Brett Piper with Alison Whitney, Anju McIntyre
Your film Muckman
- in a few words, what is it about?
It's about a washed up TV personality named Mickey
O'Hara (there's a joke there that no one who's seen the movie seems to
get) who tries to resurrect his career by heading off to the back woods of
Pennsylvania to do a documentary on the Muckman.
In a way, your film
is an hommage to 1950's drive-in science fiction movies. Is that a genre
dear to you, and your genre favourites?
I love old monster and horror movies. The old
Harryhausen movies, The Black Scorpion, the early Hammer films and other
Brit gems like The Crawling Eye (Trollenberg Terror).
Fiend Without a Face
is a special favorite. There's a special quality to those films that has
disappeared from genre movies. I think Planet of the Apes was the turning
point. Up until then monster movies were being cranked out in a week by guys
like Roger Corman [Roger Corman bio
- click here], but Apes showed that a major studio could make a
prestige sci-fi film with a big name star and earn a ton of money. Now all the
big studios are churning out science fiction and horror and comic book heroics,
and we've lost the simplicity and charm of the old creature features. So I have
mounted a personal campaign to revive what the French call le cinema Z.
also works as a spoof of current crappy In Search of...-style
reality shows. Your thoughts about those?
Funny, there's one of those In Search of Bigfoot-type things on the tube even as I write this. These shows are interesting
enough in their own way but they're basically a dead end --- you know
they're not going to produce Sasquatch or Nessie or any of those guys. So
I guess I'd classify them as moderately interesting time-wasters.
TV-shows: In my opinion, Anju McIntyre/A.J. Khan almost steals the picture
with her performance as bitchy TV host. What can you tell us about her,
and what was your collaboration like?
She'll be happy to know she made such an impression.
The first time I met A.J. was on Screaming Dead. I needed someone to
model for some “art” photos to hang on a gallery wall and the EI guys
suggested her since she was one of their regulars. She showed up at the
studio and the first thing I asked her to do was strip naked and stick her
head in a toilet. She seemed a little surprised but complied. (For the
record the toilet was spotless --- I scrubbed it myself --- and probably
never used. I found it in a warehouse.) After that she put on a nun's
habit and was smeared with artificial shit made of oatmeal and peanut
butter. Quite an introduction. She ended up playing the model in the
opening scene as well and later starred in an episode of Shock-O-Rama. She's
a good actress and a beautiful woman and I like her a lot personally,
which makes it odd that I didn't use her more in my EI-movies, but I think
the truth is she has a rather glamourous persona that doesn't quite mesh
with a lot of my work. I have never, ever seen Anju in casual
clothes (compared to, say, Julian Wells, who comes across like a real femme
fatale on screen but will show up for rehearsal in jeans and sneakers
- and still look great).
A few words about
the rest of your cast and crew?
I brought in Anju and Alison (and later Buzz Cartier)
and the rest of the cast were Polonia regulars. We pretty much wrote all
the parts with specific people in mind. Everyone you see was the person we
planned to use right from the beginning (well, with a couple of notable
exceptions but I won't go into that. You can listen to the commentary if
you're curious). The crew were likewise people Mark had worked with
before. Matt Smith, the DP, goes all the way back to The House That
Screamed in 2000. We didn't have a sound person. Whoever had free
hands held the boon. This is a very bad idea.
Would you like to go
into detail about the special effects in Muckman?
Very old style, very simple. They were a lot of work
but dirt cheap. It took me maybe a month to build the monster suit. It was
made in sections so that it would fit almost anyone. The first guy who
tried it on was almost seven feet tall and thin. With the suit on he was
close to eight feet tall and looked great, but for reasons I won't go into
he bailed on us so we ended up with a shorter, slightly chunkier monster.
Half a dozen people played the creature at various times, although I think
Steve Diasparra, who also played Mickey, was Muckman most of the
The stop motion creature at the end was a simple wire frame model. I
built a miniature of the RV for him to tear apart. The roof was layered
aluminum foil so it would tear like metal and still be poseable. It was
the only part of the movie shot on film, using my 16mm Bolex with a single
frame motor. It took maybe a week to shoot, working nights. I was fairly
pleased with the way it came out, although the company that did the
film-to-tape transfer did a lousy job. It had to be doctored in post to
make it acceptable.
have read somewhere (and I have forgotten where, so I might confuse things
here) that Muckman was
the lowest budgeted film of your entire career. Was this limiting, or
maybe also inspiring?
It's true. The budget was so low I won't tell anyone,
because too many people judge your movie by the money you spent. We
actually went over budget by almost 50% and it still ended up being
my cheapest movie! Which is more than Mark Polonia can say. It was
certainly limiting, although not as much as you might think. The upside is
that you don't have the pressure of trying to earn back a ton of money. If
never makes a dime no one will be ruined. We'll just shrug
it off and start another one.
was produced by Mark Polonia of the legendary Polonia
Brothers, with whom you've worked before on quite a few occasions.
What can you tell us about the man, and what was your collaboration like?
Mark is smarter than me when it comes to making movies.
