Friday, August 31, 2007

Interview with "Little Erin Merriweather" Director David Morwick

David Morwick wrote, directed, edited, produced and acting in the recently released film Little Erin Merryweather (read our review). Little Erin Merryweather is a very different kind of horror film, combining a slasher storyline with a fairy tale feel. It was made independently and impressed us with its different approach to the slasher subgenre.

Fatally Yours was lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat with David about himself and this wonderful and unique horror film he created.

Fatally Yours: David, thank you so much for this interview opportunity! I enjoyed Little Erin Merryweather very much! As I understand, this was your first feature film. Beforehand you were most well-known for your modeling, even though you are a classically trained actor. What made you want to switch to filmmaking?

David Morwick: First of all, thank you for this opportunity. I am so glad you enjoyed the film. I’ve been at this a long time going back to when I was a little kid doing theater in Boston. It’s funny, my family is a big sports family and I myself participated in a lot of sports growing up but secretly I loved acting and movies. So after my soccer games, my Mom would take me into the Boston’s Children’s Theater. Living in Massachusetts, the modeling for me was the closest thing I could get to being in front of a camera plus my Mom had done modeling. I eventually started landing roles in independent shorts. So it wasn’t so much a switch as it was a progression.

FY: Why did you decide to do a horror film as your first film?

DM: Actually, horror wasn’t my first choice. I love films of the 70’s, classics like American Graffiti were a great source of inspiration to me, because it is so character-driven and all about the acting. Great performances, especially from Richard Dreyfus and Cindy Williams. Richard Dreyfus went on to do one of my favorite horrors of all time, Jaws and Cindy Williams obviously went on to huge success and fame with one of the most historical TV sitcoms of all times, Laverne and Shirley. But it’s great to see her in some of these old classics like American Graffiti or Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. So, it wasn’t so much horror films that inspired me but films of the 70’s. I think my film is probably a throwback to that decade.

FY: You had acting experience before Little Erin Merryweather, but how did you handle the tasks of writing and directing? Had you any experience with those two elements?

DM: I have. Growing up, I used to write a lot of short stories. I think if one is a writer, they are also part director. In other words, you have to see the scene in your head first before you put it on paper. When I was writing this script, I would get on my feet and act out all the parts. So in a sense, I was directing as I was writing.

FY: How hard was it to direct AND act…as well as being the writer, editor and producer? How did you juggle all your roles?

DM: Well, I think a lot of actors are directors. In fact I think some of the best directors are also actors, e.g. Robert Redford. Let me say that you have to be one determined, tough cookie to take on something like this which I am. But writing the screenplay and visualizing the whole thing beforehand helped out a lot.
To be honest with you though, the tougher part for me has always been dealing with people in the movie industry. My parents brought me up to be a nice guy. I wish I could say the same for people in this industry. (laughs)

FY: Little Erin Merryweather is like a cross between a slasher and a fairy tale. It has a very whimsical feel combined with a mysterious story. Can you tell us what inspired the story?

DM: Yes, so many of these horror films have too many twists and turns and you mentioned earlier, these kind of silly Scooby Doo endings. I wanted something straightforward and creepy. If anything, the movie is sort of a sad fairy tale. I never set out to make something horrifying like The Exorcist. I just wanted to tell a unique story about a troubled girl and have it be classy. I always wanted the audience to know who the killer was from the beginning. Too many of these films are about “who did it” with a lot of blood thrown in and not enough about a character and his or her backstory. Keep in mind this is all from her point of view which I thought was different.

FY: Even though the film is very high quality, I understand it had a limited budget. How did everything come together for you to be able for you to make this film?

DM: The simple answer is my family, a few solid friends who believed in me. My Mom, Dad and my three sisters are an incredible gift to me. And even though we had a limited budget, I never thought that was an excuse not to aim high. Keep in mind, if you really look at this film, it is much more than a slasher. People that are looking for blood and T & A, this will go right over their heads. But, I think enough people out there get what the film really is.

FY: All of the actors do a fantastic job in the film (yourself included). How did you find them and what was the auditioning process like? Was it always assumed that you would play the lead character?

DM: Well thank you for saying that. I agree. I think for an indie horror, the performances are strong. Usually in these types of films, there is usually no character development just girls with their shirts off. (laughs) I made sure that all of the actors, including me, had theater backgrounds. Vigdis, myself, Brandon, Marcus, Liz and Jillian were all trained on the stage. So I stuck close to New York and Boston for casting the actors. I actually didn’t plan on playing the lead because most of the roles I have played have been much more menacing and dark. But, for the character of Peter, I wanted him to stand out from the other guys and have him be more sensitive and layered. I saw that as crucial for him being the protagonist. I also wanted him to be blonde where the other guys had a darker look. So physically, I was better suited for that part and emotionally in the end, I knew I could pull it off the best.

FY: I loved how you featured a female killer as opposed to the typical male killer. Why did you decide to do this and how did you pick Vigdis Anholt to play Erin?

DM: Great question! If there is one thing I am not crazy about in the horror genre, it would be that unfortunately I find a lot of these films to be anti-female. I have heard theories defended by fans that these women are really heroines in these films. Frankly, I think that’s a lot of bull. A lot of these women seem to be tortured, punished and the usual “they had it coming to them”. They are almost always exploited particularly with nudity, blood and gore. So I may have pissed off a lot of male viewers by not engaging in any of the latter. I am glad that I wrote a great part for a woman who is front and center. Vigdis Anholt is a brilliant actress who I trained with in New York. I always had her in mind for the role of Erin.

