Thursday, 31 January 2013

interview: Scott Benzie

Scott Benzie composed the score for Room 36, and kindly agreed to answer a short e-mail interview in December 2006. He has since scored a number of other interesting films including Ten Dead Men and Fear Eats the Seoul.

At what stage in the film’s lengthy journey to the screen did you become involved with Room 36, and at what point was the score added?
“During the summer of 2001 I replied to an ad for a composer for a film called Room 36. A little while later I received an e-mail inviting me to a screening of the film with all the short-listed composers, with the intention of viewing a rough cut of Room 36 and then writing some music based on the film. However I could not attend the screening and, after apologising, I was told that they would forward me a video cassette of the film from which I could score a clip.

“The tape arrived, which I watched, and I had two weeks to deliver a piece of music from any part of the film. So I decided to try and score the entire film within the two weeks. I called Jim Groom (the director) and we spoke about a basic idea for the score and Bernard Herrmann was mentioned. This was great, it was the type of approach that I thought would be ideal. I delivered a CD with approximately 60 minutes of computerised score that fitted the on-screen action then was contacted by Jim and was told that they would like me to score their film, so I was onboard. However the film needed a re-cut.

“It was not until March 2002 that we recorded the final score. Initially the music was to be completely synthetic, performed on keyboards and samplers, however through a couple of meetings the possibility of recording the score with a real orchestra became a reality.

“We recorded the 60 minute score in one day at Sony studios; that was all the time that we had and the complete score had to be delivered, there was no chance of going back to re-score sections. So the pressure was on. The score was recorded and then added to the film in the mix with all the dialogue, atmos tracks, foley etc etc. We had a final 35mm print ready just prior to Cannes, which the main cast and crew attended (great fun - a really memorable experience).”

What sort of instructions were you given in regards to the music, and how well were you able to follow them?
“To be honest, apart from the initial discussions with Jim, from which I created the original demo score, I think that was pretty much it. I was sort of on my own and wrote what I liked and wanted to hear, hoping Jim would also like it. In fact the finished score was about 90 per cent of the original demo score. There are changes that we went through, changing where a cue would start or stop or changing hit points. There may have been a thematic change here or there.

“The best advice from Jim was 'Bernard Herrmann'. From that everything fell into place and from that I tried to create a pastiche, taking North By Northwest and Psycho and playing with those types of scores. Not the shower scene, although in the original demo the gruesome death scene did have a cue that mimicked the infamous shower scene cue. Maybe it was a little too much - perhaps that is why it was dropped.”

Apart from the obvious, what are the differences between composing for a short and composing for a feature?
“The same rules apply whether it's a two- or three-minute short or a 90-minute feature in that you are writing music that has a role to play in helping tension, adding drama etc. The main thing for me when composing is that I need a certain amount of time to compose, and working with a director who knows what he/she wants is great. The problems occur when the director is not sure what they want until they hear the music. This can be difficult and time consuming, it's a working process like any other.”

What sort of music did you provide for Soul Searcher (which I haven’t seen yet, but have heard good things about)?
“The score for Soul Searcher was always intended to be a large action fantasy film score with a live orchestra and choir, even before I was involved. Neil Oseman the director advertised for a composer who had experience in writing music to film and had a knowledge of orchestral music. So that was the basis to start from. Neil has various e-mails, criticising him about this (especially as there was no real budget).

"I tried to deliver a large orchestral score that has big grand themes and a sweeping love theme combined with a choir to add otherworldly and quasi-religious overtones. Again we had one day to record approximately 50 minutes of the score with a 60-piece orchestra. (There seems to be a pattern emerging!)”

How did you start composing for stage and film?
“Whilst at college, I got involved in writing music at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester and then the Playhouse Theatre whilst at university in Nottingham. Also while at university I met a few directors who asked me to write some music to their short films.”

What have you not been able to do with a score - because of budgets, schedules or whatever - which you would really like to do?
“The biggest problem with recording the orchestral scores is time. In order to record that much music within one day, there are going to be problems with the performances. Hollywood feature films have many days to record the score, where I had one day, so for me the next orchestral score I do I'm going to try and get at least a little bit of overtime with the players on that one recording day.

"Also, I have been in brief talks with the director of a sci-fi/horror film which I have read the script for. It reads brilliantly and I would love the opportunity to score it; creating the type of score that I have never written before: really atmospheric, dark, creepy, a real spine chiller. Also next year I have been approached to score a Viking film, an American/Danish co-production which will be fun.”

website: www.scottbenzie.co.uk
interview originally posted 10th December 2006

interview: Stephanie Beaton

Back in 1997 I interviewed pretty much the whole cast and crew of Elisar Cabrera’s film Witchcraft X: Mistress of the Craft, including imported American scream queen Stephanie Beaton, making the second of three films in the apparently endless series of sequels. Steph subsequently starred in and produced The Bagman.

You were in the last one of these films too, weren't you?
"That's right, I was in the last one, Witchcraft IX: Bitter Flesh. I played Detective Lucy Lutz and I'm reprising my role in this one, except here I don't get to carry a gun. It's England, so I've lost my protection!"

Are you the main link between Part IX and Part X?
"Yes, I am because I come from America; someone was committing the murders over there so I come here to get him, where of course he's travelled and is doing the same kind of thing."

Were you in any of the earlier ones?
"No, just IX and X."

How does this one differ from Part IX, as an actress?
"It's more personal. The last one I did was me and my partner. I actually mention him in this but of course he's not here, he's still back in the States. It's more of a personal relationship in this one; you get to see Lucy as herself, and not just going to the crime scenes and that kind of professional business level."

Is it different working with a British crew?
"Oh yes! It's a blast! I love it! I've had the best time since I came here, I truly have. These people are great, they're the best. The people I worked with before were awesome but these people over here are really jolly and everything, so I like it. This is my first time in the UK. We shot the first day I arrived and we're shooting right up until I leave. I'm going back next Tuesday."

So you're not seeing much of Britain?
"No, but it depends on the shooting schedule and how long the day goes to and stuff. Sometimes in the evening I can get out, but I'm really focused on this. I knew that when I came here I wasn't going to be able to see much, but it doesn't bother me. I just love doing it, and I wanted to work on another Witchcraft film."

Your character is a detective investigating weird goings-on.
"In this film I pester Hyde, the warlock, played by Kerry Knowlton. He has been committing these ritualistic-type murders over there in the United States - he has these supernatural powers - and he's come here and done the same thing. But it is different because of the vampires. The vampires were last in VII. There were no vampires in the last ones, it was more dealing with the occult and Egyptian hieroglyphics. This one follows up on the same thing."

Have you seen the previous films?
"I've seen some of them. I haven't seen all of them."

Have you done a lot of these B-movies?
"Yes and no. I just got back from Minneapolis where I played two leads in a film called Twilight and another one called Weekend in the City. That was a trilogy, kind of like Creepshow. I did a cameo appearance in Dying to Meet You, and before that I did a film for Showtime called Midsummer Night's Dream and I wrapped up another film called Zombie Ninja. I did a film with Heather Locklear for NBC called Shattered Mind and another one called Through the Looking Glass. I'm pretty busy.

“I did some music videos for MTV and some commercials. I did Penthouse. I'm always keeping myself going. Actually, when I get back there's a script in development with the director who did the Zombie Ninja film, Jeff Centauri. He is doing this other one, kind of like 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Indiana Jones in the inner world' sort of thing. It's kind of like a Detective Lutz role. I'm not going to be playing a cop but I'm going to take charge. So that's in the works for probably the end of November, then in January I'm going to New York because I'm doing the Fangoria horror convention where I’ll be signing autographs.

“March, April I'm going to Mexico - I'm pretty sure. I've got my fingers crossed and the director is really hoping to do this. He's a big director in Uruguay and he's getting all the production business side set up for his film, so I'll be hoping to shoot that at that time. It's called La Gringa, in which I play this woman who's wrongly accused of being an immigrant by these Hispanic guys, and this one guy goes absolutely berserk and kills his buddies off - I don't know why - then turns around and tortures me. But, instead of me getting killed, I get to come back and torture him. I don't kill him, but I make him so mentally out there in his dreams and his reality, and at the end you see me driving off. So I've got that in the works."

Do you consider yourself a scream queen?
"I guess you could say that, yes, because I can definitely scream. I do end up doing a lot of screaming in this film. I am labelled as a scream queen."

