An old SOV movie of yours, 2005's Deep Undead, is having
its re-release these days - so in a few words, what's that movie about?
Deep Undead centers on a group of salvage divers and an investigative reporter
who become involved in a federal investigation under mysterious
circumstances surrounding a nuclear power plant within a small coastal
community. A series of tragic events in the water begin to unfold, and an
unearthly force is about to be revealed.
were your sources of inspiration when writing Deep Undead?
originally came up with the idea back in 1989 while I worked at the Salem/Hope Creek Nuclear Power Plant in South Jersey. I met a group of
commercial scuba divers there who told me some harrowing stories of their
diving work at the plant. I was already an advanced wreck diver myself,
and I was dying to make a movie. Their story motivated me to write my
first underwater screenplay. But I knew it would be a long time before I
could make this nautical beast a reality.
talk about Deep Undead's approach to horror for a bit!
originally wrote Deep Undead as an ecological murder mystery. There was
nothing supernatural about it. It wasn't until early pre-production in
2000 that I decided to rewrite the screenplay and incorporate the
alien-vampire mutant theme into the plot. I was happy with the original
story, but it had too many complex action scenes that were beyond my means
The new story evolved with the arrival of these otherworldly beings who
were dormant under the sea for many years until radiation from the ominous
power plant brought them back to the surface. The fact that they are very
human-like made the new concept much easier to incorporate into the
existing story. I was able to get rid of some of those long action
sequences and replace them with more atmospheric sequences. You don't
really see much of the mutants until the third act in the film though. I
wanted to build the human drama and mystery up first before making that
reveal... an approach I had seen in many other horror films I have enjoyed
over the years. The mutants are actually humans who have been infected by
the "Deep Undead" or otherworldly beings.
can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at
was almost like I had to be two different directors - one with the
underwater unit and diving actors and one with the topside unit with
central characters and surface action. I tried to employ callbacks from
classic horror and sci-fi movies that were favorites of mine over the
years and sprinkle them vaguely into scenes to help link the two realms
(underwater and topside) seamlessly. One example that is not so subtle is
the use of radiation as the source of havoc and monstrosity such as in
classic horror movies from the 50s and 60s.That was really the recipe that
drove me through all phases of the production. But in the end, I had to
put my own twist on things. Whether it all works or not, I'm not sure. But
hopefully SOV fans will dig it.
You also appear in front of the camera in Deep
Undead - so do talk about your character, what did you draw upon to
bring him to life, and have you written Dawson with yourself in mind from
was originally a main character who was the head of the dive operation in
the first version of the script. After the rewrite, his character was not
needed so much. I never intended to play that part. In fact, I had met and
spoken with the late Conrad Brooks to play the part. He agreed but became
very worried about the wet suit and an apparent allergy he had to certain
types of rubber. So I rewrote the part of Dawson for me to play and had to
figure out what I could do to make the role more interesting. Of course,
Dawson needed to be a victim, and that's how I ended up with that part. It
was easy enough for me to do without taking away too much time from behind
the camera. Conrad was then cast as the part of plant manager T.J.
Radcliff, which would have been great, but he wanted more money, and sadly
I couldn't afford him anymore.
What can you tell us about the rest of your
cast, and why exactly these people?