FY: I really dug the Red Riding Hood theme the story focuses on. Of all the different fairy tales out there, why did you pick this one to focus on?

DM: Well, all these films have a man with a hockey mask or a nylon stocking on his head, etc. I wanted to create an iconic getup for a female. Little Red Riding Hood was the perfect way to go given that character was so sweet and unassuming.

FY: The illustrations that show Little Erin Merryweather’s story are very well done. Tell us what inspired you to include the “tale within a tale” and a little about how you came to work with illustrator Kelly Murphy.

DM: Kelly I had actually gone to high school with. She was and is an incredible talent. When I was writing the script, I thought it would be really different to write a story within a story. The book that the killer is making is actually the movie unfolding itself in front of the audience. I thought this would be very creative and original to do.

FY: How did you come up with the rhyme that accompanied the illustrations?

DM: That was tough. Both Kelly and I worked on that. I wanted all of the rhymes to have a metaphor/double meaning, just like most fairy tales. Most fairy tales/nursery rhymes concentrate on the number three (3). Three little pigs, three blind mice, etc. The three guys in our film were viewed as three wolves to her (Erin). One was too gullible and the first to go, the second was too proud, therefore he was the next to go and my character lives in parallel with the fairy tales – he’s the sensitive and smart one, the one that’s paying attention.

FY: The film looks amazing and there are some very visually stimulating shots, like the opening scene with the college student being stalked through the woods or the finale in the library. You and your DP Michael Marius Pessah did a great job. What influenced the look and feel of your film?

DM: Michael Pessah is a very gifted DP. He wanted that red cloak to jump off the screen and look vibrant. He really gave the film a European look in places. He really knows his stuff!

FY: The isolated, snow-covered college setting of the film gives it an even eerier feel. What made you pick this particular setting for the story?

DM: I thought New England with its white picket fences, stone walls and woods is made for a fairy tale. I envisioned all of my locations while I was writing the scenes.

FY: The film was completed in 2003 but hasn’t seen a wide release until recently. Can you tell us a little about how you found a distributor and why the film took so long to get released on DVD?

DM: Well, the internet is a mixed blessing isn’t it. What I mean by that is that technology has moved so fast that there’s a lot of misinformation out there. The film was actually completed in 2005. We had a very rough cut screening in 2003. The film wasn’t even finished but I wanted to get some audience reaction. So the film was far from complete in 2003 contrary to what is portrayed on some web sites. Like most indie films, you can expect to take a good five to six years to make it. In some cases, even longer. Melanie Backer is one of the best producers reps in the business and she sold the film for us. Foreign distribution, TV and cable are on the horizon.

FY: What were some obstacles you had to face during the production and how did you overcome them?

DM: Raising money of course was the major obstacle and a lot of people came and went. I think they might regret it now, since the film has been sold. (laughs) But really, my parents, sisters and my dear friends, Jim, Vigdis and Jon and Jason, got me through this.

FY: What is your favorite memory from making the film?

DM: My Mom watching Vigdis and I act in the diner scene. This scene is one of the best in the film, one of the most intimate. It was great just having my Mom watch Vigdis and I do what we love best, ACTING.

FY: Do you have any advice for independent filmmakers?

DM: Don’t listen to anyone, just trust yourself. I had more people who supposedly knew what they were talking about in regards to filmmaking and the industry, trying to give me advice. A lot of that advice didn’t pan out (laughs). I had so many obstacles to overcome. It’s amazing how many people want to see you fail (jealousy, etc.) or will try to discourage you. So if you are an independent filmmaker, you need to develop a tough skin. Don’t take this industry too seriously.

FY: What are your plans for the future? Do you have any other projects you can tell us about?

DM: To get involved in quality projects, no matter how big or small. That could be film or theater. My interest is not in being a “star” and never has been. A lot of that has very little to do with the craft of acting and filmmaking. I guess that is why in a lot of ways I prefer theater. No matter what, I love to work so I know I will be busy in both.

Thanks so much for this opportunity, Fatally Yours!

FY: Thank you David, and we look forward to whatever is next for you!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Interview with "Sympathy" Director Andrew Moorman

We recently had the pleasure to interview independent director Andrew Moorman, who directed Sympathy (read our review), an independent production that we ourselves called, “a firecracker of a film that crackles and sparks with a crazy energy that feels like it will explode at any minute.”

Sympathy definitely rekindled our love for independent horror films and we were very excited to talk to Moorman about his film and exactly how he achieved making such an amazing film for such a low budget.

Independent filmmakers take note: you can learn a lot from Mr. Moorman and his filmmaking techniques…read on!

Fatally Yours: Welcome, Andrew and thanks so much for this interview opportunity! I really enjoyed your film, Sympathy! Can you tell the uninitiated a little about your film?

Andrew Moorman: Sympathy is the twisted claustrophobic tale of a reckless bank robber, a rebellious teenage hostage, and an escaped convict, who all find themselves trapped in a bad motel room for one long, bloody night, where nothing is what it seems. It’s a classic suspense thriller with elements of horror. It is purely independent cinema, the culmination of three years of blood, sweat, and tears by a tiny group of artists whose raw passion for telling this story, the genre, and the fans are hard to parallel. I’m truly glad you dug it!

FY: Where does the title of the film come from?