Is that a help or a hindrance?
"I don't know. Jamie Lee Curtis did it - why can't I? Look at her today. My future roles, I definitely would like to see myself in more serious, more dramatically moving, emotional type roles. That would be something I'd like to do. But I love horror though, I love it. I would never pass up doing a film. That's why I’m doing this, getting to come to England and see this place, and meeting the people here who are so sweet, and working on Witchcraft X - it's wonderful."

Had you met Elisar before?
"No. He checked out my website on the internet and he was really interested in me. He saw me in the last film and he wanted to bring that role back and see a side of her that you didn't see in the last one. She was just coming to the scene and investigating a crime but you never really saw her. So he was really interested in that. He's very nice, a good director."

How did you first get into acting?
"I'm originally from Ohio, and I moved out to California eleven years ago. I started acting in High School, then I did it in college, then after I graduated college I started doing all sorts of different work: commercial and things. One thing led to another and suddenly the roles started hitting. Then the music videos started hitting and I did that. 1994 was when I did my first real feature film; that was Unnaturally Born Killer. That was pretty interesting. It was a horror film, so that was my real test right there - and I screamed. I did it, and believe me, when I do it... When I did my scream here the other night, the crew all said their ears were ringing until the next morning! It was very ear-shattering."

How popular in America are these films that you do?
"They're quite popular, because I get a lot of fan mail and I get tons of hits on my website. My videos are out there in Blockbuster Video. People have seen them in the video shop, they've seen them on TV, they've seen them on pay-per-view and on the cable networks. So they are getting out there. I was in New York last month and I got asked for an interview on the top of the Empire State Building! It couldn't have been better!”

website: www.stephaniebeaton.com

interview: Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates

This interview with Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates, co-directors of The Zombie Diaries, was conducted (by e-mail) for Fangoria in August 2008. But of course only a fraction of the actual interview ever appears in print.

How did the two of you meet and how did you divide up the work on The Zombie Diaries?
MB: “Kevin and I lived in the same town - Letchworth Garden City. I went along to help Kevin on a film set one day for a production he was working on, and then Kevin returned the favour by helping me on one of my shoots. We became good friends and realised we had similar taste in films; we both grew up watching horror.”

KG: “We divided everything 50/50 in terms of writing, directing, producing and editing. If one of us did more work in a certain area, we made sure that it was evened out in another way. The crew was unlike any conventional film, as apart from the make-up effects team and a few production assistants, everything else was done by the two of us.“

At what point did you discover that George Romero was making Diary of the Dead and what do you think are the main differences between the two films?
MB: “We found out just prior to our premiere in August/September 2006 when some guy yelled at me across the office I worked in and shouted something like ‘Dude - someone's copied your film!’ The only thing that worried us at the time was that being a Romero film, Diary would get a huge release first and then people would assume we had copied him. As it turns out, Romero's film was developed without any knowledge of our film, and I think the two complement each other really well. You basically have two vantage points of the same outbreak - one in the US and one in the UK. Romero's film was great for him, great for us, and having these two films means its great for the fans too.”

KG: “The two films start similarly with a zombie outbreak, but after that they go in very different directions. Diary of the Dead makes commentary on the whole YouTube and MySpace phenomenon, whereas Zombie Diaries is pure post-apocalyptic survivalist horror and more about how humans behave in a new world order. Zombie Diaries also covers different groups of survivors whose paths cross occasionally. Diary follows a single narrative thread.”

There has been a flurry of fake-camcorder films released recently (Cloverfield, Vampire Diary, [rec] etc): why do you think this subgenre is suddenly so popular?
KG: “Blair Witch kick-started the whole approach, but the medium wasn't fully exploited until more recently. I think the explosion of blogs and YouTube, where you don't have to rely on the usual news channels to tell you what's going on, is an influence on all these films. People have become used to watching home video and amateur footage on the news. Therefore when they see it in a feature film, it feels more real and draws them into a heightened sense of reality.

“For a producer, it’s also an inexpensive way of shooting a movie. You can get away with a lot more and use all the normal trappings of low budget film-making to your advantage. There's a scene in The Zombie Diaries in the 'Outbreak' segment where the characters flee from a farm house. When we shot the scene it was lit by a single torch and at the time were concerned that we weren't seeing enough of the zombies. However, it actually made the scene work much better as the audience has to use their imagination. By catching only glimpses of the zombies, it makes for an increased sense of terror as you know they're there but you can't quite see them. All these kind of things were not only incredibly simple to shoot, but also very effective.”

What was behind your decision to not actually use the z-word in the film's dialogue?
MB: “In the classical world of The Zombie Film, there is no such concept as a zombie.”

How did you assemble your cast and crew?
MB: “We used online resources such as Shooting People and Talent Circle to advertise for the various roles and positions. We also chose to approach a number of actors directly that we had worked before in our previous films. In terms of crew, Kevin knew Scott Orr and Mike Peel (special effects). I had worked with Rob Whitaker (sound mix) before, and he had always done a great job for me so I offered him the sound job immediately.”

What are the artistic and technical problems (or advantages!) of constructing a movie out of fake 'found footage'?
MB: “The entire production is chronicled on my website www.makingthefilm.com. I have kept a film-maker's diary for seven years now, charting my progress as I try and move from IT into film-making full time. What I will say is that there are no real different challenges to making a 'found footage' movie from a regular movie, except the realism element must be spot on (natural). Cloverfield for me was an utter disaster (Kevin disagrees with me by the way - he loved it!) because it was full of what I call ‘Dude acting’ - it was like there was no director on set helping to make the performances believable, just a bunch of actors and some guy shouting 'action' and 'cut' and not paying any attention to the realism. The whole thing felt too artificial for me - maybe even moreso than a theatre play - even the sound design was too polished.“

How has The Zombie Diaries been received by audiences and critics?
KG: “The film has been very well received by critics. When shown at Frightfest in the UK and Sitges in Spain I watched the film with the festival audience. The Spanish crowd in particular were obviously big zombie fans and very vocal in their appreciation. In Sitges I remember trying to sneak out of the cinema after the film finished, but was caught by a few audience members, who in somewhat broken English told me how much they enjoyed the film. That was great to know and makes trips to these festivals a fantastic experience.

“A few reviews have stated that The Zombie Diaries is more of a thinking person's zombie film. From a writing point of view we were trying to do something a bit different, so that is very pleasing. We didn't just want to make a gore fest, we were more interested in saying something about how people behave in times of chaos. That is why you see the darker side of humanity and an incredibly bleak tone throughout.

“I will say though that the camcorder approach for all these movies (Cloverfield, [rec], Diary of the Dead etc) has divided audiences. Those who enjoyed Blair Witch tend to really like our movie. What I'll say is if you like Blair Witch mixed with Night of the Living Dead, you'll enjoy The Zombie Diaries. Just don't go into the film expecting Bruce Willis!“

What next for you guys?
KG: “Mike and I will be teaming up again for the next film. Our partnership has been great on Zombie Diaries and we're keen to work together and move forward with the next project. We'll be co-directing again, but this time it will be a little different in that I will be writing, whilst Mike takes on producing duties.

“We've got a number of projects lined up and I've spent a lot of 2008 writing several treatments for future projects with two full screenplays complete. I can reveal we are planning a follow-up to The Zombie Diaries. But there is also another horror film that Mike and I are very passionate about and plan to shoot in 2009. It's a high concept film, set in an isolated community in the UK with a working title of Forever Dark. We’ve had a lot of interest in both of these movies and simply cannot wait to get out on location again and continue our passion for horror cinema.”

interview originally posted 12th December 2010

interview: Charles Band (part 2)

Continued from part 1

I'd like to start this second half of the interview by asking about a movie which was shot as Piranha Women, released in the UK as Piranha Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death but released in the USA as Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. The rumour was that someone had decided that US audiences wouldn't know what 'piranha' meant. Any truth to that?
"Gosh, I don't know! There may have been but that was a couple of decades ago! I don't remember is the answer, but I don't think that was the consideration. I think it just had more to do with 'cannibal women' seeming a funnier, more benign name than 'piranha women' - but I may be wrong. Maybe there was some concern about the movie Piranha and we didn't want to feel like we were ripping it off or sending it up. Which, by the way, is now being remade."

Re-remade!
"That's right. But anyway, that was a fun movie. It turned out that Bill Maher has become extremely popular over the last seven or eight years because he has had two successful shows: Politically Incorrect and Real Time. He was the host and he's now a very respected political satirist but this is before he did any of that. He was a stand-up comedian. But he's in it and of course Adrienne Barbeau and some others."

