If I had anything to do over again, there are a few things, but having as oblique an ending as the movie has is definitely something I would change.
I read that you had been working as an editor on documentaries and featurettes for DVDs?
That's exactly what I do. I used to cut movies, but I got out of that and stopped cutting features when Attic Expeditions didn't finish in it's first 18 days. I had sort of thrown caution to the wind and, we had run out of money so... It took us 4 years to finish the picture, and in that time I needed to find a way to keep me making a movie, and keep my rent paid. Editing features is really a 7 day a week, or at least 6 day a week, 14 hour a day kind of job and I just needed more time for my own stuff.
I had actually interviewed a director a few weeks back who started out as an editor. He said that his experience lead him to actually shoot less because he already knew how it was going to come together in his head. Was your experience similar?
We had such little film, we shot on short ends for the entire "House of Love" (on "The Attic Expeditions") and most of the other film we shot on these tiny pieces and spurts of film that we got for free. We didn't have that much, so most of the movie is the first or second take, we hardly shot any more than that. And I was very grateful for my experience as an editor for the exact same reason; because you actually shoot less, because you can see it come together in your mind. It certainly makes you more conscious of rhythm, because as an editor you know that everybody lets their actors take their time with their work on the set and then you find the rhythm in post. But because I would be shooting less, I had to have a lot more rehearsals with the actors to get them at a pace where they felt comfortable going through the rhythm of a scene at a sort of faster pace than we're used to seeing in a movie. But I can't say for sure that given the opportunity to make a HUGE film that I wouldn't want tons of coverage and to shoot a lot more. But I think I would still be rather precise, because I'm an editor.
I had read that the script for the film was originally supposed to be for Witchcraft IV?
That's exactly right, ya. I came out here when i was 19 in the middle of college and I started working right away. I went from PA to Associate Producer virtually overnight on Witchcraft IV and they didn't have a script yet. Because I was anxious and had gumption and was ready to dive in, I called my writing partner up at the time and said that if you can write a script for Witchcraft IV in the next week you'll beat the guy that's writing it. And he did and I got it and read it and didn't turn it in, because I knew I wanted to make the movie. It obviously changed quite a bit between that draft and the one that we shot, but essentially what the movie was was very much the same.
I had read that a lot of the shaping of the script was collaborative between you and the writer. What was that collaboration like? Did you ever disagree on the meaning of certain events?
I would say that most all of the interpretation of the film came from Rogan. At the core of the movie, the mindfuck element, and the fact that it was a movie that would have three possible explanations and an ending that people might disagree on really came from him. And really in the actual physical writing of the movie; the dialogue and the descriptions and the action, most of that really came from Rogan. I was sort of overseeing I want to say, but that suggests a sort of power over it that I don't think I had. I was working with him trying to add some kind of sense to a movie that he had written in a frenzy for like 3 or 4 drafts, and then we'd have to go and re-examine it and take it apart again. Stuff like the fact that it was important to me that Trevor had something he wanted. Really kind of rudimentary, screenwriting 101 stuff I felt like the movie was missing. Again not intentionally on Rogan's part, but it was important for me for example that the "The Wizard of Oz" parallel that I felt like the movie had on some level was written into it. That Trevor wanted to "go home," that was a beat that was hit a couple of times.
I also had him state the same facts more than once in the movie, so that we would be able to figure out later once we had a cut, at what point people were getting things, and when we didn't need to repeat it 3 times and when we actually did. Because sometimes people need to hear somethign more than once, especially with the really kind of strange concepts that the movie has.
The ending was obviously a little perplexing. On a simple sense I gathered that the film kind of looped around and met itself somewhere in the middle. What does the ending mean to you?
The whole time we were making the movie, it was very important for me to try not to lock onto one point of view of the what the movie was, but rather to try and infuse it with the potential for 3 possible explanations. If I had anything to do over again, there are a few things, but having as oblique an ending as the movie has is definitely something I would change. I wanted to be cryptic, and now having the benefit of several years of reading fans responses and stuff on the internet, and god bless the internet for that. Because it's great, you can really sort of get in touch with what frustrates people. I would go back and change that. To me the movie ultimately was about a guy trapped in his own head, and that he had murdered his fiance, and he did lose his mind because of it. Whether or not it was even in a ritual and there was ever anything black magic about what happened, was always sort of interpretive. I tend to think that it's just about a journey that takes place entirely in someone's mind.
When we were raising money for the movie, we had to go down a million different paths, and talk to a billion lunatic people. Everybody wants to pretend like they can help you raise money, or that they have money, and the further we looked the more sort of lunatic and strange the people we were dealing with were. And everyone wanted a different cut of the deal, but there's this sort of wining and dining experience that I think people love, when it's with someone whose really anxious to make a movie. We didn't have a lot of money, and we didn't wine and dine anyone per se, but there was a lot of going out to coffee, and stroking someone's ego because you believe that they're gonna invest in your film.
