-enactors to help pull the film off. Not bad for a film with no budget...The main location was a closed down state asylum that had been built in the late 1800's...it was decaying and looked perfect for a bombed out prisoner of war camp.
Q: Some of your actresses are really put through the gamut in the movie....any sto-ries about that?
Actually, I have a ton of stories, but I'll try and stick with the best ones. On the day of the infamous tub castration scene, we brought a couple of bottles of red wine just in case Tatyana Kot or Dave Meyers got the jitters, since they both were naked. We started shooting about 10am in the morning, by noon we got to the nudity, and broke open the bottles of wine. Tatyana, who is fun to work with but usually quite serious, had a few glasses and got a slight bit tipsy. You can see this in the bloopers on the DVD. She started making all sorts of funny faces, getting a tad aggressive with the camera man, etc...It was an intense shoot made more fun by the booze, of which we all started partaking in to calm the old nerves. The other funny story was on the day we shot Steph Van Vlack's evisceration. It was a sub zero day. We shot in a garage that had no heat. We plugged in heaters but they were blowing fuses and knocking out our lights. Hence the lights stayed on but the heat had to go. Needless to say, every bump on Steph's body rose like mount Olympus. I could go on and on but I wont....
Q: Are you planning a third movie?
You bet I am. Just wrote a screenplay (with my wife Christina) for an anthology period piece horror, and I'm writing a second screenplay now, it's a horror film with Rasputin as the main antagonist. The only way to stop me from making films is to assassinate me.