AM: Jesus, you hit a soft spot right off the bat. The title of this film is a story unto itself…

I once heard an assessment of titles that I really like: Titling a project is like naming a child, you name it when it’s born and it tends to just become its name, you can’t name a kid when he’s 8, it’s too late. Such was the case with Sympathy. The original title of the play was “Serendipity.” It fit, Arik (the playwright) obviously liked it, as that’s what he named his kid when it was born and he had raised it accordingly. It was and always will be “Serendipity” to him, and if you’ve seen the flick that title does have significant meaning. But, the reality is John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale came along in 2001 and fucked it up with a nice romantic comedy, so when I read the play in 2004 I immediately knew it was going to have to be called something else. The problem was, we could never agree on what the new title should be, so for the longest time I too just called it “Serendipity.” I think after a certain amount of time calling a spade a spade it becomes impossible to call it anything else.

There were at least 10 different ‘working titles’ that encompassed the pre-shooting scripts, the contracts, rehearsal notices, shooting script, even into the picture slates. Some of the one’s I can remember are “A Good Room to Die In,” which has a nice noir-esque or even western feel, and “Bad Motel” which was sort of an homage to straight to the point B-movie titles. I always thought it was too bad “Kiss Me Deadly” was taken, as that’s not only a fitting title, but a one of the all time greats as well.

Regardless though, Sympathy came at the peak of frustration when finding a title seemed impossible. Our lighting designer, Bruce, who is a fucking character to say the least, was the key member of a hilarious drunk story I was witness to about the Rolling Stones. To sum it up, a woman at a bar told Bruce she was such a big Stone’s fan she named her kid after her favorite Stone’s song. She told him to guess the kid’s name, sincerely, and after several minutes of intense thinking and repeating, “Hold on, I know this” the inebriated genius declared he ‘had it’ and proclaimed “Sympathy for the Devil!” I told that story to a slap-happy cast and crew one day and after we all finally stopped laughing Bruce said, “You know what, you should name this kid after that song.” Suddenly, I thought about what that title was really saying, the idea of having Sympathy for someone you’re not supposed to, and my god, it kinda worked. Well, because of the classic film by that name we knew we couldn’t go there, but when condensed to just “Sympathy” it fit. Ultimately to me it’s become Sympathy, it now feels unnatural to call it anything else. So Arik’s baby on stage is “Serendipity” and mine on screen is Sympathy.

To me the title of this film is about having sympathy for each of the three characters, which I think most do at some point in the flick. That’s a unique thing in that you’re usually made to feel sympathetic or empathetic for only the ‘good guy’ in a film, but in this tale no one is definitively good, they’re all liars. I thought, if we could get the audience to feel sympathy for everyone at some point, to care about all three of these characters, we will have created an environment where everyone and everything means something. It’s about honesty in the midst of this giant lie, and vulnerability. Plus I really love one-word titles and “sympathy” is a great word (especially when written in red).

FY: Why did you decide to make Sympathy into a film?

AM: Although originally written for the stage, this piece was cinematic to me from the first word. I think film and theatre shouldn’t differentiate what their focus is, they should both focus on character and story. While condensed to one room, which is common for a play but uncommon for a motion picture, Sympathy has three amazing characters that embody an amazing story; that’s the core of what has to be there for a film to work, and it was.

Also it being my first feature film, I was allured by the fact it was only three characters. I felt with that I could actually focus on each one, giving weight and purpose to their existence and work extremely intensively and meticulously with the actors. And ultimately I saw it as an enormous challenge for me as a director. It was never a case of, “Oh great, three characters/one room, this should be easy…” I knew the idea of keeping an audience’s attention for over 100 minutes with one location would be near impossible and I was also glad there were so few films (if any) that dealt specifically with that same problem, so I avoided inadvertently ripping others off. It was all a grand exercise that we had no clue would work or not.

FY: Between Arik Martin’s whip-smart script and your sharp directing, the film is suspenseful and engaging, even though all the action happens in one room. How did you keep the atmosphere of the film so tense?

AM: There’s one director out there that gets environment right every time out, and that’s Werner Herzog. He does it by avoiding a separation between the environment of the world inside the film, and the environment of the outside world you’re making the film in. You wanna shoot a guy lost in the jungle; you go to the middle of the jungle… So in our case the first thing I did was to be very selective about where our soundstage was. We all lived in the heart of Chicago, which houses nice hotels, but no real bad motels. When you get out of the city you can find some great iconic rows of fleabag inn’s, all of which we scouted, but the motel in Sympathy felt like it had to be in the middle of nowhere — the desolation had to add to the hopelessness of these characters. So, as luck would have it, we found a barn way out in the middle of nowhere and that’s where we built our set. It was an hour outside the city, surrounded by an endless cornfield and ominous woods, and we knew once we got out there there’d be nothing to do but make a movie.

As far as the set itself it was a four-walled set with a ceiling, so we were locked inside. The room quickly became every bit as dingy and disgusting as any motel room I’ve ever been in (sans the lovely comforter stains), and after shooting everyday in it for 13, 14, 15 hours a day, it transformed into a house of complete madness. It really became our blood soaked heart of darkness, and we had some truly dark days in there, so what the camera was capturing was simply what was there. The isolation added to our hopelessness as well. We created that environment to shoot in so we wouldn’t have to fake it later. I still can’t imagine shooting this movie in a nice soundstage in the city, being able to call ‘cut’ and walk out into air conditioning, where the cityscape was just outside our door. It would be like Werner shooting a jungle on the backlot of Universal, in between the tour bus passing by to take pictures.

FY: What experience with filmmaking did you have before making Sympathy?

