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Horror Interview by The Undertaker
1. Tell us all a lil' about yourself & your movie biz background?
My father, Victor Kanefsky, is a film editor and my mother, Alice Glenn was an dancer on Broadway so show biz was always in my life. However, it was the discovery of Abbott and Costello movies at the age of 4 that really hooked me. I've always loved comedy and horror films always scared me. I used to have terrible nightmares growing up, watching all those 50's and Hammer-type horror films on Saturdays and Sundays in New York. I grew up in Westchester, outside N.Y.C.
It actually took me quite a while to make it through the first five minutes of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein". The first werewolf transformation scared the hell out of me. However, when I finally got to Costello's "Hey, get your doggie off the phone" response, I made it through the entire film and fell in love with it. Obviously, that blend of comedy and horror has always stayed with me.
It was around the age of 13 that I really decided that I wanted to be a writer/director. I got a video camera and started making short and full length films. Around that time, I also realizes that most director started with horror, so I decide to learn everything I could about the genre by reading Fangoria and watching just about every horror film available on video. My first real video (52 minutes) was a horror thing called, "THE UNDEAD". I followed that with a comedy adventure thriller when I was 16 (almost two hours long) called "STRENGTH IN NUMBERS". I spent two years working on that. Around the same time, I began working as a P.A. on some independent features such as "POSED FOR MURDER" a slasher film and "TROMA'S WAR".
For my senior year in high school I wrote and directed another two hour "epic" called "MURDER IN WINTER", an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery. We performed it live as a play and sold videos of the movie version afterwards.
I then went to Hampshire college, majoring in film, and began shooting 8mm shorts. Two were horror oriented, "PEEK-A-BOO" which had a monster in a shower and "JUST LISTEN" (a 12 minute Alfred Hitchcock-type thriller about a slasher in the woods).
My college advisors and film professors looked down on these projects because they were horror and somewhat effective. Their response was "Well, that shows you how easy it is to do a horror film". That pissed me off.
However, my parents were very impressed by my work and decided it was time to try to make a real film. With incredible support from my family and friends, "THERE'S NOTHING OUT THERE" was born. Written when I was still in high school, I rewrote the script and shot it during the summer of 1989. I took a semester off from college to work on the post and I'll never forget my teacher's response. When I left to make "NOTHING OUT THERE", they read the script and because it was horror (they didn't get the humor), they said, "You know, you're not going to learn anything from making this film". I can now say with complete conviction, they were wrong. Actually the book I wrote, "Making "NOTHING" at the age of 20" (which is on www.theresnothingoutthere.com website) was written to prove that I had learned something.
2. I've never read anything pissy or a bad review of "There's nothing Out There". How's that make you feel? Are you proud these years later?
I'm amazed at the lasting appeal of "NOTHING". Although, there have been a few bad reviews, overall the response was great. When I made the film, my intention was to satirize the horrible cliches in horror films, not horror films. Because, by now I had become a fan. Going to Fangoria conventions, talking to other horror fans, I realizes that the horror crowd is a really cool group of people. Very supportive and helpful. I think this is the one genre in the business that people actually look out for each other. Since the genre is so looked down upon most of the time, people that work in horror films do it because they like it. They're not in it for the money. They just liking making film that are fun to watch.
I wanted to make fun of the downside of the genre which is, when one of these films break out and actually make tons of money, producers jump on the bandwagon and try to turn a quick buck by producing one rip-off after another. This is what happened after "HALLOWEEN" exploded on to the screen. Hundreds of not very good slasher films showed up trying to capitalize on the success.
While watching film after film, I quickly realizes how few of these early eighties horror films were trying to do anything but turn a quick buck. "EVIL DEAD" was one of the few exceptions. You could see the energy and work that went into that film. There was a filmmaker who was trying!
So, when I wrote "NOTHING", I decided to knock all the lazy conventions of horror films like the cat scare, the splitting up, dropping the knife, etc... All the things that the audience made fun of, yelling remarks at the screen.