He's never tried to build a career on it. He's made more movies than I
have but he's also got a real job and a house and a nice family. In spite
of this he's a total movie freak. He has a huge movie collection with
almost every crappy sci-fi and horror movie ever made. He knows more about
contemporary horror movies than I do (although I have the edge on him when
it comes to older stuff --- but then again, I was there). He and I (and
his son Anthony, who also worked on Muckman) can talk endlessly
about Godzilla- and
Hammer-films and old
AIP-movies, much to the dismay of his wife.
Collaborating on Muckman
was an interesting experience. The
screenplay was a joint effort, to the point where it's now hard to
remember who wrote what. Although I get directing credit it really was a
true team effort, with Mark grabbing the camera and picking up shots
himself when he had an idea. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is
Mark's --- a tracking shot from behind the Muckman as it trudges through
the woods at night, steam rising off its body.
go back to the beginning of your career: What got you into filmmaking in
the first place, and did you receive any formal education on the subject?
I've wanted to be a film maker my
entire life. I started reading about guys like Don Glut in Castle of
Frankenstein and other magazines and decided I could buy a camera and
make my own movies. This was before they had media classes and such in
schools, when the idea of a kid making a movie was considered crazy. By
the time I was out of school guys like George Romero and (even earlier) H.G.
Lewis [Herschell Gordon
Lewis bio - click here] had begun to establish the regional filmmaking movement. So I bought
a 16mm camera and started trying to hustle up some money to make a
I've never had any formal training. Hell, I never graduated from High
first feature I believe was Mysterious Planet. How did that come
into being, and how would you judge the film from today's point of view?
I had written various scripts and done productions
drawings to try to raise money. I finally wandered into the office of an
investment counselor who also fancied he had a creative side. He was
intrigued by my ideas and over a very long period of time got together a
handful of investors to put up a very small amount of money, and with that
I shot Mysterious Planet with a handful of actors and no crew. It
was essentially a home movie, shot entirely silent and all post-dubbed. It
was actually done in a very similar manner to Dennis Muren's Equinox,
although he had a bunch of highly skilled artists to help him out. I had
just me. As a movie Mysterious Planet sucks - but in fairness to
myself it's not much worse that Equinox. Maybe no worse at all.
have also worked with legendary Hollywood producer Sam Sherman on his one
directorial effort, Raiders
of the Living Dead. You just have to say a few words about the man
and the movie!
Sam and I never worked together. I produced a small
zombie movie called Dying Day, which Sam bought and eventually
transformed into Raiders
of the Living Dead.
We never even met until many years later when I was working at EI in New
Jersey and Sam came by one day. By that time a rumor had somehow
circulated that he and I were having some sort of feud. One of us (I can't
remember who) said “What's this about a feud we're having?” and the
other one said “I don't know, you know how these stories get started.”
And that was that. We got along great. I spent a whole afternoon with Sam
driving around scouting locations. It was quite pleasant.
A few words about some of your films
(picked rather at random, I have to admit):
I never made a movie by that title
but I believe it's Battle For the Lost Planet. [Yes it
It was my third
film, made right after Dying Day (Raiders
of the Living Dead). Making
it was a nightmare. We ran into trouble which caused us to go over
schedule, at which time a bunch of the actors (all except one) decided
they had me by the balls and it was time to squeeze. They demanded that
their pay be doubled for every additional day and that they receive their
money in cash each day before they'd shoot, which meant I spent
half the day running around trying to get the money which drove us further
behind schedule which cost us even more money...
thing like that happened today I'd fire the bunch of them and rewrite the
script, but I was too inexperienced at the time. In the end the cast was
quite disappointed with how the film came out. It looked cheap and rushed.
Gee, I wonder why?
Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell?
One of the actors I worked with in Mutant War
asked me if I'd produce a film with him if he could raise the money. I
said of course and we started batting around ideas. We finally settled on
an old script I'd written called Dark Sun, which we later changed
to The Dark Fortress. I wanted to see if I could make a fantasy
film with sets and costumes and monsters for a Z budget. It turned out not
to be a very good movie but I think I succeeded in pulling it off
visually, to some extent anyway. Troma was interested but they dragged out
negotiations forever trying to nickel-and-dime us to death. Eventually we
came to an agreement and they acquired the film, which they retitled A
Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell, tacking on a prologue to justify
the title. I still get flack because the movie makes no sense as a
post-nuke flick, which it was never meant to be.
I wrote a sequel (Nymphoid II: Return to Dinosaur Hell)
which I pitched to Lloyd Kaufman at Troma. He seemed enthusiastic but it
turned out he wanted me to raise the money myself, produce the film, and
hand the finished product over to him, in return for which I would receive
essentially nothing. I passed.
A job for hire. Bill Links, who had made some good
money as one of the producers of a movie called Deadtime Stories, wanted
me make him a movie about “fish monsters and tits”. When he read the
script he complained “You've turned it into a comedy!” I said
“Wait a second, you ask for a movie about 'fish monsters and tits' and
you expected me to take it seriously?”
His model had been Humanoids
From The Deep, which is altogether too nasty a movie for my tastes.
The movie got made, but what should have been a two week shoot turned into
a total mess, which almost always happens when investors want to get
involved as active producers. You spend half your time trying to get the
movie made and the other half doing damage control, trying to deal with
the problems your “producer” is creating. In this case it was worse
than usual, A quick example: on the very first day of shooting we were all
packed and ready to head off for a nine a.m. call at our first location,
when I was informed the “producer” wanted to talk to me first. It was
important and we weren't to leave before speaking to him. Problem was he
was still in bed where he remained until noon. He finally wandered out and
I asked him what was so important we had to miss our first shoot. He
shrugged and said “I just wanted to know what was up.” That was the
very beginning of the very first day! And it got worse from there.
I'd been mulling around ideas for how to shoot a
feature film ultra-cheap (this was just before video became a viable
format, which cut production costs down to almost nothing). I came up with
a figure of $10,000 for a shot-on-film feature. I happened to mention that
to a friend one night, going over how I'd keep the cost down, and he said
“Okay, I'm in.” I said “What do you mean, you're in?” - “I'll put
up the money to make the movie.” I don't know whether he thought I was
pitching to him or what, but suddenly I had the cash so I started writing
the script. I liked the title Drainiac! and came up with the idea
of a girl being sucked down the drain after watching one of my young
nephews panic in the bathtub as he watched the water go down and somehow
thought he was going to be taken away with it. A lot of people have called
the bathtub scene in Drainiac! “gratuitous,” but it was actually
the inspiration for the whole movie. Then again most people who use words
like “gratuitous” don't actually know what they mean anyway.
Another ultra-cheapie, this time funded by an actress
from Drainiac! who'd sold some property and had a little money to
invest. We had camera problems that necessitated reshoots and drove us
over budget. The post was handled by a “studio” that screwed it up
totally then brokered a distribution deal that seemed successful but
returned a negligible amount of money. I had to sue just to try to find
out what the movie made, but after a year of
being stonewalled I was finally told that the film had flopped but
somehow all the financial records had mysteriously disappeared. What a
Not a bad movie, but not nearly as good as it should
have been. Let me put it this way: If you've seen the commercially
released DVD you haven't really seen the movie at all. The DVD master was
so washed out and nearly inaudible that it's painful to sit through. I saw
a screener at a Fango-convention in Chicago that actually looked like a
real movie, but no one else will ever see it the way it's supposed to look.
This was aimed at the SyFy network although I don't
think it was ever pitched to them. Supposedly they like movies about
“recognizable” monsters, everyday animals that have somehow taken on
monster form, so I gave 'em giant bacteria. Everyone compares Bacterium
to The Blob but it's real inspiration was
Island of Terror (Night of the
Silicates). Some people think this is my best movie, but
I'm not one of them. It is, however, the only EI movie that ever came in
under budget, thanks to our producer Christina Christodoulopoulos.
other films of yours you'd like to talk about? Any future projects?
Right now I'm working on a semi Lovecraft movie
tentatively called Nightmare House. It's ready to shoot but we're
having trouble casting. We always have trouble casting. I need to move to
have become known for your rather wonderful old school special effects.
Would you like to talk about your approach to special effects work for a
Some French magazine called me “the last master of
stop-motion effects”. I don't know about the “master” part but I seem
to be the last hold-out. The reason is simple: I like physically making the
creatures. I like sculpting, I like building models. It's very satisfying
and it's also given me something of a hook, a gimmick I can be known for,
which I guess is a pretty useful thing.
Special effects wizards who have influenced you?
O'Brien and Harryhausen, of course, and Jim Danforth. Kong
may have been the biggest single influence in my life. George Pal, if you
include him among effects artists (which I think you can legitimately do)
and probably John Fulton. One artist who had a big influence on the way I
actually work (which is to say fast and cheap) was Les Bowie.
who inspire you?
Terence Fisher [Terence
Fisher bio - click here]. John Huston. Maybe a little Orson
Wells. Boy, those are pretty distinguished role models for a guy who makes
cheap little monster movies! Maybe the Coen Brothers just a little. A lot
of directors whose work I really enjoy, like Woody Allen, have very little
influence on my own work. Love to watch their movies, wouldn't want to
Your favourite movies?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Oh, lots. King Kong, as I said. All the
old Universal horrors and the
Hammer films. The Thing ('51),
the Earth Stood Still, all of the genre classics. And a bunch of
non-horror/sci-fi movies too: Citizen Kane, The Man in the White
Suit, Local Hero, The Bank
Dick, all kinds of stuff. I have pretty eclectic tastes.
and of course, films you really deplore?
I don't really hate many films. One that comes to mind
is As Good as It Gets, which is contemptible. And Cameron's Titanic,
a bloated, grandiose soap opera which I probably wouldn't hate so much
if everyone else didn't love it. Compared to A Night to Remember it
looks like the overstuffed turd it is.
Facebook, whatever else?
Tobias Piwek handles all that. He does a great job. If
people actually seem to have some idea who I am lately he's the guy to
thank or blame!
Anything else you are dying to
mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Thanks for your interest! It's nice to know that
somebody actually enjoys these things.