Around the same time there was a movie called Intruder with Bruce Campbell and Sam and Ted Raimi. What is the story about that being heavily cut?
"What happened was really interesting. At that time we could not release that without an R rating and we did try to cut it down to an R. It was at a time when the ratings board was harder on independents. Then of course years, years later it was one of those pictures which had never been out on DVD and had certainly never been out in its uncut/director's cut form, so we did that. We went back to the material and pieced it all together, which wasn't easy, and it's coming out here in the US - the unrated Intruder.

“The people involved are amazing when you think about it. It was produced by Lawrence Bender and it's got Sam Raimi being killed in the movie and there's Bruce Campbell and Scott Spiegel wrote or directed it. It has, today, a very interesting group of people involved in what at the time was a very small horror film shot in a supermarket. So that will be out and we've made it available on our site. We've tried to make these pictures available to people a little bit earlier on our site so even if people only order a few at a time it goes out there and starts the word spreading. But I think that comes out some time next month here in the US. We are re-releasing it, or should I say releasing it for the first time, on DVD in the original cut."

Underworld and Rawhead Rex were Clive Barker's first forays into movies. How did you get involved with him?
"I met him at the time. We were very peripherally involved. I was involved however with the executive producer of those two films which were both shot in the British Isles. It was a distribution deal so we were not directly involved at all in any facet of the production. We may have been involved a bit in post-production. I don't really remember - it was a long time ago. They were interesting movies for the time but they were examples of films that Empire distributed for reasons beyond just wanting to do our own home-grown material. So they were acquisitions. I don't remember exactly how they came to us but they fitted the mould a little bit and we released them, but only in the US. They were sold, I believe, directly by the films' producers outside the US. I may be wrong, but that's what I remember."

Why did Empire, which was your company, start expanding into acquisitions?
"That's a pity. In a sense, Full Moon went that way as well and I'm just really hoping - and working hard on the new movies I'm making - that Wizard stays on track. Everything starts for the right reason. The original handful of films that Empire was releasing and pre-producing and pre-selling at the time were all my movies. I wasn't directing every one but they were certainly my concepts and I brought in people like Ted Nicolau and David Schmoeller and others to direct. The problem is, as more people get involved and the overheads go up, you have investors, the next thing you know you're doing things; much as you'd like to do it all you own way, you're beginning to agree to things.

“You need to run more 'product' as they call it - which I hate - but you need to run more product in the fourth quarter so we should really find some movies to distribute because, after all, we've got an expensive operation with a lot of overheads. There's all sorts of reasons why, when you sit there as a film-maker wanting just to make movies but you've built a bit of an empire, there are legitimate reasons why your partners or your banker say, 'Hey, you've got to use this more now as a machine and release other people's films.' Anyway, you begin to distance yourself from the original intent.

“Maybe third time is a charm but with the new company now I'm absolutely intent that for as long as I can I'll direct every movie but I'll certainly conceive and produce and be very close to each movie here and do my best, first to try to stay as small as possible - as tempting as it is sometimes inasmuch as you get pushed a little bit - to stick to what we're doing and not expand and suddenly find things are out of control."

I was going through some old trade mags and found the Screen International Product Guide from the 1986 AFM. Empire had 32 full-page ads. It looks like it had got out of hand.
"For a few short years we were second only to Canon because sometimes it seemed like they bought the whole magazine! I think it did and I'd love to go back and do things differently. I have only myself to blame. I, ultimately, was the one who made the decisions - but you have partners, you have investors, you have advisors, suddenly you've got a few hundred people working for you. And I have no formal business training, I just wanted to make movies and I should have stuck to that. I could now write a book about it, I could certainly point out things and say why I wouldn't do that again, but back at the time these ideas and proposals made sense. They made sense short term, they never made sense long term."

Full Moon had a couple of spin-off labels. Torchlight was the more adult side of things.
"I have from time to time tried this - and I don't know if I'm going to do it again because I'm pretty set in the subgenre that I'm specialising in now. But the idea of making an erotic movie that is done with some care and is not just what seems to be everywhere on the market today, and tying in a fantasy element, try to make it at least acceptable or pleasant for couples. There's a business there that I don't think anybody's ever really tapped into. Today you either have extremely hardcore films which usually just don't appeal to me or the really lame simulated sex movies that are just silly.

“Torchlight was that idea but I lost focus. Later on I had another label called Surrender Cinema which made a few movies that were close to what I would have liked. But it's tough and you can only do so many things. That was back at a time when it made sense to have many labels and try to make 30 or 40 movies a year, which right now sounds absurd but back then it made some sense."

The opposite was the children's films label, Moonbeam, which seemed to do quite well because you made quite a lot of those movies.
"Yes, they did hugely well. They were, I have no doubt, with the exception of the Puppet Master series, the most successful films I've made financially, certainly of that era. I didn't really see any of the upside; it all went to Paramount, I was involved in a stupid deal over there. But putting aside who actually got what dollars, those were very well-received, very successful and very well-liked movies. Those movies started towards what they call 'tween', the young adult fantasy film. They were Disney-esque films, no question. In fact the early ones which were well-made, and I had my hand in those very directly, I actually directed a couple of them, those pictures as well as being very, very big direct-to-video successes they also all played the Disney Channel.

“My idea from day one was: let's make, at a budget, Disney-esque films, like Honey I Shrunk the Kids or something like that which tapped into the genre that I enjoy and let's have the leads be boys and girls somewhere around 11, 12, 13. Make them edgy, still PG. If I had to describe them today I'd say they were like Harry Potter, although Harry Potter is a little edgier than those films were; Harry Potter is approaching the R of the early eighties. Because they gave you an R for just about everything including just the 'vibe' of the movie.

“I once had that conversation: they said, 'You know, there's not one thing in this movie that really warrants the R but the overall vibe is a little bit too hard for a PG-13.' But they couldn't point to what I needed to cut out to not get the R. So that's how crazy it was back in the early '80s. Today there are R-rated movies that I've seen that, to me, look unratable. They're so violent with blood and guts and decapitations that I can't believe it, so I don't know what's next. Anyway, the Moonbeam films did very well. Those first films - there was Prehysteria, Dragonworld, Remote, Magic Island - they were made at a price and they all did very well."

The six Josh Kirby movies were a very ambitious project.
"Yes it was - and that was a complete failure financially. It was partly the fault, to some degree, of my relationship with Paramount and the support that really wasn't given at the distribution level. It was during that period that I moved away from Paramount and started trying to do some other films. That was difficult and there was a regime change at the same time which didn't help, over at Paramount. Anyway, it was ambitious. I love the serials of the thirties and forties so that was the absolute inspiration for the Josh Kirby series. But it should have been handled differently, they should have been released differently, they should have been promoted differently.

“My whole idea was to build consumer awareness which would have been a much more expensive marketing ticket than just letting video retailers know about the film. Because if you get everyone hooked on the first episode and they enjoy it and the kids like it and you let them know that on a certain date two months later, much like a serial in a movie theatre, part two's coming out, you leave them hanging. They were designed as cliffhangers. The theory was that people would be looking for it two months later at their video store and driving those sales. But you also needed to do what everyone does today, you needed to promote it at a consumer level, which never happened. It was ambitious and maybe a little ahead of its time. Its hard to imagine but this is back in the day when DVD did not exist."

The Josh Kirby pictures were shown a few months back on British TV, presented as a TV series.
"Well, those dollars are certainly not coming to me! They're going into Paramount's coffers somewhere."

The other series that you planned which disappointingly never got past the first two was Filmonsters. The two that you did make, Frankenstein Reborn! and The Werewolf Reborn!, are great.
"Thank you. That's another example where we didn't have a home at the time and I probably should have not made that investment without a cable network or someone really solidly behind it. Because they all want their own input; it's not good enough that you make something that's probably in most places at least on a par with what they're turning out. If they're not involved emotionally and creatively from the get-go, they're not going to pick it up.

“I designed that as something that could maybe get me into the cable TV business. We shot them well, we spent money, we shot them on 35mm. They weren't done cheaply as a lot of this programming is done. But I couldn't find a buyer so as a result we just released them on video and that was that. It was a clever idea. We had about 20 of those projects developed and we were busy writing scripts because there's so many wonderful classic monsters to bring back and have young kids involved in those adventures."

Looking through the vast number of films you've been associated with, there seem to be a lot of instances when a title or a concept has been in development, fallen through for whatever reason, then reappeared quite a few years later. Do you always keep a stock of unused titles and ideas?
"As we speak I have a board in my office that covers two walls with almost every movie - not every movie but a couple of hundred movies - in the form of little pieces of colour cover art, essentially video and DVD covers. I look at this every day, wondering: 'Well, that was a good idea that didn't fly. Maybe there's a way to bring that back and do it a little differently.’ That's the strength of this weird library; I've been doing this long enough. Filmonsters is a good example. There may be an opportunity where it's exactly what someone's looking and I'll go in there and dress it up and who knows, we may be in that business, ten years after we made those pilots and they didn't go anywhere. So you never know. It's still a valid idea."