was such a huge cast, the largest I have ever worked with. First of all, I
knew all along I needed a beautiful scream queen, so I picked Pamela Sutch
[Pamela Sutch interview -
for the female lead. I felt that her personality and classy looks were a
great contrast to the rugged antics of the commercial dive team in the
story. Plus, I had worked with Pam quite a few times before, and I was
already familiar with her style. Plus, I knew she was okay with working in
the water. Pam was perfect for the part I felt. I also picked Dawn Murphy
(my wife and Sharkey Video partner at the time). Dawn was another
beautiful horror veteran who created Backwoods Marcy for us two years
earlier. I had picked her for the diving character of Marlene originally
because she was a certified diver. But Dawn became pregnant with our child
at the time. So I cast her as the young mother, Ronnie, instead. My two
nieces Caitlin Morgan and Christina Rose also joined the cast to play her
went to Marian Lane who was a fine actress but had to be trained to work
in scuba. The leading male role easily went to theater veteran David Maul
who was also an experienced scuba diver. Finding David was a sheer stroke
of luck. Vince Butler, a local bodybuilder/actor was the only choice I
had in mind for Cujo, a tough yet funny, hardcore diver who you don't want
to piss off. Osman Karriem (a good friend and Sharkey veteran) was cast as
Agent Hayes, and Allen Richards was cast as T.J.
casting wish was to get as many SOV B-movie veterans as possible, and I
was also able to snag Debbie D [Debbie
D interview - click here], and Phil (Jacker) Herman
[Phil Herman interview - click
here] among others.
Phil did a cool cameo as a TV reporter. Plus, I was lucky to snag Mick
McCleery (Addicted Murder) as another member of the dive team. Finally,
for the new version, I cast my good friend Laura Giglio [Laura
Giglio interview - click here] along with a few
of her acting friends from a local theater. The group performed amazingly
together, and their scenes gave the story a whole new life. Mostly, all of
the other choices were actors who could either dive or who were
comfortable working in the water.
A few words about
the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
safety, safety... that was what I wanted the most. There was always a
concern of hyperthermia because we were shooting so much in the water, and
everyone was getting cold. Plus, the underwater scenes had to be rehearsed
and planned out very carefully. I chose experienced divers for the work
that required extensive action underwater. We shot most of those scenes
first. Visibility was often a problem on these sets which were mainly shot
in two freshwater quarries. Topside, we used docks adjacent to huge lakes
and rivers. We were always on location it seemed. Very few scenes were
shot in a studio setting. The only exterior shots that were not on
location were done in a 3 foot deep, large Intex pool for close up shots
in the finale.
the group of actors all meshed well with each other. There was never any
drama or problems. It all went very smoothly. And thankfully, no one got
hurt. The only real problem we had was on our first weekend of shooting
which was the opening underwater scene. The quarry was so murky we had to
abort diving, and the footage we shot was useless. It took 3 weekends just
to complete the opening scene which required a ton of shots of two divers
on a wreck. Some of the murky shots would later come in handy for another
underwater sequence when one of the diving characters goes missing.
at the quarry was great because we were able to get both underwater and
topside shots on the same day, and this is where the bulk of the movie was
shot. The quarry had a huge dock that was perfect for the dive team's
topside scenes. A large group of us would spend several weekends camping
out in a cabin there right on the water. It saved so much time and travel
this way. Plus, we all had a blast. I felt like a kid again.
$64-question of course, where can your movie be seen?
certainly is the big one, but I am still working out the distribution
currently and waiting to get the movie out there. A couple of deals are
brewing but no release date yet. However, we did have a cast screening
last October, and plan a public screening later this year, hopefully. I
will have my own DVD release ready for a limited engagement as well this
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Deep Undead?
much feedback there yet. Not many saw the original version in 2005, so I
hope to get some more soon. There were a couple reviews on the movie that
were favorable back in the day. But the re-release is an entirely new
version with new scenes and much better I think. I do remember one viewer
who didn't understand the original version. He said it was confusing. I
tried to address that in the new version with a backstory about the origin
of the mutants. The new release will also feature an alternative ending,
so hopefully people will get it. Yes, buy it and understand it. Ha!
back to Deep Undead after all these years, how does this make you
feel, would you have done anything differently, and how would technology
available to filmmakers today have impacted your film?
always wished I had more scenes with the mutant characters underwater, but
makeup was such a challenge for us in that regard. Perhaps, we could have
used digital effects instead of makeup if shot in today's world. Oh and if
only I had at my disposal all the avenues of distribution that we have
today. On the other hand, making movies is much more competitive and
simple today. People are even using cell phones to shoot with. I don't
think this movie would be as special if it was made today. Back then, SOVs
were pure, bare bones movie making without all of the digital gadgetry.