I thought if I put in a character who was the audience, actually saying and doing the things the audience would say and do, the horror fans might get a kick out of that. Up until then, I had never seen this done.
I expected lousy reviews from critics because it was a horror film but I hoped the horror fans would appreciate it. It's funny. People who don't know horror, actually enjoyed the film because it is so comic. But they don't think the script is that good. Horror fans that I talked to thought it was a very intelligent script because they got all the jokes.
As it turned out, critics also appreciate the humor and most gave me very good reviews. As we played festivals and markets, the responses were great. Audiences seemed to love it and critics also were amused. Only agents and studios didn't understand it. They didn't see how mixing horror and comedy could ever work. Remember, this was a good five years before "SCREAM".
However at the time, I knew it would work. I said if someone does a film like this on a bigger budget with a decent release, it would make a fortune. I knew the horror crowd was ready for this. Only I didn't have any clout so nobody listened to me.
3. O.K., Let's talk about what everyone is wondering. What's your feelings on the "Scream" thing? Feel a lil' ripped?
Well, I guess I had mixed emotions about "SCREAM". When I first read about it, I thought that sounds familiar. When I saw the trailer, I thought that looked very familiar. People started calling and saying, "I think you were ripped off". So, I went to see the film while I was in New York and actually really liked it. Only a couple of times, (Randy's dialogue, some of the killer's comments) made me have flashbacks to "NOTHING". Overall, I thought it was a completely different story but the gimmick was the same.
I didn't start to get upset until all the critics came out praising "SCREAM" and saying that this comedy/horror had never been done before. That made me mad. The fact that everyone was calling it so original and revolutionary.
4. Could you beat Wes Craven's ass in a fist fight? What if I helped?
I'll tell you the Wes Craven connection. Two years before "SCREAM", I went to another Fangoria convention in L.A. Wes Craven was there promoting "Vampire In Brookyln" and his son, Johnathan, has just produced "MIND RIPPER". I actually met and talked to Johnathan. We got along well so I gave him a copy of "TNOT".
A week later, we met for lunch. He told me he watched the film and really enjoyed it and was planning to give it to Wes to watch. I said great. I never heard from him again.
Two years later, "SCREAM" came out. Now, I know Wes Craven didn't write "SCREAM". I have no idea if Kevin Williamson did or didn't. I do know that previously "NOTHING" had played theatrically in New York and Los Angeles. It ran on Cinemax a number of times. Now, since Kevin Williamson said he was a huge horror fan, could he have seen it one night on cable, rented it from Blockbuster (Prism had released it in December on 1992)? I'd have to say it's possible. I'd love to ask him one day. If he is a jerk about it, then sure, hold him down and let me get in a punch or two.
The hardest part about this whole thing is that since "SCREAM" and Kevin Williamson became so huge, that now people might think that I'm ripping him off.
5. Tell us about some of your other films. You have a few other films to your credit, right?
After "NOTHING", I came aboard a kids film, "MY FAMILY TREASURE" and co-directed that. The film stars Dee Wallace Stone and Alex Vincent (the kid from the first two "CHILD'S PLAY" movies). Not a very good film but I did throw in a Chucky joke.
Then I moved to L.A., bummed around for a few years, co-wrote "RED LINE" a Michael Madsen, Chad McQueen action thing, and eventually started working for Alain Siritzky, a French producer famous for "EMMANUELLE". Well, I got involved just as he was beginning to make a series of late-night erotic film based on the Milo Manara comics, "CLICK" and "BUTTERSCOTCH". I ended up writing and directing four of those movies. All are erotic comedies with a sci-fi angle. "CLICK" is about a remote control device that can sexually turn people on, change them into other people, and alter body parts. "BUTTERSCOTCH" is about the sexual adventures of an invisible man. The three films I'm most proud of is "BALLS OF THUNDER" a James Bond parody, and the two "Butterscotch" movies. All are still unavailable in the states. Roger Corman's New Concorde owns all the domestic rights. No plans for release yet. Don't know why.
