I'd like to say I'm an enigma like my heroes Dario Argento, John Carpenter and David Lynch. However, I'm just a regular guy with a creative streak and a pure undying love of horror and science fiction. I'm the clean-cut smiley guy you'll see at a horror convention, wearing a polo shirt hanging out and discussing the career and films of Jean Rollin with the die hard, multiple tattooed and pierced horror buff. I collected rubber Godzilla monsters as a toddler and it just went downhill from there. I began drawing horror/comedy comic strips in high school. Over the years, I stopped drawing but continued writing. I became passionate about script writing in particular and I've always wanted to direct a horror film.
I met Joe Zaso through a mutual buddy in the early 90s. We were both rabid Argento fans. We got together on a Sunday afternoon to watch a double feature of "Blood For Dracula" and "Inferno". He was a kindred soul and we've been good friends ever since. My first collaboration with him was for Joe Parda's "5 Dead on the Crimson Canvas". I provided paintings for the film and acted in a bit part as a detective. This was when the movie bug officially bit me. Since then, I've always been involved in the projects at Cinema Image Productions.
Q: What prompted you to do a horror/murder mystery?
It was never a question in my mind to do anything else. If I was going to invest my own money to make a film (what little I had), it was going to be horror. The trick was to make the film I wanted on such a low budget (reported $6,000). I knew the slasher film could be made with the right location for very little money, so I decided on that. I also wanted to try something relatively simple, as this would be my first experience directing. This is not to say that horror is simple. It's not. However, the logistics of shooting a classic Agatha Christie style murder mystery appealed to me on a creative level and it was possible to make this type of film with one location and a small cast/crew. Luckily, we were able to secure very good locations and a great cast and crew.
Q: How did the idea for AND THEN THEY WERE DEAD... come about?
Joe Zaso was line producing the Andreas Schnaas gore film "Nikos The Impaler". Joe knew I wanted to be involved, so he had me lined up to be the Assistant Director. I was incredibly excited to make "Nikos" with Andy. I though his "Violent Shit" films were hilarious and his latest film at the time, "Demonium", was a mature step forward for him. I felt it would be a great experience. However, "Nikos" got delayed and I became very depressed. I was really geared up to make a film. Since Joe had already arranged much of the cast and crew, I knew there would be actors and film crew who would feel the same way I did. So, I approached Joe about trying to utilize the locations, cast and crew that were now available to do something else, in the mean time. I pitched several ideas to Joe, but most of them were either too ambitious, too time consuming, or too costly. That's when I thought of the Agatha Christie idea. I pitched to Joe an idea about a mysterious host who gathers a diverse group of people, via the internet, to a sinister dinner party. One of the guests is murdered by a man in black. Instead of the guests teaming up to fight the common threat, they become paranoid and suspect each other. Then, they begin bumping each other off in nasty ways. Kind of like a gory version of "Clue". Joe loved the idea and asked when I could give him the script. I wrote the script in seven days while commuting to my day job on the train.
Q: Did you have Joe Zaso in mind, as one of the characters, from the beginning? Any good Zaso or Tina Krause anecdotes?
I wrote the script for "And Then" around the actors and locations we had available, kind of Roger Corman-style. I did write Joe's character, Dr. Mark Reibolt, with Joe in mind. Joe's a very funny guy, but some of his past roles have been a bit vanilla. I wanted him to go really "out there" with this character.
Here's a funny Joe anecdote; In the scene where Sarah K. Lippman's character kicks a severed head straight into Joe's crotch (the infamous "head soccer scene"), we did several takes. I wanted Joe to have the right comedic expression when the head made impact. I also wanted the head to land a certain way. So, I had Frank Gagliardotto (Leo) toss the head at varying speeds at Joe's crotch. I got the take that I needed, but I wanted another for safety, as this was a key scene. So then I got into the action and tossed the head several times. Joe's patience ran out. He got a little upset and a little whiney. Joe is always stressed when he's in "producer" mode. It was fun torturing him. He's a great guy.
Tina was the best. I loved working with her and hope to work with her again. I wrote the part of Sara specifically for her because I felt that she should be getting meatier roles. She's a very talented actress who deserves more than just the "scream queen" label. It was March 2002 when we were filming. While shooting the night scenes outside, it was very cold. Tina had just the short skirt and the skimpy top, so between takes, Tina would yell, "Joe!" and Joe would have to run over with her coat. Joe is over 6 feet tall and Tina's about a foot shorter than him, so it was funny seeing Tina playfully boss Joe around. I can't praise her enough.
Q: How did you cast the other actors involved?
Most of them were actors from previous Cinema Image productions. They agreed to do the film if they liked the script. Luckily, everyone seemed to enjoy it, so they came aboard. The entire pre-production process was only a few days! In casting Darian Caine, we simply looked at several scream queen websites and thought she was really hot. It also seemed she would not have a problem with the nudity. Darian was great to work with. She's a very fun person to be around. Frank Gagliardotto was a friend in a heavy metal band I liked. He's a really funny guy, so I thought he'd be good in the role of Leo. Sarah K. Lippman was incredible. Joe had worked with her before and recommended her. I'm glad he did. She really fleshed out a one-note role and made it her own. The scene where she screams and the lights go out… wow. She really spooked me there. The casting of myself as Lance was out of necessity. I lined someone up for the part, but he bailed at the last minute and I did not have time to find someone else. I'm glad it worked out that way, because I enjoyed acting opposite Tina. I also enjoyed getting bloodied up by Marcus Koch and Jesus Vega. Getting them to do the effects work was nearly as important as casting the film. They did great gory effects work for very little money.
Q: Which character do you most relate to?
None of them really. I wanted to create some fairly weird characters so that they would be interesting to watch and so that they would be fairly unpredictable. The framework of the "Ten Little Indians" formula is so very familiar to horror fans… I decided to throw some weird people in the mix to compensate. I guess the one character I can relate to most is Tina's character, Sara. She's someone who has done things she's not proud of and she's seeking change… redemption. The situations she is exposed to during the film force her to quickly decide who she is and what she needs to do to survive. She's reacting to chaos, trying to survive and trying to carve out a path for herself. I think we can all identify with that.
Q: Are you planning your next movie?
Yes. I've written several short horror scripts, which I plan to adapt into film very soon (perhaps as early as fall 2004). They may be filmed by various directors as an anthology. I'm also working on a documentary that will feature interviews with horror experts, directors, fans, etc. Part of that documentary is a very cool interview with Richard Stanley, director of "Hardware" and "Dust Devil".
My next feature project will be a crime/horror hybrid inspired by E.C. comics and true crime incidents entitled "Criminal Tendencies". This is a project that has existed in various states over the past ten years. I will begin filming in early 2005.
Q: Website & ordering info.
The "And Then They Were Dead/Guilty Pleasures" double feature DVD is available for purchase directly from the Cinema Image Productions website at www.cinemaimages.net and from our ultra-talented music composers at www.functionzero.com. Copies will be autographed by Joe Zaso and/or myself, by request. Thanks for supporting independent horror!