A few years ago you had a deal with JR Bookwalter and Tempe Entertainment. What was that?
"There was no deal. It was just that we were involved with them. This is during the period when I was distancing myself. The idea at the time was: oh my God, you can save money with digital video and forget shooting on film. JR was a big proponent of that, and a few others at the time. The business was really shrinking at the time, meaning that if there were only ten dollars to be had, you'd better spend a few less if there's going to be any business at all. One way to accomplish that, it seemed at the time, was doing digital post-production.

“I really regret, although you learn from all of this, the three or four years when I made - or rather, caused to be made - 20 or 30 of these DV movies. Because for the most part they're all very inferior quality. I was not involved with... any one really. JR was line producer on them with a few other fellows. I eventually got the impression that people realise that, unless you're Robert Rodriguez and you've got 100 million dollars to play with when you can paint every frame, this digital deal - either it's extremely low budget, and these movies don't benefit from that dirty look, or it's something where you've got to spend far more than we've got to spend.

“So ironically a combination of events took place and then I stepped back and just wanted to do it the old-fashioned way. I wanted to be directly involved from soup to nuts, shooting everything on film, making the movies I made back in the eighties and early nineties. Unfortunately during those few fallow years and the years where I think a lot of people were misguided, one of the people I was involved with, who was out there as my front man, line-producing and finding young directors from the mid-west, was JR, and a few others. That's a body of work that I hope to eventually forget about."

What was the William Shatner project that you did?
"That was actually fun and it's a pity it didn't work well enough to continue on as a series. It's not complicated. I have a lot of good movies that have never gotten a lot of play. Shatner and I are friends and I said, why don't we do something where you're the late-night host? There's no show quite like it any more. I grew up when you would watch on a Saturday night and there was always Elvira or whoever. There was also some wacky host who hosted these movies. You would cut back during the commercial break and they would have something funny to say or a little vignette. That was my model for what was eventually aired as William Shatner's Full Moon Fright Night.

“We took 13 of my movies and we wrote not just introductory and closing pieces but a bunch of interstitial stuff. So if you watched Vampire Journals or Head of the Family or Oblivion, whichever movie you watched, in this case on the Sci-Fi Channel, Shatner was the host. It was actually very clever. We wrote some clever stuff and I shot all this material: Shatner poking fun at the movies, and I also brought a bunch of people in for interviews like Roger Corman and Stuart Gordon and Stan Lee and all sorts of people I've worked with who were all happy to talk about their experiences in the business. So each episode not only had Shatner as a book-end and as a fun commentator, but also most of the episodes had an interview with some luminary in the genre.

“It was fun and they all aired on Sci-Fi Channel a few years ago but they put it out in a very late slot and maybe the alchemy wasn't quite there - who knows? The ratings weren't quite what they wanted and what we had hoped would happen, which is another season, didn't happen. It was a one-time deal, but we do have 13 of these which we haven't re-released, which would be fun because Shatner's commentary and the interviews would make for an interesting new edition of some of these movies."

Although a lot of your films are now on DVD, they're not really Special Editions, are they? Are you planning to do Special Editions for any of these films?
"I'd like to but there's so much stuff going on right now. I'm putting a lot of energy into the birth of the new label and the new movies. I've shot five movies in twelve months and they're just beginning to come out. And I've got the action figure line that I'm excited about and that's going to all happen in late August. Once that's all up and running, the idea of bringing back some films and doing Special Editions; there are a lot of movies from the late eighties and early nineties which I sold the rights to that were never released in their original director's cut. They were all cut down for R ratings. It's a job to go back to the negative and do all this, it's not easy - but that's going to be worth doing because some of them I think people would enjoy looking at in a Special Edition format."

I know there are a lot of people who would like a Special Edition of Tourist Trap.
"That's easily done, too. Believe it or not, even though it seems like I made it a lifetime ago, I still have the original negative. On that one, if my memory is correct, I don't think there was a lot that we actually cut out because it was before video was really happening. The MPAA was more lenient, it was before the period when they got more difficult to deal with. So I don't remember Tourist Trap as being something we had to cut a whole lot out of - I'm sure there were little snippets cut out - but nonetheless, we could go back and see what's there. That was a long time ago."

Some of your more recent films had little Making Of featurettes.
"Yes, I made a lot of those and I also have hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of interviews with people: many of whom have moved on in different fields and become very successful; many of whom I have no idea what happened - they fell off the face of the Earth. But there's a lot of material that could be very interesting. There's certainly 30 to 40 people who have gone on to be very successful in their field and their expertise. To go back and get material on Demi Moore and Helen Hunt and all the people I dealt with, like Sam Raimi and Stan Winston. There's so much involved; it's a question of digging back and looking at it and trying to figure out a way to bring it out. Right now we're finding pieces and we're just putting them on as added value on DVDs, just for fun. But there's a lot of stuff there - I just have to one day figure out how to put it all together."

Is there anything you have always wanted to make and haven't been able to?
"Nope! Believe it or not. There are half a dozen scripts that I can't make on this low budget. They're scripts I'm really excited about and one day, if things get better and I can indulge myself and have a little more money... They're still genre films and they're still commercial but I can't make them for the current budgets and the current formula that hopefully will work for us. But there's not one particular thing. If I had that sort of drive and ambition, I would have been making major studio films years ago, I would have put myself in that market, but I don't have the patience to wait a year or two and make one movie. I can't do that. I prefer to make a lot of little movies and just enjoy that and see if these ideas work."

How many pictures will Wizard bring out each year?
"I think six is the number. I think that's enough for one guy to do! And I'm on that track. That doesn't mean that there might not be an exception. There are a few directors I've worked with like Ted Nicolau who I would happily work with again and trust to direct a film. But as much as I can, at least for the first year or two, I'm going to try and do it myself. For better for worse, I'll stay real close to this. Starting with the end of June, at least here in the US and probably shortly thereafter in the UK, every two months more or less there will be another Wizard release.”

Interview originally posted 21st January 2007

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

interview: Charles Band (Part 1)

This epic interview with Charles Band, the man behind Empire Pictures and Full Moon Films, was conducted over the course of two phone calls in June 2005, just as Charlie was launching a new film-making venture, Wizard Films (which shortly afterwards reverted to the Full Moon brand name, probably wisely). It was intended for publication in Psychotronic magazine but unfortunately, while I was editing this into a feature, Mike Weldon’s marvellous publication closed down. So here it is, in its entirety, for you all to enjoy. (This is by far the longest interview I have posted on this site. It runs to 9,500 words and was recorded on two separate days - hence the two parts.)

What is the difference between Empire, Full Moon and Wizard?
"The difference hopefully will be that Wizard will be exclusively carrying the films that I create and probably in most cases will direct. One hopes you learn from your mistakes. It's a very tough business and there are always things pulling at you - and sometimes not for the right reasons. So in the past I have sometimes been involved with partners who, with all the good intentions, pushed the mechanism that we had created - Empire and its releasing arm, and Full Moon to some degree too - to release other product. To get bigger and to broaden the original scope.

“You end up distancing yourself from what you dream of as a kid. In my case it was going out and making genre films, not being a bureaucrat and spending most of my time behind a desk trying to move the company forward. So if there's anything different with Wizard - and I hope I can maintain this - it's that Wizard is exclusively going to be for my movies. If I have the energy I may end up directing all of them. A few may go to some of the directors who have worked with me in the past and done terrific work, like Ted Nicolau and Stuart Gordon. But I just want Wizard to be totally true to the vision I have. It will do everything: conceive, produce and release genre films, including the action figures that will be tied to most of the releases. I hope that for the first time it is exclusively my shop and it doesn't get too confused with other genres and film-makers. That's not a quick answer but it's not an easy thing to answer quickly.

“Empire of course was in the eighties; we did theatrical distribution and so on. That started off as one thing and became another. The first few films were my films and the last year I think of the twelve films that were released only two were films I was directly involved in. And Full Moon in a way had the same problem. Originally the distribution arm was Paramount and we had to follow the beat of their drum. By the time we pulled away, the video business had changed and a lot of things were done to try to keep making some money and cover overheads. A number of movies were made that had little to do with me. They were made on digital video and a lot of new directors were given their first chance. Anyway, long story short, I hope that Wizard - third time at bat - will be true to the vision of the movies that I want to make and release, along with action figures and other related possible merchandise."

