Your upcoming film Razor Days - in a few words, what is it
Razor Days was originally conceived as “the final girl ten
minutes later”. Rather than focusing on the villain and the dead bodies,
I thought it would be more interesting to pick up after the end of a
horror movie. How would Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns in Texas
Chainsaw Massacre) put her life
together? Or would she be able to at all. So the script brings three women
together, all survivors of traumatic events, to see how their individual
healing processes mesh with each other as they seek a violent closure.
What were your sources of inspiration when
writing Razor Days?
The idea came from
Berni Wrightson’s cover for Twisted
Tales #1 – a woman fleeing an ax-wielding psycho wearing a bandolier
of human heads. But when I started down the obvious path, the idea became
less interesting than the aftermath. So as I fleshed out the story I
wanted to tell, I listened to Wes Craven’s commentary on The
Last House on the Left first, to see how he was able to tell such a
frighteningly real story. Then I turned to movies like Bergman’s Persona
and Altman’s 3 Women for the
basic themes of female personality-transference. Finally, for the look, I
watched Terence Malik’s Badlands
and shared my ideas with the cast and the DOP Bart Mastronardi. Everyone
gave their feedback and we took it from there. (Hey, you asked.)
How would you describe your
directorial approach to your subject matter?
Days I was more of a technical director, if I could even be called
that. First and foremost I’m a writer, so my attitude is “the script
is what I want. Do that.” I don’t always relate to actors, so I’m
never sure what they need. When I realized that I was up against the wall
with this movie, that the actresses would need more than just “Do that
again only better”, I started reading interviews with directors to see
if I could learn any techniques they use. Clint Eastwood, for instance,
never calls “Action”. He doesn’t like the phrase because the actors
tense up immediately on that command. He quietly signals the cameraman to
roll then calls “When you’re ready”, and lets the cast ease into the
scene. John Huston, one of my chief inspirations, rarely directed at all.
“If you hire the right cast, there's little left for you to do but make
sure they’re standing in the right place.” Finally, I called William
Richert (A Night in the Life of
Jimmy Reardon, Winter Kills), who I’d interviewed for a (hopefully)
upcoming book. He told me that the best thing to do is to make sure I look
relaxed. If I’m tense about anything—the schedule, the weather—the
cast will pick up on that.
How far do
you go concerning gore and violence in Razor Days?
script I write is much gorier on the page than what winds up on screen.
Sometimes it’s due to time or budget restriction, but usually the movie
dictates the content. We used live squibs during most of the gunshot
scenes, and Scott Conner came up with a couple of gruesome “aftermath”
effects, but for the most part we all decided that the violence itself
would be more powerful out of frame. Most of the intense shots come from
holding on the protagonists’ faces while the violence occurs just off
frame. If it were a different movie, if it were truly a
I Spit on Your Grave-type of film, we’d have gone much, much
harder. But this didn’t want to be a gag film. It’s horror in the
sense that no matter what you believe happened to the women in the past,
what they’re going through now
is just as horrific. The movie is about personal damage, not action figure
few words about your three leading ladies?
Amy Lynn Best, Bette Cassatt,
The script was written with Amy
Lynn Best and Debbie Rochon in mind. They were the driving force during
each draft phase, giving invaluable input all the way. Amy and I have been
together for half our lives, so I knew anything I put in there, she’d
nail it or improve it. Debbie, as well, has been an incredible friend and
talent. I knew that each one would need a different manner of direction,
which we discussed beforehand. I also knew that the two of them would give
the mathematically-impossible 1000% once the cameras rolled. Most of the
scenes were shot scripted and then adlibbed. And the adlibbed scenes
always had the best intensity.
Bette Cassat was the unknown element. We’d been
searching for a Rena for years and came close a couple of times but
schedules wouldn’t allow, or other reasons would prevent the union.
Having been through this situation before, we knew that was the universe
guiding us towards the right choice. It happened on every movie we’ve
ever done. If the stars don’t align it really is because the right
person is still out there. Bette came recommended to us for years by Eric
Thornette (Shockheaded), who had finished working with her on a gothic period
piece called Sweet and Vicious
Beauty. In fact, he’d given us a rough cut of that movie that the
house had promptly eaten minutes later. When we were coming down to the
wire—the shooting schedule was set, working around the crew and cast’s
availability—Sweet and Vicious Beauty magically reappeared. And we were blown
away by her performance. She can play a variety of emotions on her face
without saying a word and that’s just what we needed, since Rena is the
most damaged of the three and maybe even the most dangerous. Bette was the
perfect, indispensable third element.