I then created a series for Alain called, "THE SEX FILES". 14 movies were made in this series. I directed one entitled, "ALIEN FILES" also known as "ALIEN EROTICA" which is a pure X-Files parody. This film shows on Cinemax all the time and was also released on DVD and video. An R rated cut exists at Hollywood Video. Trimmed to 75 minutes, it's horrible. The unrated 100 minute version is better. My favorite version has not been released. It runs 85 minutes. Anyway, I spent a year working on this film. It has also been very well received my fans of sci-fi and erotica. I've actually never read a bad review about it.
After that I managed to get my producer to back a mainstream (non-sex) film that I wrote and directed entitled, "TOMORROW BY MIDNIGHT". This dark comedy thriller stars Alexis Arquette and Carol Kane. This was the first film that I was able to shoot in scope (2.35.1 ratio, which I love) and did a 5.1 surround Dolby mix. It's about a group of college students that take a video store hostage for the night and things kinda get out of control. The film is loaded with movie and horror references. It's the most personal film I've done to date. It just had its world premiere at the Method Fest Film Festival in Pasadena, CA. It received a very good review from the L.A. Times and some other websites and papers. We are currently seeking a distributor, so at the moment, this film is also unavailable.
Most recently, I wrote and directed a teen comedy called "PRETTY COOL". Best described as a "Weird Science" for a new generation or "What Women Want" in high school. The film is a throwback to the 80's teen comedies and stars a cast of beautiful and talented girls; Alexis Thorpe ("The Forsaken", T.V.'s "Young And The Restless") and Summer Altice (Playboy's Miss August 2000 and star in the upcoming "Scorpion King") to name a few. I am in final post on this film and is, without a doubt, the most commercial film I've ever done. With a little luck, we might be able to get this released on the big screen next year. All of these films, I could talk about for hours but I won't do that now.
6.What else do you do besides direct? Any other jobs? Sell pot or bootleg cd's for extra cash?
Sorry, no pot selling. I basically write and direct. As of now, 18 of my scripts have been produced. 10 of which I have directed. Unfortunately, most are very low budget so I'm not wealthy by any means. On my spare time, I watch movies. No drugs, drinking or women. Thinking about this is getting me very depressed. I'll move on to the next question now.
7.Did the net help revive an interest in "TNOT" or was it just a means for more people to go "Hey I like that film. It was cool"?
The internet was a major boost to the film. After the film hit video in 1992, I figured that it was over. It sold okay. People liked it but it never really caught on. When "SCREAM" came out, people started talking about it again. Then I went to the internet and discovered to my amazement that there was a following and everyone seemed to compare it to "SCREAM", declaring it "The Original SCREAM". Because of this interest, I decided to start the site and once we got the rights back from Prism, we tried selling the film again and now everyone wanted it! I'd say because of the internet, "TNOT" lives again and is about to hit DVD and video for its 10th Anniversary.
8.What's up with the new dvd re-release?
Well, once we got the rights back, I was determined to get "TNOT" released with a good transfer. You see, the 35 mm print looked great in the theaters. However, on video we had a problem with the framing and had to blow the film up a lot. Therefore, on video and laser, the film looked like crap. Heads were chopped off at the top of the screen. The whole video looked grainy and cheap. Yes, the film was low-budget but it never looked this bad. Unfortunately, people seeing the film on video and cable only saw this transfer and a lot of the reviews commented on the cheap look; washed out colors, grainy images, etc... So, I've always been unhappy with the version that exists.
For this DVD and video, we were finally able to go make to the original negative and remaster the film, keeping the original aspect ratio 1.77.1. It makes a huge difference. Now, the film looks like it was supposed to. It only took me ten years to get it this way.
9. Are there many differences or additions that a fan must have or would wanna know about?
The nice thing about the DVD, besides the letterboxed, remastered version of the film is the extras. Luckily, I keep everything. So, I went into my closet and found a lot of cool stuff that we were able to put on the disc including the original videotaped auditions, video storyboarding vs. film comparisons, rehearsals and bloopers, a still gallery, bios, deleted moments, original animation opening title test, the theatrical trailer, and a brand new commentary track from myself, some of the actors, and some of the crew. I hope people will find it interesting and cool.
