Q: You've been busy the past several years, with three new movies that are very different from each other. DUNGEON OF DR. DRECK is a goofy comedy while EVAN STRAW marks your first serious non-comedy movie. What prompts you to make each particular type of movie?
They come out of nowhere. (And some people think they go nowhere.) Dr. Dreck was the easy one. I've been a horror host in central MA for about six years, along with Lorna Nogueira, who plays my co-host on the show and in this movie. I've had so much fun doing all the bits on the TV show, that I began to think it would be cool to make a movie with these characters. I immediately ruled out simply doing a feature version with a real B movie within it. I fleshed out the characters in the show and showed how they came to be. I also set it in the 60's during the big monster boom when every local station had a horror host. Having grown up at that time and loving all the cheap monster movies I saw, I wanted to make a movie based on the horror host craze with a twist, as in, what if the horror host was really what they seemed to be on TV? In this case, a real mad scientist and real zombie. One thing I had to change was Stu, the rat. In the show, he's a oversized rat that Dreck apparently used for experiments and now he can talk. But he is a "real" rat. For the show, that cheesy effect is fine, the whole show is cheesy, but for the movie I still wanted to have Stu in it. I knew if I put Stu up there as is, the jerks who like to razz everything would say, "look, that's just a rubber rat and he's passing it off like it's real, hahah!" So I decided to throw such remarks back in their face by showing Stu for a while, so these jokers could get their yocks, THEN say in the movie that Stu IS a rubber rat that's been brought back to life. Ha ha on you, wise guys!
Evan Straw is one of those serendipitous things. I love the horror/sci-fi and comedy genres equally, and have always had in the back of my mind to someday make a horror movie. But I had to have something that a no budget person like me could reasonably do. At the time, I was working with someone who lived in one of the oldest houses in town, circa 1700's, which was made of stone. A great looking house. I asked her if I could see inside it because it looked like a horror movie setting. I knew as I walked through it that the ideal plot would be a ghost story. It just goes with old buildings. She was very open to using the house for the main setting. Here's the curious thing. As I got into my car to pull out of the driveway, suddenly in my head I heard the name, Evan Straw. I'm not going to analyze where that thought came from, but I knew that was the name of the film. Only from there did I start to come up with a plot. I didn't want to make a ghost story with all flashy effects. I wanted to make something close to incidents I'd read about in real life. Fortunately for me, I'm friendly with a real paranormal researcher, Jeff Belanger, who has written many books on the subject, and when I had completed a draft of the script I ran it past him to see if I was too far off the mark from real situations he's chronicled. He is movie savvy, and said not to let the dry facts get in the way of a good story, but he did give me valid comments on the script which I integrated into the story.
Q: You use the same core group of actors-- how do you get them to return for each new production? Bribes? Blackmail?
I can't afford bribes and blackmail can work both ways! Being an actor and director in regional theater, plus running my own theater company, I have access to many actors. If I haven't used an actor yet, I get to know them first before I ask them to be in a movie. There's too many divas out there and who needs them? Over the years I've accumulated a lot of actors; they genuinely really love to do them for a number of reasons. They rarely get to be the kind of whacked out characters that appear in my movies, and they know I won't take over their life. I have short shooting days and space them apart. Some actors just want to be in a "movie" for the sake of it, but I'm pretty firm on the point that they should see one of my movies before being in one, to know what they'd be in for.
Q: I like that THE DUNGEON OF DR. DRECK (2007) is a homage to cheesy TV horror hosts and William Castle movies. I guess you were a big fan of those hosts? What was the name of your local TV host when you were a kid?
The first host we had was from the Boston area station, Channel 7. This is during the mid 60's. It was Fantasmic Features, hosted by a little space alien named Feep. The show started on a weeknight at around 7, but then it got changed to a traditional Saturday night slot at 11:30. It was really quite clever for the time. As was the norm in local stations, a station personality would play many roles. He was a kiddie host, or variety show host, etc. Ed McDonnell played Feep, who was also our beloved Major Mudd in the mornings, showing the Three Stooges. He spoke with an echo effect and they did some primitive special FX with large objects being around him. I was hooked on horror hosts and old B movies from then on. I remember seeing Brain from Planet Arous, Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman, From Hell It Came, The Giant Behemoth and lots of others. I think they had a package of old Allied Artists movies. They were great! Later we had Simon's Sanctorum with this really weird guy who looked like Oscar Wilde after being dead for a month. He was fun, too and he played classic horror. The Providence station had a show on Friday nights called Chiller, but no host. That was the first time I saw Horrors of the Black Museum, and I'll never forget the eye spikes in the binoculars scene.
Q: And MY MOUTH LIES SCREAMING is a giallo, though reminded me more of a Roger Corman movie that's funny. I thought that one was very surreal, particularly when the woman got her head sewn back on. What was the hardest part of make that film, since it was much more of a direct spoof of that genre?