AM: I went to college in ‘99 to study acting with a prestigious conservatory for theatre. Once I got there my love for film was unmistakable and as much as I was drawn to theatre, I wanted to create cinema. In the midst of that program not being a good fit for me I started to discover what happened behind a camera to create a film, and for Christmas that year I got my first Canon digital camcorder. I left the program at the end of that year (on the advisement of one of the professors, who encouraged me to explore directing for film) and immediately started creating projects, and I just never stopped. It went from short films to documentaries to experimentals and video art to music videos and industrials. The short films started to get longer and longer and more complicated and I started getting hired as a commercial director, editor, and shooter. The year before I graduated I was working on an hour long short funded by the president of the university and was also shooting commercial spots for companies like ESPN and Weber Grill. I think I’ve logged well into the thousands of hours shot and god knows how many more cut. That’s all I did in college was work on making movies, it was, and still is, a true obsession. But I wanted to make feature films and be a narrative storyteller, so when I finally found the right piece I dropped everything else and went for it.

FY: The acting from the three leads in the film is absolutely amazing! What kind of auditioning process did you go through to find your actors?

AM: I agree! I’m so proud of the performances in this film… Dennis was the first role cast. Aaron Boucher and I did a play together (as actors) that was written by Arik and we became fast friends. During the rehearsal process for that play and performing it on stage every night I saw not only a consistency and raw energy in his performance, but a potential that wasn’t being tapped. Plus, getting to know him personally I had a fascination with him like Klaus Kinski to Herzog or Brando to Coppola.

Trip and Sara came out of a huge casting call we did in Chicago. Steven came in the room and I instantly knew he was actually the character Trip in real life when he dropped his script, fell over a chair, and told me his favorite movie was Big Trouble in Little China. He was enormously talented comedically, but could also turn on a dime dramatically and this kid was ready to fucking work. I knew spending countless days in a barn with him would be enjoyable and reliable so he was one of those, ‘as soon as he walked in the room’ stories. Plus he looks like Zack Morris and I’m a huge Saved by the Bell fan.

Sara was a big deal to me because at the time of casting she was the primary reason I was doing the movie. I had formed an obsession with that character, fallen in love with her (under her spell) essentially, so finding the right girl to bring that character to life I thought would be impossible. Arik had to consistently tell me after each girl left the room to curb my unreachable expectations or we’d never find an actress. Plus, I was coming off a bad working experience with an actress on the last film. Then, during the casting call I left the room to go the bathroom and when I walked into the hall where all the actors were prepping to come in and audition, I saw a girl curled up in the corner away from everyone else with headphones intensively studying her sides. She had a quite intensity that I couldn’t help but pick up on. She was adorable and dangerous looking at the same time and had a unique look from everyone else we saw. She came in the room, read once, and I directed her to read differently, throwing her all kinds of loops to see how she’d react. She reacted perfectly. So she read with Steven and Aaron and their chemistry instantly locked and wha-la. The biggest thing after that was taking both Steven and Marina out to lunch (separately) and describing what making this film was going to be like. This was all three of their screen debuts so I had to warn them what they were getting themselves into and make sure they’d go the distance with me. They were truly ready, so we went.

FY: All the actors had great chemistry onscreen. Did everyone in the cast and crew spend a lot of time together off screen?

AM: “A lot of time” is a genuine understatement. We became a family, it was incredible. I made Aaron and Steven ride the train together out from Chicago to Indiana and they did a lot of spending time leading up to the filming on their own. I also made them sleep in the same room in the house where we stayed while shooting. Marina I tried to isolate from the rest in the beginning, but very quickly we all just became trapped out there together so it was like Gilligan’s Island. We did everything together and it seemed we all complimented the next and made each other laugh and we cared a tremendous amount about each other.

When you go through something like the making of Sympathy it becomes an unspeakable and unbreakable bond. I think once we really slipped into madness we were the only one’s each other wanted to be around because we felt anyone else wouldn’t understand what we were going through and who we’d become. It was our own war. The chemistry on screen is like the environment on screen, it was really there when shooting so none of it had to be manufactured. And like trying to imagine shooting on a backlot; I can’t fathom making a film like this without going through what we went through together. I hear stories of actors showing up on the day of their shoot, having never met the other actor, shaking hands and rolling their takes, and then leaving. That seems insane to me, to manufacture a relationship on screen that doesn’t exist off. Lastly, what actors do can be a very vulnerable thing, when you ask them to strip it all away in front of a lens. When you build enough trust and honesty they’ll do that, but it’s a very personal thing to share and once you do you never forget it.

FY: How did you find your crew?

AM: Eddie Perason, my loyal right-hand-man has been with me since the beginning. He and I started making films together at the same time and became like brothers. He was the only one of the crew that made it through the whole shoot and I’ll never forget that because he had the least to gain from the whole thing and probably the most to go through to be out there.

Bruce was a photographer I adored as a person ‘cause the cat is like none other out there. We lived in the same building in Chicago a few years prior and had stayed in touch. While acting as a professional freelance still photographer he always expressed an interest in motion pictures, so we had ramped up to collaborating for some time. Then he moved out of Chicago to some weird farm house in Indiana, and as the fates would have it that’s where we ended up shooting Sympathy, and he and his wife were kind enough to offer us accommodations while we shot (little did they know how long it was going to take).

The rest of the shooting crew were a very small rotating group that just dug what we were doing and wanted to be involved. When the schedule ran way over they all had to get back to their day jobs and couldn’t afford to not get paid. They were great though when we had em’ (especially Jason Makman, our sound guy who would fall asleep while booming a scene — makes for a steady boom mic ironically).

The post sound crew started with Onna (sound designer), whom I met as a fluke in an LA bookstore when I heard her discussing another project. She and I hit it off and she ultimately hooked me up with Dave (the composer) and Aaron ‘Luc’ Levy (the mixer extraordinaire). These were three insanely talented people working on Hollywood films and television, getting well paid, and some how I coaxed them into doing Sympathy for free.

I can’t wait to make another film with all of them, as there are the only ones to this day I have found that share my level of passion. When you find people that love doing what they do as much as you do it’s a wonderful marriage.

FY: How long did it take to finish the film, from pre-production, shooting, and post-production?

AM: For a while I thought I was never going to divulge that information, but it’s the reality of independent filmmaking. We shot the film summer of 2004. It took us till the winter of that year to finish. Then, in the beginning of 2005 I moved to LA and started cutting. I had a rough cut by the fall and I smoothed that into something I could start to show by the end of ‘05. I met Onna and Dave near the end of ‘05 and we all sat down in the beginning of 2006 to start work. Because I couldn’t pay them and they had to work in the midst of day jobs (like we all did) it took almost that entire year to get a score and design. I then met Aaron, my savior, and we started mixing in December of 2006. The day after Christmas, ’06, Dolby came in and print mastered the film and we were on a movie screen in LA Friday the 13th of April, 2007. From casting to the silver screen it was almost three years to the day. This film was as monumental and encompassing as high school or college for me.

FY: The film was made for a very low budget of (I believe) $6,500. How did you achieve this?

AM: It would seem impossible to make a 105 minute film professionally edited, color corrected, scored, designed, and mixed in 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, but not knowing the impossibilities of this we pulled it off. The film all takes place in one room, this element wasn’t created to serve the budget, rather the story, but fortunately it makes for a contained expense account in the production phase. The set was built by members of the cast and crew and some family, the building materials were donated. The furnishings were all purchased from a real motel supply store for under $250. The actors provided their own costumes. I already owned my own digital camera and editing equipment and acted as both cinematographer and editor. The soundstage was the barn in Indiana, behind a farmhouse that provided the tiny cast and crew’s accommodations during shooting. The only real production expenses outside of that were blood (grocery store Karo syrup), food and tape stock (which in the mini-DV format runs around $5 an hour).

In post-production the film was cut for free by me, and I then lured the talents of the composer, sound designer, and mixer to work for passion (paying what I could to cover studio expenses, all of which were cut dramatically). Companies such as Dolby Laboratories donated their resources for first-time filmmakers because they believed in this film and its creators. No one was paid up-front for their efforts and most involved actually spent money to see the project come to fruition. The print-mastering of both the sound and video were all formatted digitally and the final project currently only exists on DVD, which was all done in-house with my MAC. The film has played theatrically in multiple venues, projected off a DVD, which can be purchased for under a dollar, and holds a high-quality compressed mpeg2 transfer and the 5.1 Dolby surround sound mix. With modern digital technology, solid-state formats (which are incredibly expensive) aren’t incredibly necessary. When the technology services the story, and the storytellers are willing to work within their confines — ingenuity, creativity, and endurance can make amazing substitutes for money.

FY: Do you have any advice for aspiring indie filmmakers for keeping their budgets low?

AM: Step 1: Don’t pay people (including, and especially yourself). This sucks, as you want to compensate people for their hard work, but passion and creative freedom can be amazing substitutes for money. The reality is, you can sit around and wait for funding forever. It’s always an illusion that it’s going to come, and even when it does it always goes away before you can get to it. Just get out and start shooting and you’ll attract others who want to be a part of it. Do feed them, though, always. People will work for free, but never hungry.

Step 2: Use DV. Tape stock is around $5 an hour and there are no development costs. From the shoot, it goes right into the computer, is edited, and goes onto DVD… It is cost and time efficient and technology is pushing it to looking better and better (and more affordable so buy, don’t rent cause it’s always going to take longer than you thought). It also leads me to the next step…

Step 3: Learn how to do everything! When you don’t know how to do something you have to hire someone to do it for you, and rarely will they do it for free. If you learn how to do it on your own and you run out of money (or don’t have it in the first place), it can still get done.

Step 4: Don’t indulge. You don’t need what ‘they’ have.

Step 5: Lastly – Guerilla Filmmaking: get in, get out… got what you needed for free.

FY: In your opinion, what is the biggest mistake independent filmmakers make?

AM: They act like Independent Filmmakers. As indy filmmakers we have endless creative control, and for that we sacrifice resources, but that doesn’t mean the resources we have shouldn’t be treated like the resources we wished we’d have. I treat my DV camera like it’s a Panavision 35mm. I spend countless hours lighting and setting up shots. I meticulously frame. I use filters. I only shoot handheld when it benefits the story. I find that part of the reason people always identify digital films so quickly is because they are shot like digital films. I shoot for the story, not for the format. Also, don’t abuse digital editing. Just because it is ‘non-destructive’ and you’re not actually cutting film, it tends to become inconsequential. Each cut should mean something and serve a purpose. Spend the time, it should take every bit as long to make your indy film as it takes to make a major studio release. Actually, it should take longer because they have myriads of professionals working and you’ll certainly be working with a smaller crew (if not just by yourself). Focus on story and character. The separation between a great independent film and a great studio film should only be that we look a little less polished, which I’ve always preferred and believe makes us more accessible. But, we can’t sacrifice story and character just because we’re independent of finances or resources, we should actually have more because we’re independent of restriction and interference.

And lastly, the biggest mistake independent filmmakers make is that they quit. The number of completed indy films compared to the number that collapse is astonishingly low. This is an endurance test; we must suffer for our art. This shouldn’t be easy, if it were anyone and everyone could do it.

FY: During production, can you tell us about the worst experience you had?

AM: That’s like asking Carrot Top what’s the unfunniest thing he ever said. There were some dark, dark days. In pre-production we got incredibly stalled because we couldn’t find the extensive funding we originally wanted (or thought we needed). In production, almost every member of the cast and crew quit at some point. It was a brutal, brutal shoot, especially when the crew started dropping off and we whittled down to just the actors, Eddie (our assistant director), and myself. Being in that one room day and night after day and night, it just seemed like a purgatory we were never going to get out of. We also went from these extremely hot days to these extremely ridiculously fucking cold days, with no heat or A/C.

Then, in post-production I slipped into my darkest hours, as I just couldn’t get the beast tamed. Cutting a film that never changes in tone or color palate, that is essentially one long scene and giant continuity cluster-fuck, is the hardest thing I can imagine editing. We all did this in the midst of really shitty day and night jobs too, so that wasn’t fun, always having to mentally step back out to make the rent.

I think for me the darkest day I can remember was in post-production. As bad as it got during shooting I was always sharing in the misery with my friends, but in post the entire thing was on my shoulders and I had those isolated moments at 4:30 in the morning where I’d take a break from my regular dusk till dawn editing sessions and sit in my bathtub in Hollywood, starring at the dripping faucet and saying to myself, “I made a disaster of a fucking movie.” I was way too close to it, I couldn’t step back and see it for what it was.

FY: What is your favorite memory from making the film?

AM: There sincerely are so many. When you make a film against all odds every victory is a life-altering event. For me I love fighting wars, I love hitting a wall and then figuring out how to either get around it or knock it down. When things run smoothly I get bored. I also love when it transcends this process of making a film and becomes something personally fulfilling, like the actors hitting moments then didn’t know they were capable of achieving, or pushing seasoned professionals to new heights, bringing them out of a creative funk and freeing them for the first time in a long time. I guess the one that sticks out the most was a night in the middle of shooting where we were in the midst of a 14- hour day on the tail end of an epically long weekend, and everyone was fighting me tooth and nail because I just didn’t think we were getting a scene right. I pushed and pushed the actors and it got so heated I walked off the set, slamming the door behind me. When I hit the outside of the barn I looked up and the biggest moon I’d ever seen greeted me, as if it were sitting in the backyard. The world outside the set seemed hyper-real and I realized I’d never cared about something intangible so much. I had truly escaped the world, and was living inside a movie.

FY: What influences did you draw from and what were you inspired by when making Sympathy?

AM: Cinematically there was a lot of Hitchcock in the early planning and pre-production. I also re-watched every Kubrick film prior to shooting including The Shining, which I showed (along with the DVD’s behind-the-scenes) to the cast. I was really into what Chan-Wook Park was doing at the time with the Vengeance trilogy, I thought that was groundbreaking stuff visually so I studied that along with some Miike and Asian cinema. Barton Fink was a big inspiration in a lot of ways, set design, pacing, and the genius of the Coen’s in general. I was also really into mapping out some of Orson Welles three-point coverage along with Kurosawa films and the way he frames multiple character compositions. I watched a lot of Westerns to see how they frame character’s holding guns and pacing showdowns, and some grindhouse cinema of the 70’s to capture that raw feel. Richard Linklater made a film called Tape I took a look at because of the similarities, but I think more to make sure I was avoiding copying it than anything else; very different film though. And lastly I looked at David Lynch to see how he commits to the worlds he creates and the intensity he can build within those worlds using sound as such an important aspect of the filmic experience.

Beyond that, when we started shooting I actually made it a point to stop watching movies, unless I needed them to reference for the cast or crew. I drew a lot of inspiration from the people around me, simply because we were all trying to accomplish the same thing, we were all in similar places in both our artistic and personal lives, and we are all really freakin’ hard workers. We pushed each other a lot, and it’s inspiring to see someone you like and respect and admire succeeding. It drives you to challenge yourself at every turn, hoping to surprise both them, and yourself.

FY: Do you have any film projects planned for the future?

AM: As much as I truly loathe my day job, I’ve turned down several paying gigs recently because they haven’t been right yet. Whatever’s next, I’ve got an amazing reserve of creative energy waiting for it and I’m really, really ready to fucking work. If I’m going to bring a unique voice to cinema, I’ve gotta have something unique to say.

I’ve got this father/son road movie that turns into a revenge tale, it may or may not be the next thing I do. I’m still working on it with a co-writer, when we finish we’ll shop it around and meanwhile I’m open to anything else that comes my way. I’m very intrigued by both working on films that I write, and working on other’s scripts. Anything I do though is a total commitment and basically takes over my life for however many years it takes to make, so it’s gotta be right.

FY: What are your plans for Sympathy now (festivals, distribution deals, etc.)?

AM: I’m doing everything I can, absolutely everything, to get this film out there. As of writing this I’ve sent in to over 10 festivals (three of which we’ve gotten into so far), written hundreds upon hundreds of emails to web sites and reviewers and fan bases and screening events to get more exposure, and hopefully build to a good distributor seeing the interest in the film and taking us on. I’m still treating Sympathy as a full-time job.

I do something every day that I hope will forward the film. We’ve had a few offers for foreign distribution, some of which have gone to the contractual stage, but nothing is set yet. I want this film to be done right, I’m not into what seems like a right of passage for first-time filmmakers to get screwed on their first picture and ultimately give it up for nothing, only to wish desperately they had it back. It’s like my first-born; I want its future to be special. The response has been remarkable, we’ve been so blessed by the fans, whom I’ve said repeatedly are the best in the world, of any genre. So now, I need those who can really get it out there to believe in the film as much as the fans have. We’re being patient, it took a long time to make it right, so we realize it’s going to take a long time to sell it right. We knew from the get-go as fans ourselves, that the fans and audiences would decide the fate of this film. If that belief holds true, I think Sympathy has a bright future.