And I can't think of many SOV productions from that era that featured
underwater intensive content. However, I do feel that the high definition
technology of today could have greatly enhanced the production,
particularly in those underwater scenes.
originally entered the filmworld as an actor - so what got you into acting
in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the
until 1990, I had done very little stage acting. I had auditioned as an
extra for a movie that was shooting in Wildwood, NJ when I was a teenager
but didn't make the cut. It was for Touched, a movie starring Robert
Hayes. Later, I tried unsuccessfully to get another extra audition for
Brian DePalma's Blow-Out that was being shot in Philly.
had some training at film school, but only one drama class, and I had
performed in a couple church plays. I honestly didn't even know what an
SOV was back then. But in 1990 that all changed after I auditioned for WAVE, an ultra low budget production company based in my home county. It
was for the feature slasher SOV Hung Jury, and I was ironically cast as a
scuba diver. Suddenly, making movies was no longer a broken dream. All the
pieces were there just waiting for me to put them into place. Acting was
just a stepping stone for me. I always knew I wanted to make movies ever
since I was a kid when my parents bought me my first Super 8 movie camera.
How would you describe yourself as an actor,
and some of your techniques to bring your characters to life?
I got to play quite a few horny teens, monsters, and psychos, courtesy of WAVE. The more I did, the more I was able to refine my characters and
decipher what worked and what didn't after watching my work, As much as I
loathed watching myself on screen, I had to in order to improve as an
actor. It wasn't until I played the mummy in The Mummy's Dungeon that I
started to ease into my roles. Having the special effects makeup on really
gave me confidence, and it felt liberating as an actor. I was really able
to become the mummy. I suppose I should thank Aven Warren, the talented
makeup artist for this transformation. It also transformed me as an actor.
For the first time I was able to watch myself on screen and actually feel
like I was watching someone else. Immersing myself into a good role was
easier after that. Costume and makeup definitely help me to get into the
mindset and motivation of a character. Also as a performer, I try to think
of someone I know and borrow some of their personality traits for the
character I'm portraying.
got you into filmmaking eventually, and how would you describe yourself as
to the movies with my dad as a kid is when the fascination began, and it
really took off when I was 15 and made my first Super 8 movie, The
a 12 minute horror movie. Whenever
I direct, I know that I will be editing my own work. So I always try to
prepare my shots in a way that will make editing more effective. I always
loved the works of Hitchcock and DePalma, and sometimes I even try to
adapt a hint of their approach. I'm not sure if that ever comes across on
screen to a viewer or not, but it's always fun to try.
Do talk about past movies of yours, in
first full length movie as a producer and director was actually a comedy
called An Ex-Hooker's Christmas Carol (1995) which was shot during my days
of attending TV/film school. I played 3 different parts in the movie (a
cop, an old man, and a drag queen hooker!) alongside stars and fellow WAVE
alumni Laura Giglio [Laura Giglio
interview - click here] and Dean Demko. It featured a lot of close friends of
mine, and it was a real hoot to make. It was also a nice change of pace
after having done so many horror movies for WAVE.
that time, I also got a part in Pete Jacelone's Psycho Sisters [Pete
Jacelone interview - click here], and
enjoyed my first time attending a screening premiere. I played one of the
sister's victims after meeting in a local bar; the sisters tease and later
kill me and my friend.
