1. Tell us a little about your background, where are you from and when did you decide that you wanted to become a filmmaker?
I grew up in New Jersey– That’s right, a Jersey boy. One day I when I was five year’s old, my mom accidentally put on DRACULA with Bela Lugosi. Even at that age, it did something to me. I knew it was “forbidden fruit”, so to speak. Pandora’s box. Well, I opened that box… Next week I found my first copy of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine at the local grocery store (issue #82 to be exact!), starting watching DARK SHADOWS, painting Aurora monster models- and then I knew I wanted to make monster movies!
2. Tell us about “2001 Maniacs” starring Robert Englund, Lin Shaye and other fine actors.
It’s what I like to call SPLATSTICK. Imagine if Monty Python made a horror movie! Instead of pies in your face, we got severed heads. And I had three goals with this film- To make you laugh, turn you on, and gross you out!
3. What inspired you to write 2001 Maniacs?
Money. Just kidding– Cause Lord knows I made zilch on this! Actually… I had just finished producing DETROIT ROCK CITY – This guy named Chris Kobin walks into my office and tells me he has the rights to remakes the films of HG Lewis. They had been remaking the films of William Castle on a high end, high budget studio level at the time, so I thought it would be cool to do a down and dirty version, independent of TWO THOUSAND MANIACS. Go all out. Balls to the wall. I had been so tired of what I call “Cock tease” horror movies. You know, the ones like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, URBAN LEGEND, VALENTINE… The ones instead of having a monster on the poster have the pouty cast of whatever WB or FOX show was on hiatus that week? I mean– you gonna make a splatter flick- show some blood and guts and T & A! So, basically, I set out to make 2001 MANIACS because I hadn’t seen that kind of film since the 80’s.
4. Tell us about your upcoming film “Driftwood” starring Ricky Ullman.
It’s the total opposite of MANIACS. A complete 180. It’s a character driven, supernatural thriller in which Ricky plays a kid obsessed with death since the loss of his older brother. His parents can’t relate to him, so they decide to toss him into one of those Attitude Adjustment Camps that have been popping up since Columbine. Once he gets in there, he’s tormented by the Warden (Diamond Dallas Page) and the Warden’s sadistic sidekick (Talan Torriero form LAGUNA BEACH) and then, he begins to be haunted by the ghost of a boy who may or may not have been murdered there. I’m really proud of it- Really happy to be able to show these actors in a way that their fans are not used to. All three of them kicked ass. Mike Richardson produced this for Dark Horse Indie, the new film division of the comic book company that published HELL BOY, THE MASK and SIN CITY. We just screened it for him the other day, and he was so pleased, he’s going to take it out theatrically in the Fall. I guess you can say if MANIACS represents my guts, DRIFTWOOD represents my soul.
5. What do you think makes a scary movie scary?
It depends. Sometimes it can be purely psychological, what you don’t see but can only imagine. The mind can conjure up more frightening scenarios than what any filmmaker can show you. Other times, it can be a real, in your face, visceral horror that kicks you right in the stomach. An old black and white Val Lewton classic like CAT PEOPLE can creep me out just as much as the over the top mayhem of the HILLS HAVE EYES remake. But for me– the scariest horror movies will always be the ones that deal with Satanism and the Devil. For there truly is nothing scarier than pure evil, and sadly, pure evil does exist.
6. From your experience, what is the most important thing for a director to bring to the set?
PASSION! If you don’t have it, don’t expect your cast and crew to have it. Passion and enthusiasm are infectious, and every film I’ve worked on has proven to me that the combination of the two are the most important tools of a director– combined with COMMUNICATION.
7. Do you consider yourself an actor’s director, or do you tend towards the technical side?
I am not a techie. I deeply appreciate but never could warm to the cold aspects of technology. I am a much more organic director who likes to shoot what is literally there on the set. I love what Rodriguez does, but I could never shoot a bunch of actors against a green screen with nothing else. I need a real set- real props, and real actors! And yes, working with the actors is my favorite part of filmmaking. These are the people who bring your characters to life. It’s like they’re your children, and you become very protective. You fall in love with each and every single one of them. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between the actor and the character, especially when the actors are kicking as much ass as they did in MANIACS. It’s really true. My drama teacher used to say, “There are no small parts. Just small actors.” Every character in 2001 MANIACS from Buckman to the Blacksmith was equally important and equally perfect. The cast ranged from newcomers like Jay Gillespie and Marla Malcolm (who played the lead “Guests of Honor”) to old pros like Matt Carey and Mushond Lee, who though young, have had a lot of screen experience. I think the “newbies” brought a freshness and energy that really pumped everybody else up. This was a tough shot. Only 22 days. Actors had to deal with a lot of uncomfortable make-up and death scenes. Every one of the eight lead Guests of Honor had to have full head casts. A lot of nakedness in ice cold weather. But everybody was game and made what could have been very grueling a helluva lot of fun.
8. Any future projects in the works? Can you give us the scoop?
Here’s the scoop on Snoop— Since MANIACS, in addition to DRIFTWOOD, I co-wrote and co-produced an urban horror anthology called SNOOP DOGG’S HOOD OF HORRORS which should be coming out late summer. It’s tons of fun, and Snoop was great to work with. As far as the future– let’s just say the South will rise again… Again.
9. What is the biggest problem with Hollywood today?
Where do I begin? The lack of imagination. A tendency to just go with the familiar and the tried and true rather than to take risks. Movies are no longer told in the classic sense of storytelling. They are modeled after video games where you have these different levels – Each level has a goal, you complete it and move on to the next level. You never breath and let the story unfold naturalistically, let the characters develop. It’s just one mind numbing CGI effect thrown in your face after the other. Where the foreplay? Where’s the buildup? Where’s the pay-off?
10. Do you have any advice to aspiring filmmakers?
Learn your technical skills, but don’t neglect classic storytelling skills. Read Chris Vogler’s book, THE WRITER’S JOURNEY in which he takes Joseph Campbell’s famous essay on mythology and uses it to break a screenplay down into twelve beats, twelve steps. Study what’s come before. Watch old movies– and I don’t mean movies from the 80’s, I’m talking all the way to the silents. See how they used to do it without sound– If you can get an emotion across with no dialogue, your own to something. Get yourself a camera and start making them! never take no for an answer! Don’t give up!
11. When all is said and done, what 3 things would you like for people to remember about you?
That I was passionate about everything I did, had a good heart and I told good stories.
12. Here’s where we give you a word or phrase and you give us the first thoughts that pop into your mind.
Hollywood: Unavoidable cesspool.
Toxic Shock TV: The real deal.
Biggest Influences: Famous Monsters. Forry Ackerman. EC Comics. Ray Bradbury. KISS. Gene Simmons. Fangoria. The films of the 70’s. Ray Manzarek. The Doors.
Biggest Regrets: Not “Coming Out” till I was 27.
Biggest Prick: George W. Bush
The funniest thing that has ever happened to you on a set: When I was in my twenties, I was a PA on SCROOGED, and I absentmindedly walked into the middle of a scene and ruined it. Bill Murray yelled CUT, looked at Richard Donner and said deadpan, “Who’s relative is that? Fire him!”
Your biggest “break-thru” moment: Convincing Gene Simmons to let me interview him for FANGORIA in 1984 when I was 19.
You can only watch three movies for the rest of your life, which three: BEN HUR. THE EXORCIST. STAND BY ME.
You can only listen to three ALBUMS for the rest of your life, which three: THE DOORS (THE DOORS), DESTROYER (KISS), FOREVER BLUE (CHRIS ISAAK)