From the fans' point of view, your business model seems to be based to some extent on Roger Corman's. Is that true to any extent?
"I guess to some degree. I don't really think that way. I know I'm compared to Corman just because I've made almost 300 movies and he's made twice that."

He's been going longer than you!
"It's fair but there are a few differences. One, I'm dedicating my films exclusively to one genre and he did everything from - well, you know his repertoire. He didn't just make horror films and sci-fi movies. He was also a very successful distributor of many other films from other people, whether it was Fellini movies he acquired for US distribution or other art films during the New World days. Corman has been a distributor of many films, not just his own; he acquired many, many movies. I guess in a way, for a number of years, to some degree I did the same with Empire and with Full Moon. But at least the movies that I've made have all principally been in the horror/science fiction genre."

If there's a recurring theme in your work it's puppets and dolls. It's like you're just building yourself a huge toy-set.
"Some of this is budget-driven. I feel that less is always more. To attempt bigger things, bigger sci-fi/horror themes on these very low budgets is just impossible without making yourself look stupid. To some degree, I think I can do a good job with some of the recent movies and scenes that do involve these diminutive little characters and killer dolls and puppets. But some of the projects coming up are completely out of that realm so it won't be every one but there's no doubt that part of the absolute plan for Wizard is to create movies that, at their core, do have puppets, monsters, creatures, characters that are - if the word exists - 'toyetic'. That can be turned into action figures because I love that through-line and I think the fans dig it too.

“We're doing very limited editions. These aren't mass produced; we're averaging about 2,000 or 2,500 toys per character. Considering there's a worldwide audience out there, that's not a lot. So I like that, I like the scarcity, I like the fact that a lot of the early puppets that were released as Full Moon toys you can find on eBay for hundreds of dollars. These were toys that were originally sold at ten, fifteen dollars. So there's something about that that I like. There may be some other adventures when it comes to merchandising, things that can be tied into movies and either built into the film or discovered. But I do like that part of it.

“And of course the actual puppets and dolls - anything that's anywhere from eight to sixteen inches in the movie - really lend themselves well to action figures and models and replicas. So there's a little bit of all that in there, but you'll see there's some films coming out - one I'm about to start shooting - where the monsters are nice and big. Nothing small! No dolls in that one."

The first film you're credited with is Mansion of the Doomed, although you had done some earlier work in Italy with your father. How did you get Mansion of the Doomed together?
"You know, I've made enough mistakes. I just jumped into it. I wanted to make my first movie. I wanted it to be a horror film. At the time, unrelated to the film business, I had a successful little gift item business. I was real young, I was 21, and even though I'd grown up on a movie set and apprenticed with my dad and certainly knew a lot about the craft of film-making, I had no business training - which I really regretted later in life. I was thinking: boy, if I could just have spent a few years in a business school I would have avoided a lot of pitfalls. But I certainly had all the energy and passion to make my first movie. Between my own money, and I brought in a few investors, we jumped into Mansion of the Doomed.

“It was originally called The Eyes of Dr Chaney. That was the title I would have preferred to release it as - this was years before The Eyes of Laura Mars - and it would have been kind of a cool title. But I learned the first of many lessons: when the picture was done I gave it to a distributor, got a very small advance, never saw another penny - or a report, for that matter. And that's one of the great pitfalls of making small movies. Small distributors, even if they have good intentions, have nothing but problems. Usually they don't pay the producers.

“Eventually if a producer or director is looking at being prolific and having some longevity in this business, they will realise that the only way to protect themselves is to do their own distribution, not give their baby away to someone who will do everything including putting a bad title on it. That was his title. There was a distributor called Group 1 who wanted to call it Mansion of the Doomed which, even back then, sounded terrible. At least The Eyes of Dr Chaney was a little classier.

“I put it together and at the time interesting people were involved. The editor was John Carpenter who was a friend at the time - and no-one knows that. Andy Davis who became a big-time director was the director of photography. Stan Winston, who was a very close friend, did the effects. And I forget who else, there are probably a few I'm forgetting. It was Lance Henriksen's first movie. When I look back, it was an interesting group of people. I'm proud of the movie. It's actually a well-made small movie, it's classy, and it just suffers from the terrible title."

A few years before that was a film called Last Foxtrot in Burbank which has been obliterated from history. I'm guessing that's one you're not so proud of.
"That's obliterated for good reason! I was involved very peripherally. In some cases my name was attached or wasn't attached. So somewhere in the mix I did have some involvement in the movie and I'm glad if it's substantially erased because it was just something I helped someone out with and the next thing you know it somehow got stuck to me as a movie I made, which is not the case, nor did I direct it or anything. So the first real movie that I put my name on officially, that was my first genre film - I pulled in people who were friends - was: I want to say The Eyes of Dr Chaney but it really was released as Mansion of the Doomed."

You then went straight into making a whole series of films: Crash and Cinderella and End of the World - that whole production line thing. It wasn't a faltering start. Was the plan to make one movie and then immediately start making the next and so on.
"That's what I did. On those first seven or eight movies, unfortunately, I had no involvement with distribution and it was a miracle I survived that period because you don't even really get enough money to get the next movie going. It's just torture, and it's still extremely difficult if you control distribution, and I can look at all the differences over 30 years. I can't believe it's been 30 years. And of course there have been some years when the video business was amazing and it really fuelled thousands of movies, most of which probably shouldn't have been made, but nonetheless there were good years for people making small movies and bad years.

“But back then it was extremely difficult because there was no video, there was nothing. This was a theatrical world. You made a movie, it had to be on film, you had to cut a negative, you had to release it in theatres and try to make a few dollars. There were no ancillary markets. Home video didn't really exist, of course the internet didn't exist, there were really no television sales, maybe just a few local stations. That was in the days when these were truly B-movies; they would be the B-side of a double bill. They would get released theatrically and you just hoped a few dollars would be collected because they played at drive-ins and around the country. That was it, there was nothing else.

“The price of entry to the industry back then was steep. Because we weren't in a digital world, there was no real cheap way of anyone getting in. No matter how many friends would work for free, you had to rent the equipment, you had to buy the film, you had to cut the negative, you had to make prints which were expensive back then and are still very expensive today. So whereas today a kid with some talent (or lack of) can buy a digital video camera and a computer and for literally a few thousand dollars make a little movie. If that person has some training and is talented it can actually look and feel like a movie. Those tools did not exist thirty years ago."

You worked with two of the horror greats during this period: John Carradine in Crash and Christopher Lee in End of the World. That must have been a thrill.
"It was a thrill, absolutely, because I grew up watching all of their famous movies. It's funny: you wish you could go back with a little more maturity and enjoy the moment. I was certainly excited and aware of the people I was working with - but I was in my early twenties and I could have done things a little differently. But just the fact that I worked with them. I worked with a lot of wonderful people.

“I also worked with people who, at the time, were just young actors or actresses who went on to become very famous. I guess I could make that point 20 different times. But to have worked with Christopher Lee and John Carradine, you've actually cited the only two - well, Richard Basehart was also a thrill. I loved his work and he was another fantastic actor. But when it comes to the genre of horror movies, working with Carradine and Christopher Lee was really amazing."

Possibly Laserblast is the first recognisably 'Charles Band' style film, with the aliens and the cool title. Was that the way you wanted to go?
"I'm not the only one who does this, but a strong title, of course, has always been important and the idea of combining two words or really putting a lot of thought into the title before a picture is even written. Corman did it too so I can't claim that was my idea but I certainly focussed on that a lot. Most of the films that I made, that I conceived, that I was very involved with and in some cases directed, definitely started with the title and usually a piece of artwork that made sense. Then I would work back to the script and the story and make the movie. So that little formula has worked for me.

“There are so many films that get finished and people are still scratching their head as to how to market them, what to call them, looking for a title. They make the movie with a tentative title. That's not to say you can find that the inspiration doesn't come after the fact, but it's really hard when you're approaching a release date to be trying to still figure out how to market and sell your movie."

I think your most memorable title has to be Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn - because there's no metal storm in it and Jared-Syn doesn't get destroyed!
"Of course not! I've got others, if you think about it. Jeffrey Combs and I did a movie called Doctor Mordrid which I liked a lot because it was my little homage to Marvel Comics and Dr Strange and that whole deal. Some people asked me about this, because I did it almost as a joke; the subtitle was Dr Mordrid: Master of the Unknown. Well, if you really think that through it's... well, what is he the master of? It's almost crazier than the Metalstorm one."