FY: Andrew thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to interview you! We look forward to seeing what you will do next!

AM: Sincerely, thank you. As an independent filmmaker interest in what you do means a great deal and keeps you going. As an independent website and publication, thank you for what you’re doing with your passion for this genre, and cinema in general. I look forward to your future and the future of this site as well.

Sympathy’s Official Website

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Masters of Horror - We All Scream for Ice Cream (2007)

Remember the sweet days of summer as a kid? Endless days with no school, spent running through the neighborhood sprinklers, getting into trouble with your group of friends and harassing the nice ice cream man? Ya, those were the days…until they come back to haunt you.

Layne, his wife and his young son and daughter have just moved back to his old hometown. Everything is sweet suburban bliss until his childhood friends start disappearing/dying in suspicious and strange ways. They are seemingly melting, leaving behind only their clothes and a big gooey mess. Children in town are behaving oddly as well, including Layne’s own son and daughter. They wander around at night, waiting for the ice cream man to show up. It seems that when Layne and his buddies were kids, they caused the death of the local ice cream man. Now he’s back…for sweet revenge.

Now, I could go on and on about the disappointing Masters of Horror series, but we’ve been down that road one too many times. Sure, the Masters of Horror haven’t really lived up to their namesakes, but there have been a few episodes that were fairly impressive (sidenote: my personal favorites have been Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, Coscarelli’s Incident On and Off a Mountain Road and Argento’s Pelts.). Sadly, Tom Holland’s (Fright Night, Child’s Play) We All Scream for Ice Cream just ain’t one of ‘em.

Let me tell ya, if I was still a kid, I wouldn’t come anywhere near a man selling ice cream dressed in a clown suit. Clowns just freak me out and no matter what sweet serenade his ice cream truck played, he would not be able to lure me out from behind the safety of my mom’s apron. The premise of the clown ice cream man was a freakishly frightful idea in my mind, and I really hoped the creepiness factor would be bumped up.

Unfortunately, the clown looks more like a rejected member of the Insane Clown Posse that a scary spook.

Adding to the definitively un-scary atmosphere is the inclusion of voodoo as a means to an end for the all-grown-up gang that accidentally killed the clown. Voodoo can definitely be frightening, mind you, but not when it’s dispatched via a tasty cold treat in the shape of a man.

The acting is subpar, even for a Masters of Horror episode. The only real standout was William Forsythe as the clown. The character might not come off as scary (he’s more of a sympathetic character in my mind), but Forsythe completely envelopes himself in the role. He does such a fine job that he was unrecognizable to me until I saw his name in the credits. The rest of the cast, though, is mediocre to downright awful to watch.

There is little gore in this episode, though one backwoods bathtub scene stands out. The rest of the gore scenes show people rapidly melting into a rainbow-sherbet of slop. Nothing too impressive and the finale is just “meh.”

Tom Holland may have made some great films back in the day, like Child’s Play and Fright Night, but this Masters of Horror episode just goes to show why he hasn’t had a directing gig in quite some time. We All Scream for Ice Cream is a tired, boring entry into the series that you’ll forget about two seconds after watching.

It just goes to show that revenge isn’t always a dish best served cold…

Available from Amazon!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Perfect Creature (2007)

Vampire flicks are notoriously hard suckers (pun intended) to pull off. The vampire myth is so well-known that to keep the audience’s interest you need to throw something new and exciting into the mix. It seems that there are a plethora of vampire movies released into the horror market ever year, but few of them are memorable or even good.

Luckily, the recently released Perfect Creature, written and directed by Glenn Standring, infuses the tired genre with a whole new take on the vampire mythos, one that has vampires co-existing peacefully with humans…until a renegade decides to change the world.

In an alternate world that looks like a post-industrial Victorian London mixed with 1950’s and 1960’s technology, The Brotherhood exists. The Brotherhood is a superior race that began some 300 years ago who use their abilities to protect humans. In turn, humans revere and give their blood to sustain the Brothers. The Brothers have never killed a human being for blood…until now. Edgar (Leo Gregory), a renegade Brother has snapped and is now running amuck through the city, feasting on humans. Edgar had been doing genetic experiments to try and make female vampires a reality. You see, there are no females in the Brotherhood and therefore there hasn’t been a new Brother in over 70 years. Edgar has been infected with his own tainted experiment that has made him bloodthirsty. Silus (Dougray Scott), a high-ranking Brother in the order, is hard on his tail, but the human police discover one of Edgar’s victims before Silus can catch him and cover it up. The police, including Lilly (Saffron Burrows) and Jones (Scott Wills), are joined by Silus to track down the vicious Edgar before he starts spreading his virulent disease.

Perfect Creature is a wondrous new take on the vampire myth. These fanged creatures certainly don’t follow the rules of old school vampires! For one, they are looked up to by the human populace and revered as priests, scholars, scientists and benefactors. They also can move about freely in sunlight and don’t need a stake through the heart to kill them. They still have fangs and still need blood to survive, but these fanged crusaders do things for “the greater good” and all that jazz.

Adding to the “different feel” of the movie is the setting. The film is set in a gritty, dirty world that Jack the Ripper would feel comfortable in. At the same time, the industrial-Victorian feel is contrasted with the more modern appliances we see – a 50’s style television, old cars and even a zeppelin flying overhead. The spectacular visuals and setting sealed the deal for me and really sold the very different vampire story.