I think the genesis of that one started with the title. Those movies have weird titles like "The Night Evelyn Crawled out the the Grave" or whatever. So I thought of a title that made no sense but sounded like a giallo title. Since the title made no sense, it would make sense that the movie wouldn't make sense, either. Now I'm confused. The hallmark of those movies are weird instruments of death, and I tried to think of the least likely weapon to kill someone. I ended up going with the little metal pieces on the back of a clip on bow tie. I think since about the time of the Dr. Dreck movie, I fully came to accept the fact that very few people ever see my movies, let alone like them. I've had some supporters over the years, mainly writers like Douglas Waltz and Phil Hall, but I could easily fit my "cult" into a phone booth. Now that I'm sneaking up on 60 years old, I thought, what the hell, I'm just going to make movies as goofy as I want because who's going to see them anyway? That sounds negative, but it has given me a feeling of freedom. That's why "Mouth" goes beyond the pale of logic and natural law, simply because I can do that. Like James Thurber said, "My World and Welcome to It."
I think the hardest part was whether to make it really gory. I put some blood in it, but I wanted to keep it cheesy and funny, hence the fake dummy head, and I think throwing around a lot of blood just because you're supposed to is pandering to a certain crowd that wouldn't like my movies anyway.
Q: I really liked EVAN STRAW. That script kept me guessing. Why choose to do a ghost story/supernatural tale?
As I said, it seemed to be the most likely thing for me to pull off. Believe me, I wish I had access to a lot of SFX software so I could do HP Lovecraft type monsters, but I don't and I can't pay anyone else to do it, so I had to keep it simple. I did incorporate some "machinima" animations, which I learned to do myself. That's the same program that is used in video games, but now you can get it for independent use from places like Moviestorm. That was fun to play with and I learned how to do things I never attempted before. A ghost story is probably one of the most basic tales, and it doesn't need to be elaborate. The original "The Haunting" comes to mind. What you don't see can be very unnerving. So, to some people Evan Straw may be too low key and restrained, but I was going more for almost a documentary effect, so I purposely have no music in it, just sounds. Plus, the fun of it was to make the audience keep guessing. I purposely threw in red herrings, but they make sense in the context of the entire story if you think about it.
Q: How much of a challenge was it to make your first "serious" movie?
Very. The thing about the kind of comedy I make is nobody can tell me that it's nonsense because that's what I was trying to do. But with a serious story, all of a sudden I had to obey natural laws and the way people really behave. Yeesh, that was hard. The lead actor in the movie, Lorna Nogueira, served as a script editor for me, and she'd give me lots of feedback and comments which were mostly right on the money, and she made the movie better than it would have been. It felt odd to have people in a movie act naturally instead like lunatics or idiots which is what I'm used to. Actually, I've directed lots of dramas in the theater, but they weren't stuff I wrote so this felt different. When I previewed it to a small audience, I was very nervous because in this case silence is good, not laughter. Although there is humor in the script, there has to be, but it wasn't reliant on it.
Q: How can people order EVAN STRAW?
A number of ways. It's on Amazon, Filmbaby or if you use Paypal direct from me at: http://mysite.verizon.net/mlegge12/Welcome.html
Q: What are you working on now?
Time to be silly again. The title is Coffee Run but I'm still working on the script. I wanted to do sort of a "reunion" movie of characters from the past, so I'm bringing back Honey Glaze, Matt Retina, the blind doctor, the Spiderwoman, and the Creeper. Also some actors that haven't made a movie with me for a very long time are coming back. There's also Nazis, mad doctors, androids, aliens, and a "MacGuffin."
It's really kind of frightening how the digital age has made the making of movies so cheap and quick. I could churn out a movie almost every year if I wanted to, but I go for every two years. Of course the trickiest thing to have people even see them. It's pretty hard if not impossible to get a distributor, and for exploitation purposes, they usually want nudity and gore. Sorry, don't do that. The last four movies have been self distribution, more or less. I've paid the replication costs on three of them, and for a while I had Sub Rosa distribute them. But they got away from distributing anything new so I just went completely on my own. I've tried different ways to see what works. My Mouth Lies Screaming is DVD on demand at CreateSpace, and Dr. Dreck and Evan Straw are factory made. The new one is probably the last one I'll do as factory made; I'm a retired person now and on a fixed income, so I can't afford the upfront cost of making them, and then end up with boxes of the things cluttering up my spare room for the next twenty years. At least with the DVD on demand there's no stock. Anyway, they're all at Amazon and Filmbaby. It's a hard sell but they're out there. They're also available as downloads at Filmbaby. I try not to think about the business end of it all because it's too depressing. The writer I mentioned earlier, Douglas Waltz, has been slowly writing a book about me, which is kind of perplexing to me because who the hell knows or cares who I am? But it does amuse me and it may do me some good if anyone reads it. The very least they'll learn is you don't do this stuff for fame or fortune because you'll probably get neither. Plus, he's an excellent writer so he might even make me sound interesting!