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An Interview with Sean Tretta, Writer/Director of The Frankenstein Syndrome

by Mike Haberfelner

June 2011

Films directed by Sean Tretta on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie The Frankenstein Syndrome - in a few words, what is it about?


It's about a group of researchers doing underground stem-cell research. They're looking for a universal healing serum and succeed, but things go terribly wrong.


What prompted you to take another shot at the Frankenstein-myth, and in what way does your film differ from other versions of the often-filmed novel?


Ours takes place in the modern world of illegal stem-cell research. I asked myself if Shelley were to have written Frankenstein today, how would it have been different? Primarily though, my interest was in what Shelley's novel is really about. To me, Frankenstein is about two things: creation and responsibility. Instead of focusing on the monster, I tried to get back to what the monster in the story really represents.


Related to this: Your favourite Frankenstein-adaptations?


There are so many. If you want the most faithful adaptation of Shelley's novel, you have to go with the mini series Hallmark did a few years back. If you like looser adaptations, then there's Re-Animator, Splice, Frankenstein Unbound, Jurrasic Park (think about it), etc. I've always been interested in ones who take the main theme and try taking it in new directions.


Other sources of inspiration for The Frankenstein Syndrome?


I did my research. Not only did I go back and re-read Shelley's novel, but a read a lot of literary and culteral analysis of Frankenstein. I felt it was important to understand why the story has survived this long and what about it rings true today.


How diligently did you research the medical background of The Frankenstein Syndrome, and your personal take on stem cell research?


Personally, I'm all for stem-cell research and any advances that can improve the quality of our lives. As for the film, I spent a bit of time researching terminology that would make things make sense. Not supririsingly, it's a topic that people hear about, but actually know little about. I was fortunate to find literature that tried to explain stem-cell research for the medical laymen (like myself). I think there's just enough to make the characters sound believable.


How would you describe your diretorial approach to your film?


I knew ahead of time that I wanted the film to have a cold, David Fincher-esque vibe to it. Unlike some of my other films which have a more "raw" approach to them, I went for a cleaner, slicker style. Most importantly, there was a lot of ground to cover and my biggest challenge was keeping the film moving while still hitting all the story elements.


The Frankenstein Syndrome features quite a few graphic gore scenes. Why don't you talk about those for a bit, and was there ever a point when you reached a line you weren't prepared to cross, screenviolence-wise?


I never felt the need to hold back because generally, I don't believe I use gore in a gratuitous manner. I think if you build a reality around something before you show gore, you don't have to show much to be effective. There's a scene in particular that makes people cringe that you really don't see a lot of "gore", it's the sound that makes it seem horrible - that's the kind of effect I like. It's so much more effective in the imagination than what we could have shown.


Veteran scream queen Tiffany Shepis [Tiffany Shepis interview - click here] did not only play the lead in The Frankenstein Syndrome, she also helped to produce the film, and you are somehow personally involved with her. Why don't you talk about her for a bit?


Tiffany and I are now married. We didn't start dating till after we wrapped the movie though. Tiff is a complete professional on set, and despite how tempted I could have been to get to know her while shooting, our production came first. We didn't have our first non-director/actor conversation until a couple months after we finished shooting. The rest is history. As for a producer, she's so well known in the genre, she brings a lot of terrific contacts and relationships to the table.


A few words about the rest of your cast and crew?


Our cast and crew were phenomenal. Scott did an amazing job as David and really emersed himself in the role. I had worked with Patti Tindall on my movie Death of a Ghost Hunter, and had written Victoria specifically for her, so she did not disappoint. Louis Mandylor, Ed Lauter, Sebastian Kunnappilly, Jonathan Northover, Zena Otsuko, and the rest were fantastic to work with. Our late producer and actor Noah Todd was instrumental in getting the movie off the ground. We owe a lot to him and to the rest of our crew.


What can you tell us about audience reception to The Frankenstein Syndrome so far?


So far, the reviews have been exactly what I had hoped for. This is a thinking-person's sci-fi/horror film. It takes the material seriously and it's been great to read reviews where people have responded to the themes and questions that the film raises.


Let's leave the present behind for the time being and head forward into your past: What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal education on the subject?


I've wanted to make movies since I was 5 or 6. I was a photography major at ASU (they didn't have a film program at the time). I was taking as many film classes as I could and decided that instead of studying film, I should try making one. I scrounged up a couple thousand dollars and made The Great American Snuff Film.


What can you tell us about your debut feature, the disturbing and memorable The Great American Snuff Film?


I wanted to make a movie that was shocking and disturbing, but I didn't have any money. The idea of making a film about someone who made snuff films was a way of achieving both goals. I shot it in the desert of Arizona without a crew, just myself and the actors involved. I wasn't sure it would ever see the light of day, but when we finished it, we started to show it to people and found out that it was really effective. We started playing film festivals and it has since been on DVD in every major country.


You have only recently followed up The Great American Snuff Film with a sequel, The Greatest American Snuff Film. A few words about that one?


Actually, The GREATEST American Snuff Film is not a sequel, it's more of a director's cut/special edition of The Great American Snuff Film. Our original distributor licensed it to another comapny and they wanted to do something with the title to seperate the editions. I'm not crazy about the Greatest part, in fact, I hate it a little, lol, but it was a way for the film to reach a wider audience, so I was ok with that. For a movie made for $2,000, a second edition seemed like a gift.


What can you tell us about The Death of a Ghost Hunter?


I really like Death of a Ghost Hunter. I think it's creepy and works well for what we were trying to do. We made that movie for a whoping $7,000 and it has since seen a lot of life in Blockbuster and on Netflix. I'm very proud of it - it isn't perfect, but it does what I wanted it to do.


The Death Factory Bloodletting?


DFB was something fun to do. It's a grindhouse-style exploitation flick. It really was just an excuse to throw a lot of blood around after trying to go for "creepy" scares with Death of a Ghost Hunter. DFB isn't my best work, but surprisingly, Noah Todd (who starred in it) showed it to some producers in LA and they ended up giving us the money to make The Frankenstein Syndrome.


Any other films of yours you'd like to talk about, any future projects?


I just completed a new script that we're really excited about. Don't want to give away any details, but it's in the works.


A few words about your production company, Ominous Productions?


Ominous was formed to make The Great American Snuff Film and we've operated under it ever since.


Your films all seem to be of the horror variety - a genre especially dear to you?


I love horror films and I especially like horror films that try new things.


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Directors who inspire you?


Spielberg, Fincher, Nolan, Tarantino, the usuals.


Your favourite movies?


Jaws is my favorite movie, hands down.


... and of course, films you really deplore?


There is one particluar film I deplore, the only problem is that the guy who made it also made a film that is pretty great, so that's a wash.


Your/your film's website, Facebook, whatever else? - we're also on Facebook.


Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?


Yeah, Netflix has been a great place for people to see my films, please ask your readers to add The Frankenstein Syndrome to their Netflix Queues.


Thanks for the interview!


Thank you, Mike!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD