Q: I remember seeing NIGHT OF THE DEMONS when it first came out, in a theater in Times Square, but nowadays is rare that a horror movie gets a theatrical release. You've been in this business a long time....how would you say making horror films has changed, or stayed the same, in the past twenty-years?
When I directed most of my earlier works, even low-budget, independent films required a certain amount of financing in order to be possible. Movie cameras, film stock, lighting packages, and post-production facilities were fixed costs; you couldn't just get your friends together and shoot a feature film for a few thousand dollars. Digital cameras have changed all of that. The recent pro-sumer cameras and videotape/P2 cards are cheap in comparison to 35mm cameras and film stock. Plus, there are no lab fees, and you can edit and color-correct your film on your home computer.
This has proven to be a double-edged sword. Popular films like BLAIR WITCH and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY would have been impossible 25 years ago, so it's great that talented filmmakers with no Hollywood connections can still create product for a wide audience. On the other hand, now it's possible for any hack with a hair-brained idea and a couple of grand in his bank account to gather his friends and family to create what amounts to nothing more than a glorified home movie. And these awful films are flooding the DVD rental shelves, forcing true horror fans to sift through hours and hours of dreck in order to discover any true gems.
Q: You have both written movies you've directed, such as WITCHBOARD 1 & 2, PEACEMAKER, ENDANGERED SPECIES and also directed movies written by others, such as the family movie, BIGFOOT. Which do you prefer? What are the challenges of working with someone else's script?
Dorothy Parker said, "I hate writing, but I love having written," and I completely agree. Writing is a hard, lonesome, daunting task, while directing is a fun collaborative effort. Directing somebody else's screenplay is preferable for two reasons. First, you don't have to write it. Second, it is easier to spot things that don't work in a screenplay you didn't author; you are able to bring fresh eyes and a fresh perspective to the work. Unfortunately, I think I am a better writer than any of the writers I work with, so I always feel a script written by someone else is ultimately weaker than one I would have written myself. Of course if you asked any of those writers, I'm sure they would tell you I ruined their scripts, or at the very least, made them less great. One thing this business is never lacking is a plethora of strong, healthy egos.
Q: Your upcoming film, BRAIN DEAD, is a zombie movie. What makes it different than the other (hundred) recent zombie movies out there? What appealed to you about the script?
Nothing. It's just like all the others. Only better. Sorry. I've always wanted to give that answer at least once. Seriously, when my partner, Greg McKay, and I decided to form our own company, Prodigy Entertainment, we wanted our first film to be a fun and funny, over-the-top, politically-incorrect throw-back to the hard-core horror films of the '80's, using real-time make-up and gore FX, vs, the CGI FX that are so popular in today's studio horror films, although not so popular with today's horror fans.
First, we needed a screenplay, and I knew just the one. Dale Gelineau, a friend of mine from U.S.C Film School, had written a script about a group of quirky, mismatched characters trapped in a deserted fishing lodge by a giant spider, stalking the surrounding woods. Although the set-up was frightening, the characters' banter-like dialogue was quick and witty, as if the sit-coms CHEERS or FRIENDS had been melded with the film ARACHNOPHOBIA.
I knew our budget would never allow us to create a spider realistic enough to be effective, so we re-wrote the spider into a group of alien-infected, amoeba-controlled zombies, and the final draft was even better than we'd hoped. The screenplay was leaner and meaner as a Zombie Film. Next, we got Gabe Bartalos to agree to do all of the Special Make-Up Effects. Gabe had worked with me previously on PINOCCHIO as well as having created Warwick Davis' make-up for the extremely popular LEPRECHAUN franchise. Everything came together perfectly, because the finished film is an extreme, gory, cult, zombie, horror-comedy in the vein of EVIL DEAD, RE-ANIMATOR, and my own NIGHT OF THE DEMONS.
Q: BRAIN DEAD is premiering in Chicago in January?
The B-Movie Marathon is screening it at the Portage Theater in Chicago on January 16th, but it's hardly a premiere. BRAIN DEAD screened at about 30 film festivals around the world in 2007/2008, winning 5 Best Film Awards, 5 Best Special FX Awards, 1 Writing Award, and 1 Scream Queen Award, as well as garnering lots of rave reviews from various on-line magazines who attended the different festivals.
ICanSmellYourBrains.com declared, "...This flick is almost guaranteed to have the theater rolling in the aisles, both cheering at the gratuitous nudity as well as shrieking at the super gory, head splitting, brain gobbling special effects; a rip roaring good time, not to be missed."
RogueCinema.com promised it's, "...A treat for horror film fans to watch," while DeadPit.com Radio raved, "...We can honestly say, we don't think we've seen that much mindless and gratuitous splatter and gore since Dead Alive; fans of '80's horror films will wondercum all over this movie. Brain Dead kicks ass!"