From that period, one of your best films is undoubtedly Tourist Trap. It's an old idea, the House of Wax thing, but it's a really scary film.
"I have made very few scary movies, I'll admit to that, and that's probably one of the three or four. The rest of them have a different effect. They're certainly not scary. It was an idea that I wrote - sometimes I write a short story or a paragraph - and yes, it was inspired by other films I had seen as a kid. What's interesting about Tourist Trap, beside whatever somebody would want to know about making it: first of all, the idea was to try and make a film that was really creepy and scary and we had a pretty good idea. Early on in the process, Chuck Connors was mentioned as someone who may be available who really liked the script, so it came together really quickly.

“The funny part of the story is, at that time I was still unable to control my own distribution. I was working with a small company named Compass Films and I was really friendly with John Carpenter, we had been in touch for years. John and I were talking once and he said, 'You know, I'm actually going to make a movie that's going to be distributed by Compass and I know you're doing stuff for them.' Had we both known a little more at the time I'm sure we would have done better. But nonetheless, we were comparing notes and then it turned out we were going to be shooting around the same time and we said, oh, we should come visit each other's set. Then it turned out that we were going to be shooting one block from each other in a little shady street in Hollywood. His movie was called, at the time, The Babysitter Murders.

“And John and I were talking and I said, 'Look, I'm shooting the same week you're shooting on the same damn street. I think we're going to be a block from each other.' And I remember kidding him because I said that my movie was a bigger budget movie. I think his was around $300,000 and mine was $380,000. And I kept rubbing it in that my movie had a star, which was Chuck Connors, and his movie had essentially unknowns. So in fact during that week he walked over to my set and said hi, and we were fooling around, and another day I walked over to his set. Of course, although people remember Tourist Trap and like it and think it's a cool movie, it sort of faded away - and his movie became Halloween. That's my biggest memory of Tourist Trap: John making Halloween right down the street."

Trancers is another one of your iconic films. The difference between Tourist Trap and Halloween is that they haven't just made Tourist Trap Part VIII. But the Trancers series now runs to six films.
"Which is probably three too many because a lot of what was good about Trancers we couldn't recapture and I became less involved. But I always wanted to do a time travel movie and I came up with this idea. At the time there was a fellow working for me as an assistant or a cameraman, a guy named Danny Bilson, and he brought in a friend. Like everyone else in this town, or all over the world, everyone's got a script. So he said: hey, read my script, read my script. It was a very well-written script and I said, let's give these guys a shot at writing this Trancers idea. They wrote a fantastic script and we were shortly making the movie.

“Helen Hunt was certainly not a star at the time although she had worked since she was a little kid. Her father was a friend of my dad, so I'm not sure exactly how Helen came to us but after we had cast Tim, we cast Helen and it all happened very quickly. I directed it; it was one of the few movies during that period that I actually did have from soup to nuts, which is exactly what I'm doing now. Even at the time, I thought - it was low budget, shot over very few days - 'This is a cool movie.' It's one of the pictures that I'm definitely the proudest of.

“I directed the sequel - the other sequels, other people directed them - and it became a little bit more of a soap opera but it was still fun and Helen came back and we had a few other people. The third one, another fellow directed and it wasn't so bad. Helen, even though she was involved in Mad About You and becoming very popular and wealthy and a supercool chick, she came back and spent a few days making Trancers III. Then everything after that was farmed out. We shot two in Romania. None of the original creative people, including myself, were much involved and the series petered out. But definitely I'm happy with the first two."

With these long-running series, is there a law of diminishing returns or does it get to a point where you have a set audience who you know will buy a Trancers or Puppet Master film whatever it's like?
"Well, it is diminishing returns. Puppet Master is in a class of its own because it has such a following and even the sequels are popular. A lot of people said: if you were just into trying to be more successful and make more money, what you should have done is just stay in the Puppet Master business. Make one every year, develop more merchandise, do a video game, basically build that franchise up. But I never did that, I made the ones I made and maybe that's enough. Even the last one which was more of a rehash and primarily used existing footage because a lot of the fans were asking: 'How do all seven or eight of these make any sense?' So we stitched together something that explained that as best we could and shot a little new footage.

“Anyway Puppet Master was something of a phenomenon as a direct-to-video success. The first one was made in 1990. The other ones were definitely diminishing returns. The other series that really has its fans, and I chose not to make any more just because of my loyalty to Ted Nicolau who is a friend and a wonderful director - I would hate to cheapen in any way the quality of the Subspecies series. There are a lot of fans and yes, I could make the next Subspecies here cheap in LA but it really doesn't deserve that. There may be a time when exchange rates are better, because they're really depressed right now, when we can go out and make another Subspecies movie and do it properly. There are a lot of fans out there and that may take a year or two but when that happens I'll be looking forward to that.

“Generally speaking, by the time you're on your second or third you're on diminishing returns and it's really not worth going on. It's fun when you have something that really works. Part of my idea, that I've never really been able to do, just because of the changing climate and companies that are here and then suddenly I'm with another company, but my idea with Full Moon - and we almost got there - was to create franchises with creatures and characters and dolls where we could eventually start teaming them up, much like comics do. That's why I did Dollman vs Demonic Toys which was fun, for what it was. It was a fun blend of two genres. That was a picture shot in six days. You always tell people: keep in mind the meagre means we had to make this. But it still had a certain magic and fun to it.

“There were others I wanted to do and had plans to do but were never able to do. So hopefully with Wizard, whether it's the new characters we're creating or bringing back a few of the ones that have withstood the test of time, we can start doing some of that. It's fun when you mix two genres and you battle characters and creatures against each other."

I always thought it was a shame that Dollman only did those two movies, or three if you include the epilogue to Bad Channels. It was a nice character.
"He is the absolute top of my list, I'll let you know, to bring back in a Wizard movie. Of course I'll have to cast a new actor. But he's a great little character, he works well, at least in the dimension of the toys and the puppets I'm creating. I like the whole spin on that. So that's definitely something I'd like to do. That's a little more pricey, the effects involved are a little out of our budget range now. So much of this unfortunately is driven by finance and what can we or can we not afford. If it was just about 'let's see what crazy stuff we can do', that would be like heaven. But it's always about 'what can we do, and now what can we afford'."

As well as dolls and tiny people, the other recurring theme in your work is disembodied flying heads: Shrunken Heads and Dollman and so on.
"I'd like to do more of those actually. Shrunken Heads was unfortunately a movie that didn't quite know its target audience. It's skewed kind of young. My original script was very nasty and cutting edge. I was involved with Paramount at the time. It plays well, it's got some wonderful moments, but if I could go back I would have made it a very hard R-rated movie and created three characters that would have continued on because it's a pretty unique idea - and still is. So who knows, maybe I'll bring them back. It's just another way to have some fun in the pretty bizarre world we live in.

“I have tried always to stay well in the fantasy realm because I've found that kids growing up, they know that these movies - with a few exceptions like Tourist Trap or Castle Freak - while they're not silly enough to be stupid, in some cases they're pretty well made for small movies, but gross as they may be, it's all in the realm of fantasy. There's no slasher, there's nothing hopefully that reminds people too much of what horrible things are going on in the world today that you can catch on the news every night."

I have to ask you about Troll because I have already interviewed director John Buechler and writer Ed Naha. Where did Troll come from?
"I had, and still have, a wonderful relationship with John Buechler and things were going great at Empire. I forget who actually came up with the name of the movie. It doesn't much matter. I wanted to do that kind of a film. John and I were on the set of another film - Ghoulies possibly - and we were talking about it. This is years ago but I certainly do remember the production side because once John and I worked a deal out and he came in with a treatment and then Ed Naha wrote the script, and I gave them some ideas of things I wanted to do and together we created this fantasy world.

“Then it came time to make it. Of course John was busy creating all sorts of weird little puppets and creatures and we really wound up with a completely bizarre and eclectic cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Sonny Bono - poor guy has passed away - it was a strange cast. At the time the young kid who was the lead was very hot because he was in The Neverending Story which was a big, big success. It had June Lockhart in it and Phil Fondacaro, who I literally just finished a film with; Phil and I, I don't know how many movies we've done together but I'm sure it's over a dozen. We're making this movie in Italy and I also remember very fondly that my dad was involved in producing the film. He passed away a few years ago; we were very close and he was a great guy.

“It was just wonderful. I look back and it was a moment in time when I had a studio in Italy, we were making big movies. I just wish things had continued because everything changed, business changed, money changed, the dollar got weak against the lira, everything blew in the wrong direction. For a few wonderful years we shot these Empire movies that looked very American but were all shot outside Rome in Italy. I remember them very fondly, whether it was crazy Klaus Kinski in Crawlspace or one of the Trancers shows or Troll or Eliminators, which we shot in Spain. Seven or eight movies that are all part of that and probably Troll is the one that I'm most attached to. It did pretty well and people liked it and now years later people are reminding me of the name of the main character."