What can you
tell us about the rest of your cast and crew?
My producer and DOP have become
indie royalty in a very short amount of time. I’d known Alan Rowe Kelly [Alan
Rowe Kelly interview - click here] for years and he was always supportive of the script, even after he became
the industry darling for I’ll Bury
You Tomorrow and A Far Cry From
Home. Bart Mastronardi composes shots like paintings, as he did on his
first feature, Vindication. We
talked for a long time about what the movie would be and then they made
We couldn’t have asked for a
better Executive Producer. Bob Kuiper was the publisher of the second
generation of Sirens of Cinema
Magazine and had hired me as the Editor, as I’d worked on the
previous incarnation with Hugh Gallagher. Bob and I worked hard to figure
out how to communicate with each other, since our backgrounds and focus
was so different. But he loved the script for Razor
Days and when we pitched it to him, he asked “How much would you
need?” We told him and he said “Okay”. And then we said, “What do
you mean ‘okay’? That’s a shitload of money!” But he believed in
it and it was something he wanted to be a part of.
For the majority of the shoot, it
was a seven-person show. The cast pitched in and schlepped equipment, the
crew filled in as extras in the background. For ten days it was Amy and I,
Debbie, Alan, Bart, Bette, Bette’s husband Chris Mindel, David Marancik,
Scott Conner and Michael Varrati. Some of the Happy Cloud clan pitched in
when they could, but since we were shooting throughout the week, it was
difficult for many of them to work consecutively because of work
schedules. Still, the days we had Mike and Carolyn Haushalter and Jim
Steinhoff, who’ve supported us for the last ten years, were the ultimate
Days, you made a film with the irresistible title Demon Divas and
the Lanes of Damnation. You just have to talk about that one for a
bit! And why of all places did you set Demon Divas and
the Lanes of Damnation in a bowling alley?
Divas was the fastest shoot we’ve ever
had, from concept to completion. We were on the way back from some con and
we got a call from Tara Frank, a friend of ours (who wound up playing
“Infinity”) who had been principal hair and make-up on a couple of
other projects we’d worked on. Her mother and step-father owned a
bowling alley in Kittanning, PA, not too far from where they shot The
Mothman Prophecies and My Bloody
Valentine 3-D (which was actually wrapping as we began). Her mom,
Sandy, was tired of hearing from others in town how great it was that a
movie had been shot in their restaurant or on their street. “You have to
shoot in our bowling alley!” she insisted.
The first thought was to remake Sorority
Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama, but why remake something if you
can do something original? Or, at least, original enough to offset what
you’re paying tribute to? So Demon
Divas became our “scream queen” movie, with Brinke Stevens, Amy,
Debbie, Lilith Stabs and Robyn Griggs. As well as ten other major
characters. We shot in six days, literally tearing pages of script out as
we went along, and Sandy and her husband Bob Hall came aboard as associate
producers, providing not only the space but the catering and housing as
well. (This is set for an official Amazon and Netflix release in October
thanks to Wild Eye Releasing.)
A few words about your vampire movie A Feast of
Flesh, and your take on the vampire genre as such?
Again, coming back from some
unsatisfying film festival or other, Amy turned to me and said, “We need
to sell out now. We should do something with vampires in a brothel.”
“Okay, what’s it about?”
“Vampires,” she said. “In a
So the intention was to do that,
but I have a tough time selling out. I like storytelling. I like
characterization. So I unfortunately burdened the surefire sell of an idea
with plot and subtext. I borrowed a lot of stuff that I’d written for a
vampire fiction magazine called Dreams
of Decadence so I could play with the idea that vampires don’t fear
religion, they fear faith. Whatever you believe in, that’s your
protection against these creatures. So if Bill Homan’s character is one
of those “anything for a buck” mercenaries, he can literally fend them
off with a dollar bill. Also, I never use the word “vampire” in the
script. I was also smart enough to make sure they didn’t sparkle, even
though vampires wouldn’t do such a thing until a few years ago, when
horror was murdered by Stephanie Meyer.
can you tell us about your debut feature as a director, The
Resurrection Game, and lessons learned from that experience?
to pimp myself but I’ve talked about this experience endlessly,
particularly in the Res. Game Annotated Screenplay. The gist is that we gave no thought
to the idea that it couldn’t be done. We were shooting BDV era (Before
Digital Video), on film, using Vietnam War-used equipment. I didn’t
direct so much as just point and babble. All we did was take what we’d
learned in film school, business courses and the Art Institute and slapped
it down on the table saying, “what can we do with this?” There was
little thought of “can’t” or “shouldn’t”. We just did. Then I
worked on and tweaked that miserable thing for ten years.
did you get into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any
formal education on the subject?