10. How's the website for "TNOT" doing?
Well, the website is okay. We've never really had a lot of hits on it. I'm hoping with this new press and DVD, more people will check it out. A good friend of mine, who was actually a P.A. on the film, Gene Masse, designed the site and has been really supportive all these years. He also knows computers which is good because I haven't got a clue. But the site has every article, review, the full book, and hundreds of stills from the film. For a rather small flick, it's pretty loaded. It's a completely free site so we've never made money on it. I just thought the fans would like to have it to find out more. We've had a few dozen orders for the film over the past few years. That's about it.
11. How did you come up with the ideas for "TNOT"?
Well, the idea original came to me when I was in high school. I was working on "MURDER IN WINTER" my senior project and during spring break, I wanted to take a break and work on something else. I decided to see exactly how long it would take me to write a typical teen exploitation horror film. About five pages in, I realized that I couldn't do it seriously. I just couldn't get myself to write those horrible cliches. So, I added Mike, (the horror fan) and made it a monster/alien movie because I thought you could do more interesting things. The slasher with the knife can get old quick. So, I sat down and knocked off the first draft in five days. I think it I wrote it so quickly because I had been watching horror films non-stop for the last five years so the satire came pretty easy. There were so many things I wanted to poke fun at.
12. Who designed the monster? Was it a good monster? Easy to work with? Is it true it's suing for sexual harassment?
The creature was designed by Scott Hart of Imagi-fects Studios, a company in New Jersey. I had some rough sketches. I always knew I wanted a small creature because a big creature is usually a guy in a suit and with a low budget film, it usually looks like a guy in a suit. I thought a small monster would be different and more fun.
The creature was okay to work with. Very slimy. The slime got on everything. It was usually a puppet-type situation so I guess since a guy had his hand up the creature's ass most of time is how the sexually harassment charges began. However, I think the creature liked it. He always had a smile on his face.
13. What are some of your influences as a director?
Okay. I was always a big fan of Steven Spielberg. I also love Hitchcock. Sam Raimi's "EVIL DEAD" series was a big influence in making "TNOT". John Landis' early films, especially "THE BLUES BROTHERS" and "AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON" were great. I was very impressed with Joseph Ruben's "DREAMSCAPE" and "THE STEPFATHER". Also Tom Holland's "FRIGHT NIGHT" was very inspirational. "TREMORS" came out the year after we shot "TNOT". Some people thought we were influenced by that but it was after we wrapped. If I had seen that film before I shot "NOTHING", I may have changed things because there are similar elements and I really enjoyed that film.
14. What are some of your favorite fright films? Any that really pushed you to wanna be in film in some way, shape or form?
Okay. I was very impressed by "PSYCHO II". The eye in the peehole made me jump out of my seat. I had nightmares for weeks after seeing the 1978 version of "INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS". Love "THE STEPFATHER". The original "HAUNTING" is wonderful. Also love "LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE". "THE MEPHISTO WALTZ" gave me nightmare when I saw it on T.V. Also an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents called, "POISONS" directed by Hitchock. And the T.V. movie, "DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK" was terrifying. As with most things, horror films that you watch when you're young obviously have a much greater impact on you. When I was growing up, I had a mirror door in my bedroom so the end of "PHANTASM" had me terrified. I never forgot watching the original "HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP" and the worm-attack in "GALAXY OF TERROR" on cable. Those two obviously were big influences on my creature's motives in "TNOT".
15. Are there any actors or actresses you'd like to work with now or down the road?
I never know how to answer this question. There are a lot of actors I like but I don't know how they are to work with. I don't really need a big ego or someone who doing something just for the money on my sets. I want to work with actors who want to work with me and care about the project. That's what I look for. A committed actor who will give it their all. That's why I actually like working with newcomers because they are hungry. They want to work. I love that kind of energy on the set. I rarely write anything with a specific actor in mind. However, with that said, I do have one project that would be perfect for Angelina Jolie.