It's bizarre, isn't it? You have a young boy named Harry Potter who discovers that he has magical powers and uses them to fight a troll.
"I've heard that JK Rowling has acknowledged that maybe she saw this low-budget movie and perhaps it inspired her. Who knows what the story is? Life's too short for a fight as far as I'm concerned but, having said that, there are certain scenes in that movie, not to mention the name of the main character, and this of course predates the Harry Potter books by many, many years. So there's that strange connection."

The Dungeonmaster was a try-out of several different directors.
"It was a fun idea. I've always done things a little differently and we had a number of directors at the time who all wanted to direct features. We were getting pretty prolific and it was exactly that. I think there were seven directors, if I'm not mistaken. There were more that we were actually looking at but seven wound up directing seven little chapters in this Dungeonmaster film. I would have to think real hard to remember who directed what, but that's what happens. We made a strange little film.

“It's actually a fun film to watch. Part of what low-budget films suffer from is you usually are relegated to one location because that's all you can afford. Unless you are really adept at story-telling and casting, you need to make these movies much more character-driven. Dungeonmaster's one of those films which diverts you with seven or eight different environments. If nothing else, it certainly looks colourful! It made a great trailer, that's for sure."

Do you still have the rights to all these movies?
"Some yes and some no. I have the rights to my movies from the seventies and the nineties. The eighties is a little spartan and I wish I did because there's certainly a dozen of them that I'd love to bring the themes back. In some cases I guess I could because I have the underlying rights but, for example, in the case of Troll I have literary rights and I have sequel rights but I don't have the rights to the movie. If the movie gets released - by MGM here and I'm not sure who's bringing it out in the UK, depends on who we sold it to at the time - but each movie's different. The collection is all different and I would have to look at a specific film. Trancers is an example, even though it was made then and you would think it would fit into that, I retain those rights for some weird reason. So it's different every time, but unfortunately some of them are no longer mine to do anything with."

We'll wrap it there and do part two of this interview soon. Hopefully we can come up with the pretty definitive Charles Band career article.
"I feel I'm about halfway through it so we'll see what the next thirty years brings. But certainly, for the moment at least, I feel I'm on the right track with Wizard. Four movies in the can. I conceived them, I directed them. There are action figures coming out. It really feels at last that it sort of makes sense. Maybe in a year from now that will change but for the moment it feels good."

What are the new movies? There's The Gingerdead Man...
"There's Decadent Evil. There's a picture called Doll Graveyard I just finished making. I'm really proud of that one, it looks terrific. Then there's one that I've got most of it shot - I've got to go back for about a week of photography. It doesn't involve puppets but there are four great creature/monsters. It's called Dead Man's Hand and it's about a haunted casino.”

interview originally posted 21st January 2007
Continue to part 2

The Season of the Witch

Director: Peter Goddard
Writer: Peter Goddard
Producer: Daniel Coffey
Cast: Beth Kingston, Tim McConnell, Nicki Salmond
Country: UK
Year of release: 2012
Reviewed from: screener
Website:
www.seasonofthewitchfilm.co.uk

There are many films much better than The Season of the Witch but, to be fair, there are also some that are worse. Technically, this is quite poor with an awful video look that has had no colour correction, with light and tone changing from shot to shot. The sound recording is generally good but the sound mix needs a fix as there is not only far too much music but on occasions it drowns out the dialogue.

Some of the acting is actually pretty good, especially Hollyoaks’ Beth Kingston as Alice, a teenage girl visiting the village where her late grandfather lived, who precipitates the action. And, without mentioning any names, some of the acting is staggeringly awful. It doesn’t help that some characters have been looped by different actors. For example, Dominic Ellis plays Alice’s younger brother Sam but the voice is Rohan Gotobed (young Sirius Black in Deathly Hallows Part 2!). Nicki Salmond plays their mother Mary with a voice which may or may not be Salmond’s but which signally fails to match her lip movements.

Which is the sort of stuff I would normally write at the end of a review but I feel compelled to write this one backwards, to some extent, because I get the impression that is how the story was created. It all ends with a clearly Wicker Man-inspired human sacrifice which is actually well-edited and photographed and pretty effective. But what leads up to this is a bit confusing, and before any of that there’s enormous amounts of padding.

The setting is the village of Maiden’s Hollow which, according to the sign, is ‘twinned with Grockleton”. I don’t know if that means writer-director Peter Goddard has seen, or was involved with, Peter Stanley-Ward’s Grockleton-set Small Town Folk or whether he is just using the same generic term for the county town of Mummerset. Despite being a one-shop, one-pub place with an apparent population of about 100, Maiden’s Hollow is referred to several times in the dialogue as a town and there is even mention of the ‘town centre’. Which basically means the shop and the pub.

Mary and her children turn up the day after grandad’s funeral (shown in a prologue) to spend a couple of days clearing out his house. The postman Harry and his wife Susana (Barry Robbins and Claire Randall) seem unfriendly but the couple who run the village shop, John and Kate (producer/1st AD Daniel Coffey and Hannah Cheetham), are more approachable. Friendliest of all is the Rev. Michael Howdy (Tim McConnell) who moved to the village a few years ago after his wife was killed in a car crash.

Long story short, Alice is apparently a dead ringer for Howdy’s ex-wife (despite being about 15!) so he goes mad and kills her, whereupon the villagers grab their flaming torches and kindling and set about dealing with the murder via a local burning for local people. Despite the title, there is no suggestion that Rev. Howdy - or anyone else - is a witch, nor is any reference or allusion ever made to witches or witchcraft.

One reason this doesn’t fail completely is because of lots of odd things, some of which are presumably meant to be arty, some of which may have a significance that is never explored, and some of which may just be non sequiturs. When first we see Kate, for example, she is reading a newspaper which is very, very obviously about 20 years old. There are a number of dead animals - a fish, a butterfly and a rabbit - photographed at length in extreme close-up. Who knows what they signify (apart from death, presumably). Alice asks Rev. Howdy about a grave in the churchyard which is marked only with a plain cross, lacking even a name. He tells her he too has often wondered about that - as shall the viewer, the subject never being brought up again. Oh, and the murder weapon is a fossilised ammonite(?).

But the main reason why The Season of the Witch kept my attention and justified a review is that there is an interesting (albeit I suspect, unintentional) communal character development. In that initially Maiden’s Hollow seems like one of those isolated, backwards villages like Mortlake in Inbred, full of creepy folk who don’t take kindly to the few visitors they ever see. You ain’t from round here, boy - sort of thing. The only exception to this, providing a warm welcome, is Rev. Howdy.

But, after about an hour of frankly tedious, dull exchanges between characters discussing the most prosaic stuff, things pick up when Howdy goes loco. Harry, John and landlord Tom (Andrew Ledger) lead the efforts to find Howdy and console the distraught Mary, with John’s big-brotherly efforts to get information from the taciturn Sam paying off nicely from their first meeting in the shop when he showed some real friendliness towards the lad.

And then, as the third act makes up for the lack of interest in the first two, the what’s-normal-anyway pendulum swings back again and the villager’s summary execution of the killer reveals that they are indeed a bunch of inbred, backwards loons with their own medieval attitudes.

So while there’s lots wrong with The Season of the Witch, there’s enough right with it to keep me interested for 98 minutes and British horror completists will find the movie worth their while. Most of the cast and crew are Goddard’s stock company who have worked on various shorts and also on his second completed feature Any Minute Now. Among the few with any other credits are Kevin Hallett (The Scar Crow, Kill Keith) and Steve McCarten (The Harsh Light of Day, Stalled) as an unnamed rentavillager in the climactic angry mob.

Five ‘cinematographers’ are credited which explains the variable (but generally substandard) picture quality. I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again: asking someone to hold the camera doesn’t make them a cinematographer. Rev. Howdy has a couple of short dream sequences parts of which were clearly shot on super-8 but other parts of which were equally clearly shot on video then made (somewhat ineffectually) to look like super-8.

The Season of the Witch was shot in 2008 for about a thousand quid and was set to premiere at the Bourne to Die Festival in January 2009, which was cancelled. After a cast and crew screening in Goddard’s home town of Fordingbridge, the movie eventually premiered at the Brit Flick Film Festival in Portsmouth in August 2012.

