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Phil Messerer
Horror Interview by The Gravedigger

Q: I like that you came up with your own vampire mythos for THICKER THAN WATER. I've seen about every vampire movie out there so it was refreshing to see something different. What made you come up with the idea of how your vampires become vampires?

My style is fairly realistic so I asked myself, what would it really be like if you or me, in this day and age, became a vampire. And the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that it really wouldn't be that much fun at all. It would actually kind of suck. Chances are you wouldn't be flying around and whatever, you'd probably be hiding away in your basement, feeding on whoever knocked on your door. So I went from there. Naturally, I found that if I was to keep it within 'the realm of the real', I'd have to make some alterations to the mythos. Gabrielle Faust noted that I tread a fine line between reverence and irreverence where vampires are concerned. In some ways I had to break away from tradition and sometimes I do so through straight parody. But in other ways, I like to think I found the essence of what makes the genre so cool and kind of honed in on it. The vampire is one of the few monsters with personality. Serial Killers have personality but it's kind of hard to have one be sympathetic. Vampires usually have no choice in the matter. That makes for great moral paradox. A vampire can be a creature of contradiction. We can sympathize! We can like them. We can feel for them, with them. They can be as interesting and as multi-layered as their human prey. Actually, they can be much more interesting, seeing as they've been around a lot longer. So to treat them as a cheap thrill is hardly doing them justice.

As far as how they become vampires, well, it just seemed too easy. In my world, vampires cannot be made. They are born. Vampirism is a gene, not a virus. They appear human until the age of 16 at which time they undergo their metamorphosis. In trying to make my vampires 'natural', I took a lot from the natural world, citing examples of creatures who behave the way my vampires would have to behave. I mean think about it. A vampire cannot raise a human child. They'd eat it. So, like the cuckoo bird, they place their young in a human family's nest. That human family, then, is obviously where my story begins. Having set up the scene, I just had to write a 'family drama' around it. I thought, what if the Royal Tennenbaums were also bloodsuckers. Why not? A dysfunctional family vampire flick. Once I started down that road, I found myself knee-deep in moral quagmire. As a viewer, I imagine that the more you like the characters, the more disgusted you probably are with yourself. But that's what makes it so darned delicious.

Q: How did you go about casting the movie?

I put an ad out in Backstage and held auditions. And I got very lucky. As a writer, you kind of have to relinquish your ownership of the characters to your actors. And to be perfectly honest, I did not envision them to be anywhere near as colorful as they became. Most notable is the character of Mom, played by Jo Jo Hristova. On paper she is kind of bland. She never lets go of her 'mom' persona so we never really know who she is. Well, Jo Jo let us know who she is. Without saying a word. Devon Dionne, who plays, the vampire, Helen, is a classically trained dancer so she brought a physicality to the role that took it to a whole other level. And Eilis Cahill was simply born to play Lara, the Goth protagonist. I modeled the character on Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye); dry, sarcastic, ironic, with a dark sense of estrangement as well as entitlement. She basically had the part as soon as she walked in the door. They formed a great bond. Sometimes at rehearsals, I'd just let them chat away, knowing that in the end that intimacy would be maleable. I think it is. The toughest casting was the part of Raymond. I went through a couple of actors. It was paramount that he, of all people, be likable. And in the end Michael Strelow has so much natural charm that you can forgive him anything, including severed head reanimation experiments. Also of note is Myles Angus MacVane who I predict will be the next Vincent Price.

Q: What is your favorite scene?

The Mormons. It's a tribute to Hitchcock's coffee cup scene. And Evan Lucas, the actor who plays the Mormon looks just like a young Hitchcock. It's always nice to get a chance to pay your respects. Nobody knew how to build tension like that man. But I had to kill him off. Once again as a symbolic break with tradition.

Q: What would you say was the most challenging aspect of working on the movie, as you wrote/produced/directed/shot and edited the entire thing...

By far, the most challenging of the five tools is editing. And it takes the longest to learn. Start editing now. It's a great starting point. Figuring out how a story gets put together. As far as producing, just open your mouth and ask for stuff. You can't believe how much we got for free - from an ambulance to a curiousity shop to a high school drama club. Just ask. The most fun is directing. Working with actors. Nothing like it. Film is the actor's craft.

Q: What made you decide to make a vampire series rather than just one movie?

Oh, man, part one is only the tip of the iceberg. In part two you learn a little more about vampires in practically every scene. I have an entire vampire world to reveal. Very complex. I think all great ideas need three movies. This one definitely does. Sure, as far as the family goes, there's not much more to tell but it's not a series about a family, but about vampirism itself. The family simply introduces us to it. So anything can happen in the sequels.

Q: And what does happen in the next film?

Part 2 is called The Serpent Queen. It is a parallel narrative following our two heroines from part 1, the sisters, Helen and Lara. Helen, the vampire, finds herself in a vampire prison, a surreal and sterile place called The Facility. Meanwhile, Lara, the human, finds herself in the world of the vampires. Once again, the focus is on realism. What would a vampire prison really be like? How would you feed them?

Q: What are your top three favorite vampire movies?

I hate that question. I may have high standards but I think what makes a good vampire film is the same thing that makes any film good - story and character. And most of them come up short. I guess that's a shortcoming of horror in general. I really don't get it. Horror films don't have to suck! Stephen King has some awesome characters but to my knowledge, he hasn't really dabbled in the Vampire genre. Correct me if I'm wrong. Anne Rice, is obviously the queen of the genre and rightfully so. But the books don't seem to translate that well. Sure, Interview is a classic and would have to be up there, mostly because of Claudia. That image has become inconoclast. But Brad Pitt was terribly miscast. He should have played Lestat. Imagine that flick more like Fight Club. Number 2 would have to be Let The Right One In, though I fell asleep halfway through it. And number one would be Near Dark. I'm a huge Bill Paxton fan. Shout out to everyone who came to the recent Aliens screening in Santa Monica and laughed their heads off after every Paxton line. We love you, Bill!

Q: What is your opinion about the recent re-popularity of vampires, with shows like TRUE BLOOD and movies like TWILIGHT?

I welcome it. If ever there was a genre with potential for exploration, this is it. There's room for everyone's vision. Twilight has basically created a whole new demographic. It's kind of a starter horror film for twelve year old girls. Pretty soon, they'll move on to heavier stuff like Buffy, from there, who knows, they might end up at the premiere of Saw 8 on their 18th Birthday. But you know, the first thing I eliminated from my film was all the romance. So I'm hardly on the bandwagon. Sure, I get it, dark, dangerous vampire dude - very sexy. But really, he's just Dracula with a different accent. What I do like about those two franchises is the way they treat sexual intercourse. True Blood has them moving a million miles and hour like some lifesize vibrators while Twilight has that greatest of all teenage girls' fantasies - the dreamboat who 'can't go all the way'. Dream on, girls. Talk about fantasy!

Q: How can people find the THICKER THAN WATER/contact you?

Just go to Bloodjunky.com. Thanks a million.

find information about Phil Messerer at imdb.com find horror stuff by Phil Messerer

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