16. Have you talked to any of the cast of "TNOT" lately? How do they feel about the film's longevity?
I've actually stayed in touch with a few of the casts members. I'm still good friends with Craig Peck ("MIKE"). We went to high school together. He starred in "MURDER IN WINTER" and now lives in Long Beach, not too far away. I also became very good friend with Mark Collver ("JIM"). We started a business together when I moved out to L.A. The business failed but our friendship did not. Both Mark and Craig joined me for the commentary track on the new DVD. I lost contact with the others. However, Wendy Bednarz ("DOREEN") contacted me not too long ago. She moved from in front or to behind the camera herself and is teaching a film course at NYU this summer. She also plans to write and direct a movie next year. She and the others are all amazed at the life of "TNOT". I don't think any of us expected to be talking about this flick 12 years later. Most are delighted.
17. Cherried out 70's vans or 70's chicks, which were cooler?
I have to go with the 70's chicks because I've always been more into women than cars.
18. Are you going to any conventions in the coming months?
No conventions confirmed. I'll probably be going to the Fango convention in August in L.A. Not speaking. Just a fan. I've been talking about going to the Festival Of Darkness in Baltimore in October and showing a 35mm print of "NOTHING". I'm waiting to hear back.
19. What's the most over-rated horror film you've seen? The most under-rated?
Well, I'd have to go with "BLAIR WITCH" for most overrated. If I thought it was real maybe I would have been scared but I knew it was a movie. With that said, I do think "THE LAST BROADCAST" got kinda screwed in the process.
Underrated films are many. I think "EXORCIST III" is pretty good. If it had not been called "EXORCIST" it would have been more respected. It still has one of the all-time great jumps in a movie. "THE STEPFATHER" is very underrated. Deserved to do better. I'm a fan of "PATRICK", "EVIL DEAD TRAP", "WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK", many Argento films, and the beginning of "ANATOMY" was quite effective.
20. All right here's your big chance, hype your site, films, penis size, career, or any last words of wisdom?
Well, the DVD and video of "NOTHING" is being released from Image Entertainment on September 18th. An erotic "Hell House"-type of horror flick that I wrote hits DVD on October 16th. Most of my other projects are still in limbo. If you want to know more about "NOTHING" check out the website; www.theresnothingoutthere.com.
Also, I do plan to get back to horror one of these days. I've got a horror/comedy script called, "THE HAZING" which I'm trying to set up in Holland at the moment. I describe it as "EVIL DEAD" meets "SCREAM". What are the rules when there are no rules. I also have a cool vampire script, "UNDYING THIRST", an occult horror possession screenplay "THE HOST", and the only-time-will-tell sequel script to "NOTHING", "THERE'S STILL NOTHING OUT THERE"... If you were afraid of Nothing... ..It's back!
I've had a surprising amount of people ask me about this sequel and if we're ever going to do it. My response is, if there's a strong enough interest (i.e. the new DVD of "NOTHING" sells through the roof), I'd love to do it. I've talked with Craig Peck and he's game as well.
My advise for people trying to get into this crazy business is, Do what you love and love what you do. You'll be happier, healthier, and live longer. Be passionate but don't take things so seriously. It's not worth it. If you have a good time making it, then there's a good chance the audience will have a good time watching it. Just keep repeating, "It's only a movie... only a movie."
Thanks for taking the time to interview me. And I want to thank all the people who have taken 90 minutes of their time to watch "NOTHING". If you enjoyed it, you made my day.
21. You mentioned getting back the rights to TNOT from Prism, what was involved in that process? Expensive?
A few years after Prism released the film, they went bankrupted. However, they bought "NOTHING" for eight years. We tried to get it back earlier but could not. So we just waited for the contract to expire. In the year 2000, it did. That's how we were finally able to reissue the film.