At one point we had gotten with a guy who claimed that he had serious ties to money, and wanted to shoot the movie. He had a deal with us that he would put the financing together but he wanted to be the cinematographer. We were obviously very wary of relations like that, but we had to go down that road with him. He was very serious about it, up until the time he read the script, and once he read the script he was furious. Truly furious. And he said, "I can't see how you would want to make a movie like this. The whole thing exists in his head. That is entirely invalid. Movies can't exist that are all a dream, A movie can never have no ground in reality, that makes it invalid." And I said, well what about Wizard of Oz? That's a movie that 85% of it if not more takes place in Dorothy's head, but it doesn't make the journey, or the story that's told invalid? And he hung up on me. So making the movie, that's really the place where I was coming from. It's The Wizard of Oz, but in a madman's head with more horrific elements.
At times it can be a little frustrating. One minute you think you've figured out what's real, and then the next minute all of your notions are tossed out.
If nothing else what we were trying to do was create a film where every 10 minutes what you thought was real completely changed, and the rug's pulled out from underneath you, and you truly believe a whole other set of rules is what reality is. And I think we accomplished that, but I think that maybe I was just a bit overly ambitious in thinking that people were excited for movies like that. Because I know from my personal experiences watching say for example even "Mulholland Drive," which I think is a fabulous movie, but in the end I was angry because I felt like he (David Lynch) didn't bother to have a reason for the whole thing in his head. So I can understand that frustration.
I don't think that anyone else does what he does, and I think that the history of film will bear out his importance, much in the way that Vincent Price wasn't regarded as an important actor during a lot of his lifetime.
I never had directed sex scenes before, and I think that it's always awkward on a movie set making sex scenes. I don't think that anyone has ever had a pleasant experience or a fun experience shooting sex scenes in a movie because, movie sets by their very nature are very un-sexy places. There's a lot of people standing around, and lights, and technical considerations. Even when people are making out on camera, there's somebody standing on the other side of the camera saying, "arch your back baby" (laughs). And they're trying to get an aesthetic rather than a vibe. So ya, I would say that awkward at times but as far as the sex I would have to really applaud Rogan Marshall the writer on that because I felt that we've gotten more and more puritanical in the movies we make. In the way that we in America treat sex. And violence is always sort of up for grabs, like The Passion of The Christ" is a film that the church has come out and supported in many cases. And yet Janet Jackson's nipple is absolutely horrifying to people.
So I tend to be of the school that movies are sensational, they should be. It should be an experience that you don't get in everyday life. And I've always been a fan of seeing someone in a movie and thinking, "gee, I wonder what she looks like naked"... and then getting to see her naked (laughs). And I don't think that's a misogynistic view, I think that that can be applied just as easily for men with female fans. But I also think that there is a point where it does become exploitative and I think that Rogan did an excellent job of keeping the sex in the movie full of meaning and story. I think that that's why I was able to get great actors in my opinion, to do those roles and still do the nudity, because it's often a problem.
Jeffrey Combs stars in the film. What was the process like to get him involved?
The process with Jeffrey was this. Early on we didn't really know how we were going to make the movie but we definitely wanted to get some name actors in there. And the role of Dr. Eck was written for Jeffrey, it was written completely with him in mind. I've been a fan of his ever since I was a kid, I think he's the modern day Vincent Price. I don't think that anyone else does what he does, and I think that the history of film will bear out his importance, much in the way that Vincent Price maybe wasn't regarded as an important actor during a lot of his lifetime. Clearly in retrospect, nobody did what Vincent Price did, and I feel that way about Jeffrey. We got a casting director involved early on in the film who helped us figure out how to make this movie working with the Screen Actors Guild, which is the Union that all actors belong to once they reach a certain level. Once they've been in a real movie basically. I think Jeffrey was the first actor that we actually offered the role too, and he said yes. He liked the script, and I took him to lunch and basically pitched him on me and my passion, and how much I wanted to work with him. As well as my approach to making the film, and the fact that I actually respect and enjoy the process of working with actors. I think all of that was a factor for him.
Interestingly, Jeffrey was supposed to shoot once we've wrapped the rest of the movie. His scenes were supposed to be last. We were shooting 18 days in the 'House of Love' and then 5 other days and then 5 days with Jeffrey, so it was a long shoot. We ran out of money after the first 18 days, so we shut down and we didn't have any money to keep going. It took another 2 and a half years for us to put together the money to actually shoot all the scenes with Jeffrey, which was the last stuff we shot. For all that time, we weren't in communication because I think that there's a certain amount of wondering whether we would get our shit together basically (laughs). A lot of movies die, and it's not uncommon for movies to run out of money and never finish, especially in the low-budget world, and especially with genre films. So it was really a bonding experience for both of us to come back and put together the financing and be finishing the movie together, and for him to know that it burned in my soul as brightly as I always said it did. I think in the end one of the most satisfying things in the whole experience of making Attic Expeditions was Jeffrey's reaction to the final product, and being able to call him a friend. Actually knowing that somebody whose a hero from my childhood, and somebody I think is an incredible actor, and an underused actor as well, is somebody that I know... that I can call up, that's very special to me.
Have you seen the film with a large audience? I was wondering what the reactions have been like.