I had the same start most people
my age had: a love for movies and limited means of completing them. I
didn’t get my first VHS camera until I was a sophomore in college, so I
was stuck with whatever the schools had to offer. Fortunately, I enrolled
at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, starting off on Super-8mm and got to work on
other people’s movies. Film School is invaluable—you need to learn not
only how to use the equipment, but what comprises film history before you
can make your own. You learn how to look at movies critically. Not just,
“aw, man, that effect is so fake!” But “what is this shot trying to
say? What is the director conveying here? What’s the subtext of this
scene? Where’s the light coming from?” I learned editing from Tony
Buba, who worked with Romero on Martin,
Dawn of the Dead, Knightriders. I got to physically cut film—years
before digital editing was affordable—and you get the feeling for where
to cut when you’re dealing with tiny frames of film. Our senior thesis
project was to take a short film from script to answer print, which was
expensive as hell, but taught you everything, every step of the way.
After Filmmakers I wound up
working at WRS Film and Video Labs, where they tried to slowly poison me
with war-banned chemicals for three years. But I also learned optical
printing, film inspection, negative handling, physical animation. I even
worked in the vault for a while, handing the original negs for Night
of the Living Dead and The Pit
and the Pendulum. I worked on the restored print of
Some Like It Hot for its first DVD release and made a new
internegative from George Stevens’ original WWII footage, including one
haunting night alone in the lab where I had to print his Buchenwald
I’m not saying that you have to have that sort
of immersion to make movies, but it instills a love and respect for the
physicality of the medium as well as an appreciation for the
electro-chemical magic that goes
into it. For a film addict like me, I could have spent years wandering
around in those vaults—we had nearly every print MGM had ever
produced—until the owner embezzled everyone’s medical insurance and
was indicted. Horrible place to work if you didn’t love movies.
Actually, horrible even if you did.
Besides directing your
own scripts, you have also scripted your wife Amy Lynn Best's movies Weregrrl,
Severe Injuries, and Splatter Movie: The Director's Cut.
What can you tell us about these films and Amy Lynn Best, the director?
Amy is a much better
director than I am in terms of dealing with actors, getting awesome
performances from them, and just relating to them in general because she
is a trained actress and a photographer. When we work together, I’m
usually behind the camera, creating shots, but she’s creating the scene.
She also knows how to add energy to a scene, even during talking heads
shots like in Splatter Movie. I
think she’s been criminally underused in the business because there are
very few things for which she’s not a natural talent. She’s had cameos
in movies where suddenly the movie becomes about
her because of her presence. She acts with her eyes, as well, instead
of just going blank and waiting for her line, like many self-named
“scream queens” I could mention. She’s also beautiful and striking
and yes, I felt this way before we were married and still do.
few words about your production company, Happy Cloud Pictures?
Cloud Pictures was founded in 1997 by Amy, Bill Homan and me for the
express purpose of producing The
Resurrection Game. We’ve produced five features, a dozen shorts, a
number of documentaries and co-produced carefully-chosen projects of
industry friends. After the face-ripping scene at the head of A
Feast of Flesh, one of our associates came up and said that we had no
right calling ourselves Happy Cloud
Pictures any longer. We consider ourselves part of the “Second Wave”
of indies, which include Andy Copp, Eric Stanze [Eric
Stanze interview - click here], Chris Seaver, that came
after the “First Wave”—the VHS masters who cornered the home video
market, like Tim Ritter, Ron Bonk, J.R. Bookwalter, Kevin Lindenmuth and
Scooter McCrae. I think we have a good reputation in the industry because
we’ve never screwed anyone over and because we’re still around a
decade or so later. We’ve made ourselves regulars at Cinema Wasteland
and you can find us there twice a year, right inside the door. People got
used to seeing us and that brings with it a grandfathered respect.
also written a handful of novels right? And you
have also written for numerous publications on (horror-)film, and are the
editor of Sirens of Cinema-magazine. A few words about
that aspect of your career, and how did it all start?
As I’ve stated, I consider
myself first and foremost a writer (and an editor second). I’ve been
writing professionally since I was 20 and have been published all over the
world, in five different languages. This was during the nadir of the print
magazine world, where you could still make a living writing for literary
and genre mags, as well as an “entertainment journalist” for the movie
magazines. My first regularly paid gig was for a magazine specifically
distributed to Texas strip clubs, so I was free to write about or
interview anyone I wanted. That got parlayed to head writer at Femme
Fatales for a few years, hand-picked by Fred Clarke (thanks to Jasi
Cotton Lanier and Debbie Rochon) and a great few months at Cinefantastique.
I was the “American Correspondent” for The
Dark Side, worked for Draculina,
Alternative Cinema, Gauntlet, Black October, etc. For a while I was almost supporting
myself as a writer before the bottom fell out.
I actually set out to be a
novelist but got sidetracked by the movies. A lot of my stuff found a
perfect home at The Twisted Library (formerly Library of the Living
including the Res. Game novelization,
its upcoming sequel and my original novel, Suicide
Machine. Around this time, we created the Happy Cloud Publishing
imprint to reprint and publish other projects, including Europa’s Cry with artist Michael Apice.
I prefer writing simply because it’s something
I can do on my own. First time through is only for me, for my
satisfaction, before I tweak for “an audience”. But because so much of
my longer work is either self-published or through the Twisted Library,
“my audience” isn’t very specific and will honestly seek out
anything I write, even if they hate it, and tell me that it wasn’t what
they were expecting. It’s the ultimate form of self-gratification that
can occasionally make others happy too.
are quite obviously a big fan of horror cinema. Why, and your favourite
kind(s) of horror? Directors
who inspire you? Your favourite movies? And of course, films you really deplore?
I’m not specifically a horror
fan. I love horror movies but I will watch just about anything. To tell
the truth, my favorite directors aren’t of the horror category or are
something in between. The ones I derive the most inspiration from are John
Huston, Billy Wilder, John Sturges, Howard Hawks, David Cronenberg, the
Coen Brothers and Peter Greenaway. I know I’m supposed to say Sam Raimi
or George Romero, but I always pull inspiration from movies that are
outside the horror realm, as I illustrated above. Splatter
Movie was equal parts Best in
Show, Performance and Inland Empire
(even though I’m not a huge Lynch fan). A
Feast of Flesh is Savage Streets, State of Grace, A Prayer for the
Dying, and The Devil Rides Out.
Injuries poked fun at every slasher movie we could think of, but the
dialogue structure and situational humor was pure His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby and
Psychos in Love. Res. Game
was more The Maltese
Glass Key and Miller’s
Crossing than it was Dawn of the
Honestly, I think that’s why a
lot of first-time indie horror movies trip up. A lot of filmmakers working
in horror either forget that there are other kinds of movies out there or
feel they have to stay pure to the genre and immerse themselves in Video
Nasties. I had a conversation with a guy at Wasteland that started with:
“Dude, I just started a movie
that’s gonna show everyone in here what horror really is.”
“Is it about a bunch of kids who
hate each other who go into the woods to smoke pot and then die one by
“Yeah, but that’s only
“Not like this. Our kills are
“Are you killing them with math?
Otherwise: seen it. What the hell is it about?”
Don’t be afraid to use all the
tools in your toolbox. If you really loved The
Hangover, think about why you liked it and don’t be afraid to steal
from it, even if you are making “the next” Murder
Set Pieces or August Underground.
Actually, the latter is a good example. Fred Vogel wanted to make a very
realistic portrait of a pair of psychos who could be anyone’s neighbors,
which is why his structure is genius. In between these horrible situations
are shots of the killers on vacation or getting beaten up at a rave.
It’s been copied all over the place since then, but Fred wasn’t afraid
to break the mold. It isn’t The
Devil’s Rejects all the way through.
Feeling lucky ?
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Facebook, whatever else?
I’m hard to avoid:
Anything else you are dying to
mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
addition to Scott Conner (The Deadliest Warrior) above, we’ve had the
opportunity to work with some amazing effects artists over the years
including Eric Molinaris (Black Sun), Jerry Gergely (Babylon
Crognale (Sorority Row), Lee Wildermuth, Carlos Savat and last but far,
far from least, Don Bumgarner (The Dread), who has been providing effects
for us since 2004. I really do want to thank Jerry and Eric, especially,
for the students they hand-picked from their own classes at the Douglas
Education Center/Savini School of Special Effect Make-Up. That’s the
best reason we stick to horror: the magic the effects guys bring to