Backwoods Marcy (1998) came along after I married Dawn who became my
partner. She wrote and directed, while I produced and edited. We both
starred in the movie together too. It turned out to be the most popular
and critically acclaimed Sharkey title. Marcy is a crazed homeless woman
who lives in the Jersey Pine Barrens and preys upon my arrogant city boy
character after he gets lost on a business trip there.
from my own productions and the countless roles I played in WAVE
have also worked on some features for Phil Herman's Falcon
Video [Phil Herman interview -
click here]. Phil and
I have shared a unique bond and friendship over the years. Our paths
crossed when I started doing WAVE
movies. Phil and I have since appeared
in each other's movies over years in cameos and such. We also collaborated
on his anthology feature, Before
I Die. It's funny, although we have never
physically met in person, I feel like I have known him all of my life
because our backgrounds are so similar and because we have both loved
doing SOVs so much. Our work and friendship has spanned 3 decades. Its a
common bond that makes us such good friends and fellow producers.
Any future projects you'd like to
of now, I'm working so hard on getting Deep Undead out to a larger
audience, I haven't planned anything new yet. However, I may re-release a
couple more Sharkey titles such as Love is a Stranger Again
and The Little World of Wilbur. I have been working a lot with Ross Snyder and
Core A&V in recent years to get some of our titles out there again.
And it has really paid off. Until I met Ross, I wasn't really working on
movies anymore. I didn't even know there was still anyone even interested
in these old SOVs. Lucky for me, Ross opened my eyes to it all again. Backwoods
Marcy even got it's first screening and it was at The Mahoning
Drive In at VHS Fest 2 in 2018. I have to give the credit to Ross and Josh
Schafer of Lunchmeat Magazine for this amazing night. Hopefully, there
will be more screenings in the future with more re-released titles. I am
actually writing my dream project currently, which is sort of an
autobiography of my childhood and what it was like making movies on Super
8 as a kid. I'm not sure if I will ever get to turn it into a movie, but I
plan to publish it as my first novel.
Having been in the indie filmworld for over 30
years now, how have things changed over time, for better or worse?
think things have gotten much better. The internet, cell phones, and high
definition technology have really helped to reinvent the film making
process and make it much more possible for people from all walks of life.
Still, there is something charming about VHS and old school SOVs that we
just can't duplicate with all of the new technology.
actors, whoever else who inspire you?
Hitchcock was the director who most inspired me to make movies, followed by
John Carpenter and Brian DePalma. Also the 70s disaster movie era made a
huge impact on me, and I absolutely loved Irwin Allen's work.
are so many actors I admire, I don't know who to list. In the low budget
SOV world, however, my favorite actors are Dawn Murphy, Phil Herman
[Phil Herman interview - click
Karriem, and Laura Giglio [Laura
Giglio interview - click here], just to name a few, but there are many others I
favorite movies of all time are Psycho,
The Birds, The
Poseidon Adventure, Jaws,
Titanic and Eddie & the Cruisers. My favorite low budget horror
movies are the original Halloween
and Wes Craven's Deadly Blessing.
... and of course, films you really deplore?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
that is a long list too, but I first think of two movies I actually walked
out on because I was so bored that I fell asleep. Those gems were Mad
Max: Beyond the Thunder Dome and The Color of Money.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Video has a Facebook Page and YouTube channel. I have an IMDb page as
well. We celebrated our 25th Anniverary
in 2019 and we are generously featured in Richard Mogg's recent books Analog
Nightmares and Giftwrapped & Gutted. Ross Snyder also got us a
nice spread and interview in a recent issue of Grindhouse Purgatory
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
last note, the new release of Deep Undead has a stellar new soundtrack
thanks to the amazingly talented Matt Cannon who scored it. When we had
the screening reunion for the cast last October, everyone loved how
beautifully haunting the music meshed with the story as it unfolded on the
am grateful that a whole new generation is enjoying my SOVs, and it's
largely due to people like yourself along with Ross Snyder, Josh Schafer,
author/producer Richard Mogg, and of course my long time cohort- Phil
Herman who continues to propel support for indies with AVAIL TV. I have
not always been good at putting myself out there. But guys like you make
it much easier for me. Thank you for all the support.
for the interview!