Every audience I saw the movie with was different. At film festivals I was always surprised how much of the humor that people got. We toured Europe with the horror film festival circuit that they have, and it was really awesome to see the movie with them. One of the things that surprised me is, you go and you make a movie and maybe you read it for the first time and think "yes, this part is scary." And you try and retain that the whole time you're making the movie, because each time you revisit that scene you lose a piece of that. You lose a piece of what frightened you about it, and how you wanted to manipulate an audience... It was always fun for me to see people jump at the appropriate times, or scream, and it surprised me too because I stopped regarding the movie as scary and only really thought of it as kind of funny (laughs), because of the sort of dark humor that's inherent to it. It was always nice to see it with an audience, but it was always a surprise because every audience really is very very different.
What kind of movies did you grow up on?
You know, when I was really little I think I was privileged to see the silent horror films. The Lon Chaney films and stuff, at a very young age. When I was 4 I had seen "The Phantom of the Opera," the '23 version, and "Hunchback of Notredame" and even obviously the Lon Chaney Jr. stuff like "The Werewolf." All of that stuff, and even the silent stuff. It really deeply influenced me and I feel privileged for that experience because, obviously if you see those movies too much later than when you're really young, the effect is gone. You're inundated with television and sound and color everything else, so I feel like I almost got to live the history of horror movies because I saw those movies so young.
There was so much weird stuff on TV, back when I was young, back when there was only TV. We didn't have cable in my neighborhood, and Friday nights they had 2 or 3 horror movies right in a row starting at like 11 o'clock at night, and that was a huge education for me. Movies that I've never found again, and they changed the way I saw what was scary. Then later in life, maybe by the time I was like 11 or 12, when you would rent a VCR, the stuff that came out on video was like very arbitrary. Early Wes Craven like "Last House on the Left," and "I Spit On Your Grave," and some really nasty movies came out in the early days of home video. And of course all of the Herschell Gordon Lewis titles came out almost right away. So it was interesting the stuff that I was able to obsessively watch over and over again, back when video stores had maybe 200 or 300 titles in them ONLY. The horror section was like maybe 25 or 30 movies.
I read that you were remaking some H.G. Lewis stuff?
We are shooting "Wizard of Gore" first. We're very close to being ready to announce shooting on "Wizard of Gore." The script is phenomenal, and re-approaches that story in what I think is a really brilliant way. The writer, when we told him about what we were planning to do, he right away had a take on "Wizard of Gore" that was so unusual and so 'right now', and yet it retained the nugget of what made that original film interesting. The notion of a stage magician who cuts people up and then they're fine, and then 24 hours later they fall apart in whatever hideous manner he injured them on stage. So we have that, and it builds around that incredible story in a really interesting world that I think nobody has seen before. So I'm really excited about it.
You've been trying to put that together for a few years right?
It has, it took a long time to do the deal because we're not a big company so we're operating entirely out of pocket as we always have. And strangely, even though the horror thing has been "hot" out here in Hollywood for a while, it's taken some time to find the right home for what we want to do with this. I think that sometimes people are just a little myopic. If you remake "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" than the next thing people say is well let's remake "Dawn of the Dead." They don't necessarily jump to, let's remake bad movies. So that is our plan, to take movies that are beloved and yet not terribly good, and remake them. Because you're not hurting anything that way. I don't understand what the point of remaking "Psycho" is, but I can certainly understand why you would want to remake... "Gruesome Twosome" (laughs).
Did you see the "Dawn of the Dead" remake?
I did, I did. My friend James (Gunn) wrote that, who wrote a picture that I edited called "The Specials." And ya, I saw it opening weekend of course, like all the other freaks (laughs). In fact opening night, and I loved it. I think it's a really interesting take on not just the zombie film, but the horror film as well. I like movies that do something a little bit different, and I think what Zack did with that film was he managed to make a horror/action film without pissing off anybody who loves either genre. I think it satisfies both ends of the fans.
Have you seen anything else lately that you liked?
That's a good question... I think "28 Days Later" was inspired, and inspiring, and I think just a really great movie, but I think it's always interesting to go back and watch the movies that influenced you. Because over time, some of them fall apart, and some of them get better and better. I just rewatched a bunch of pictures last weekend, because I am getting ready to make another movie. You try to go back to those influences, and you try to capture that lightning in a bottle in your gut again. And I have to say, "Suspiria" will always be one of the greatest horror films that ever was made. I think it's just a FEAST in every way, and every time I watch that movie I find something new. The other one that I think is maybe one of the most under appreciated horror films that ever was, I think was The "Exorcist III." William Peter Blatty's Exorcist movie. It's just so good in so many ways, and still I think it's influence hasn't totally been felt. And I'm always surprised by what tight little movie that is.
I think I'm the only person who didn't like Suspiria the first time I watched it.
Have you gone back and rewatched it?
I haven't actually.. maybe I should.
I think you should, because the first time I watched it it just seemed like beautiful imagery, and a lot of sounds and colors that didn't really mean anything. I couldn't even follow what the hell was going on in that movie. And I was fascinated, but it really took me till the third time that I noticed the precision with which he made that film.