Dorkgasm.com said, "...This was the first film I had the honor of seeing at this year's [Michigan film festival], and boy, was it a doozy; this film [is] incredibly entertaining," while ScreamTV.net stated, "...It's been a long time since I've had this much fun with a film; Brain Dead is a blast. Everything good about '80s horror flicks is here (the gore, the humor, the gratuitous female nudity) with none of the bad."
BRAIN DEAD also enjoyed a limited theatrical release throughout the mid-west in 2009, again receiving rave reviews from local newspaper reviewers.
The River Cities' Reader called it, "...about as cheesy, disgusting, and shamefully entertaining as you could hope for. Tenney reveals a true talent for transitional shots and over-the-top exploitation comedy, the actors go at their stereotypes with cheerful gusto, and the script, by Dale Gelineau, is far wittier than it has any right to be.
The Athens Banner-Herald declared, "...Brain Dead is nothing short of a revelation. Jam-packed with aliens, zombies, exploding heads, bad jokes, skinny-dipping campers and escaped psychos with shotguns, it's a return to the ridiculously fun style of moviemaking that's been gone from the big screen for too long.
Q: What was the most surreal/weirdest thing that ever happened to you while directing a movie?
An actress who had agreed to do nudity on one of my films requested I come to her dressing room a couple of days before the scheduled shoot. She had just recently gotten breast implants, which she did not want anyone to know about. Once we were alone in her dressing room, she dropped her robe, revealing that she was wearing nothing but a G-string. She wanted me to look at her breasts and make sure they looked good enough to be photographed. They did. She wanted to be sure they felt natural as well, so she asked me to squeeze them. At this point I began to wonder if she was having a joke with me, but she seemed completely serious. So I squeezed her breasts, told her they felt as good as they looked, and excused myself to return to the set. When I got home later that night, I told my wife I must have the strangest job on the planet. She laughed at me and said the actress was obviously hitting on me. I honestly don't think she was, but my wife disagrees. Either way, it was a very surreal moment for me.
Q: Was there anything that ever surprised you about any of the actors you've directed, from Linnea Quigley to Robert Forster to Ami Dolenz?
First of all, those three actors are all genuinely nice people and seasoned professionals. They always knew their lines, always hit their marks, and always showed up on set on time. I consider them all friends and would work with any of them anytime, anywhere. Actually, I have worked with all three of them on more than one occasion. As for surprises...
Anyone who personally knows Linnea Quigley can tell you she's soft-spoken and unassuming, almost shy and modest, even though her image is that of a hot, sexy scream queen who appears nude in almost everything she does. When we made WITCHTRAP together, we were on location; everyone was staying at the same hotel. I got back to my room after a brutal day on the set and pulled back my bedspread to reveal a hundred small, black spiders within the sheets. Linnea had convinced a maid that she'd left something in my room, and the maid let her in. Then Linnea planted the hundred plastic spiders in my bed. If she hadn't eventually confessed, I never would have suspected her in a million years. Two decades later, we still keep in touch, and I still consider her a friend. We even made sure to give her a cameo in the new N.O.T.D. re-make.
Q: You're also listed as a producer on the NIGHT OF THE DEMONS remake....how is writer/director Adam Gierasch's movie different? Is this a "re-make" or a "re-imagining"?
It's definitely a re-imaging, keeping only the very basic premise and the Angela character, now played by Shannon Elizabeth. Although I genuinely liked the script Adam wrote with his partner, Jace Anderson, I argued to keep the story closer to the original and to keep the original main characters. Even though Greg and I optioned the re-make rights from the original production company and then took the project to Seven Arts, where our company was involved in all aspects of the pre-production, Adam was the director, and ultimately, the finished film has to be true to the director's vision. I was directing another film, BIGFOOT, at the exact same time, so my partner, Greg, had to assume the producing reins alone during N.O.T.D.'s production. I believe he is a big reason the film turned out as well as it did and looks as good as it does.
Q: Are there any new projects you are working on that you can talk about?
Greg and I are hoping to produce a WITCHBOARD re-make later this year, as well as a BRAIN DEAD sequel. I may also be writing and directing a horror film in Egypt for the same company that produced BIGFOOT. As you already mentioned, BRAIN DEAD will be showing at The B-Movie Marathon in Chicago on January 16th, along with the original NIGHT OF THE DEMONS. Then in mid-February, the Nevermore Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina will be screening a WITCHBOARD / NIGHT OF THE DEMONS double feature. As a true testament to my stupidity, I have agreed to appear at both events, in spite of the freezing weather...