MJS rating: C+

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Bulldog Drummond Escapes

Director: James Hogan
Writer: Edward T Lowe
Producer: Edward T Lowe
Cast: Ray Milland, Heather Angel, Guy Standing
Country: USA
Year of release: 1937
Reviewed from: UK DVD (Classic Entertainment)

One of the interesting aspects of Bulldog Drummond movies is that, for the most part, they have entirely interchangeable, generic titles. They’re all called things like Bulldog Drummond at Bay or Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, so remembering which is which can be a bit of a headache.

This triple bill disc contains three films: BD’s Bride, BD Comes Back and this one. And the ironic thing is that, although Bulldog Drummond Escapes starts with the title character coming back from somewhere and finishes with him proposing to his future wife, at no time does he escape from anyone or anything. He is handcuffed at one point but he is released through the timely intervention of his drily salubrious butler, Tenny - so that’s Bulldog Drummond Gets Released, isn’t it? And when he is held prisoner towards the end, again it is outside intervention which precipitates his freedom, not any sort of escape. One gets the impression that these films were made without titles and one was then picked out of a hat when it came time to do the credits.

Drummond first appeared on screen in 1922, portrayed by Carlyle Blackwell, and the role was subsequently taken by Jack Buchanan, Ronald Colman (twice), Kenneth McKenna, Ralph Richardson, Atholl Fleming and John Lodge. Ray Milland (Dial M for Murder, X - The Man with the X-Ray Eyes) was the last actor to play Drummond before John Howard made the role his own in a series of seven pictures from 1937 to 1939. This is very much a dry run for that series with several soon-to-be-regulars on both sides of the camera, notably the glorious EE Clive as Tenny and Reginald Denny as Drummond’s silly-ass sidekick Algy.

Clive had a small role as a policeman in 1934’s BD Strikes Back (with Ronald Colman as Drummond) and was also in The Invisible Man, Dracula’s Daughter and two Rathbone Holmes pictures - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles - but he is best remembered today as the Burgomaster in Bride of Frankenstein. Denny played opposite two Holmeses - John Barrymore in the 1922 film Sherlock Holmes and Basil Rathbone in The Voice of Terror twenty years later - and opposite Karloff in John Ford’s superb desert war movie The Lost Patrol in 1934. He was also in Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Around the World in 80 Days and the 1960s Batman movie. However, his greatest contribution to history was away from Hollywood: he founded a model aeroplane company which designed and built some of the first successful radio-controlled military drones, used by the USAAF for target practise throughout World War 2.

Heather Angel (who was in the 1932 Hound of the Baskervilles and was the voice of Mrs Darling in Disney’s Peter Pan) as Drummond’s girl Phyllis was replaced by Louise Campbell for a couple of other 1937 productions (BD’s Revenge and BD Comes Back) but then returned for the remaining Howard pictures. However, this was the only film to feature Sir Guy Standing as Scotland Yard’s long-suffering Colonel Nielson (here called ‘Inspector’), a role taken by no less an actor than John Barrymore for the next couple of films and then by HB Warner for the rest of the late 1930s Drummond pictures. Standing might well have continued in the role but he died in February 1937 after being bitten by a rattlesnake. Director Hogan was responsible for four of the seven Howard Drummonds and writer Lowe scripted another two.

The action starts with Drummond returning by plane from a sojourn on the continent, expertly landing in a thick London fog at night, much to the consternation of the rudimentary 1930s equivalent of air traffic control. A bunch of reporters want to get soundbites from him, but he is just concerned about getting back home to Rockingham Lodge. On the way, he nearly knocks down a distraught young lady who faints as he screeches to a halt, Putting her into his car, he sets off to investigate gunshots and finds a dead body on the edge of a marsh. Returning to the road, he sees that the young lady was just faking and she is now driving off with his wheels. He goes back again to the marsh just in time to see the body slide beneath the surface.

The young lady is Phyllis Clavering, who is staying at Greystone Manor, which is next door to Rockingham Lodge (but about three miles away!). Caring for her are pointy-bearded Norman Merridew (Porter Hall, who played a different role in BD’s Peril the following year), his sister Natalie (Fay Holden, the mother in the Andy Hardy films) and bogus psychiatrist Professor Stanton (Walter Kingsford: The Invisible Ray, The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe and Dr Carew in the 1930s/40s Dr Kildare movies). Of course she is being held against her will, but how can Drummond prove this, especially with Inspector Nielson down for the weekend to play golf with his old friend Merridew?

With the exception of the opening sequence at the airport, the film is very obviously adapted from a stage play - Bulldog Drummond Again “by HC (Sapper) McNeile and Gerard Fairlie” - and you can easily imagine the scene titles: ‘The drawing room of Greystone Manor, later that same night.’ Most of the events happen in a few rooms in the two stately homes, or just outside the rooms, visible through the French windows. There are mistaken identities, coshes to the head, surreptitiously passed notes and a bunch of other elements which seem iconic of 1930s theatre. Frankly it is never really explained (a) why Phyllis is being held captive or (b) why she doesn’t just escape with Drummond at the start when she flags down his car.

It all finishes with the discovery of a counterfeiting operation producing fake ‘series D war bonds’, a form of investment which is given the most extraordinarily unsubtle plug earlier in the film. In amongst all this is a subplot about Algy’s (unseen) wife Gwen giving birth to his first child, so that his priority is always to try and phone the hospital. Denny plays Algy as a bumbling but good-hearted chap, the sort frequently spoofed by Harry Enfield; he’s a cross between Time Nice-But-Dim and Mr Cholmondley-Warner’s friend Grayson.

In many ways, Bulldog Drummond Escapes is an archetypal Bulldog Drummond film. It’s not quite tongue-in-cheek, certainly not a spoof or pastiche, but there is a delightfully light touch to the dialogue, especially that involving Tenny. When the butler recovers his master’s car and finds Phylllis’ handbag in the footwell we get the following gem: “Does it portend, Tenny?” “It portends, sir.” Marvellous! Milland seems to be having a ball, playing a grinning young Drummond who can’t believe how exciting his life is, while Standing is terrific as the senior policemen who doesn’t want Drummond’s exciting life interfering with his work.

With the exception of Porter Hall, the entire principal cast is British - and so are most of the supporting players. Patrick J Kelly (the 1939 Tower of London) provides heavy support as the Merridews’ looming butler Stiles and others in the cast include Charles McNaughton (who had an uncredited role in 1934’s BD Strikes Back) and Clyde Cook (who was a clown in Lon Chaney’s He Who Gets Slapped and had bit parts in five later Bulldog Drummond films) as policemen; Doris Lloyd, who was in 1933 versions of Oliver Twist and A Study in Scarlet, and also had bit parts in The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the 1941 Jekyll and Hyde, The Invisible Man’s Revenge, Son of Dr Jekyll, The Time Machine, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music(!), as a nurse; and David Clyde, who played policemen in BD’s Peril, Arrest BD, BD’s Secret Police, The Scarlet Claw, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, The Lodger and several other films.

Uncredited actors include Robert Adair, who was the other hunter alongside John Carradine in Bride of Frankenstein, J Gunner Davis (also in BD Strikes Back), Zeffie Tilbury (Werewolf of London and three other Bulldog Drummonds), Colin Tapley (Blood of the Vampire, Shadow of Fear), Pat Somerset (Zita Johann’s dancing partner in The Mummy), John Power (rentacopper roles in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dracula’s Daughter etc) and Barry Macollum (Revenge of the Zombies).

Director James Hogan started out in the late 1910s and followed this film with BD’s Peril, BD's Secret Police and BD's Bride and Arrest BD. In the 1940s he made six Ellery Queen thrillers, the bizarre propaganda vehicle The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler and one of Universal’s lesser known horror pictures, The Mad Ghoul. Edward T Lowe’s other writing credits include not only BD’s Revenge and BD Comes Back but also House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, Tarzan’s Desert Mystery, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, three Charlie Chan films, The Vampire Bat and the 1923 Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Hans Dreier (Island of Lost Souls, the 1931 Jekyll and Hyde, The Monster and the Girl, Dr Cyclops and numerous Bob Hope pictures) and Earl Hendrick (two other Drummonds) are credited with art direction and AR Freudeman (the 1939 Cat and the Canary) with ‘interior decoration’. Sound recording was by Gene Merritt and John Cope, the editor was William Shea and the musical director was Boris Morros (Stagecoach) who spent his time away from the studio spying for the Soviet Union! The uncredited cinematographer was Victor Milner whose work is adequate throughout but becomes strangely effective towards the end, bordering on expressionism in some of the candlelit corridors.

MJS rating: B+
Review originally posted 18th March 2006