Speaking of the story, it goes deeper than merely two vampires, one good and one bad, duking it out. The relationship between Silus and Lilly develops very subtlety and there is a nice little surprise at the end that wraps everything up nicely while still leaving the film wide open for a follow-up. The characters were all well-developed and the film goes much deeper than a typical Underworld/Blade-style vampire film.

The action scenes do not disappoint, though I thought there would be more of them. The way the Brothers crawl straight up walls and other feats of their superhuman strength were pretty nifty to watch. Edgar’s escape from the Brotherhood was fraught with expectancy and was a thrill to watch. For a vampire film, there’s not very much blood spilled, but I was still pleasantly surprised at how the film stuck to a solid storyline rather than devolving into a brainless vamp action film. Props must be given to writer/director Glenn Standring for crafting such a fine story.

If you are sick of all the throw-away vampire films that seem so frequent these days, sink your teeth into this meaty hunk of a whole different breed. This Creature is definitely one feature you won’t want to miss…

Available on Amazon!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Little Erin Merryweather (2007)

Little Erin Merryweather is an original and unique horror film that blends a slasher flick with fairy tale elements. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the film, from the cinematography to the acting to the script and story.

The film opens with an eerie rhyme about a little girl (Jillian Wheeler) and what her father (Josef Wille) does to her while reading his favorite fairy tale to her…and a brutal murder of a college student on a snow-covered campus. The boy is stalked through the woods by a red-hooded killer, attacked, gutted and has his intestines replaced with stones.

From there, we meet Peter Bloom (David Morwick, who also wrote, directed, produced and edited), a writer for the college newspaper who finds out about the murder in all its grisly detail. He is also a psychology student in Dr. Paula Sheffield’s (Elizabeth Callahan) class and lately they’ve been studying serial killers. Peter is convinced that the school has a serial killer on their hands and tries to convince his two buddies, Teddy (Brandon Johnson) and Sean (Marcus Bonnee), who also work for the paper, to do an investigative report on the homicide. The bumbling police officer (Frank Ridley) is doing a horrible job tracking down the killer and soon, more males are murdered by the same modus operandi. Peter decides to take matters into his own grubby little hands and enlists the help of his professor, Dr. Paula, to compile a serial killer profile and figure out the significance of the stones.

Meanwhile, Peter has a crush on Erin (Vigdis Anholt), who is in his psychology class and works at the library. She seems like an intelligent, nice and pretty girl, but there’s more to her than meets the eye…

Can Peter figure out who the killer is before he is next?

From the title of the film and from the way the story unfolds, you know that Erin Merryweather is the killer. There’s no big reveal at the end or any silly Scooby-Doo-like twist…just a very straight-forward, creepy story.

The major appeal of the film comes from its fairy-tale-like resuscitation of a creepy nursery rhyme that is like a spin off of Little Red Riding Hood gone horribly, horribly wrong. Accompanying this back story are beautiful illustrations (done by illustrator Kelly Murphy) that show places within the story that slowly fade-in to the real live location. The setting of the snow-covered, isolated campus also helps to up the creeptastic ante.

Another plus is the superb acting in the film. David Morwick and Vigdis Anholt both do a tremendous job in the lead roles. Elizabeth Callahan also does a great job in her role as the psych professor. I was very impressed with the quality of the acting in the film and hope to see more of both Morwick and Anholt in the future.

The script is intelligent and doesn’t insult you by crafting throw-away, unbelievable characters or situations. Penned by Morwick, (who amazingly shared the duties of a lead role, directing, writing, editing and producing) the script is tight, believable and has absolutely no plot holes. Most horror films nowadays are written with just boobs and blood in mind, but not so with Little Erin Merryweather. Morwick takes the time to develop the characters, make the audience care about them (even the killer) while managing to keep the film full of tension.

The film does have its jump scares, but it mainly relies on suspense and tension as opposed to being “scary.” Erin’s transition from sweet, shy library chick to dolled-up psycho killer is definitely a shock to see and definitely satisfying. Just don’t expect to see gore in this film – most of the death scenes are either obscured or happen off-screen. There’s not much of the red stuff flying around either, but I’m definitely not complaining. Subtle horror is much more my cup of tea.

The direction (again by Morwick – what a multi-tasker!) is stunning, especially the opening scene with the little girl, any of the scenes in the woods, and the opening kill scene. The stark white snow makes a perfect backdrop to the killer’s blood-red cloak. Just like Morick’s acting (and writing), I hope to see much more of his direction in the future.

Little Erin Merryweather is a new release that should definitely be seen by more people, ones that appreciate a wondrous, whimsical slasher when they see one!

Available from Amazon!

City of the Living Dead (1980)

I picked up City of the Living Dead (aka The Gates of Hell) on my last jaunt to my favorite store, Second Spin. I was convinced I already owned a copy or had at least watched this Fulci flick, but I was delighted to find I had NOT seen it.

City of the Living Dead has pretty much been slammed by critics, much to my chagrin. Why this sweet little supernatural/zombie flick packed to the teeth with gory goodness has been so lambasted is simply beyond me, for I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In the town of Dunwich a priest (Fabrizio Jovine) commits suicide in a cemetery and opens up the gates to hell. Meanwhile, a psychic (Catriona MacColl) has a vision of this priest and the hell on earth that will ensue after his suicide. This psychic seems to die from fright during the séance, but awakens after she’s been buried alive. A newspaper reporter (Christopher George) poking around her grave for a story rescues her. She then convinces him the world will end in 48 hours unless they find this mysterious town of Dunwich and stop the undead priest from unleashing hell on earth. Back in Dunwich, the undead priest is hard at work and zombies are rising from graves and killing people. When the psychic and reporter finally find Dunwich, they team up with a few others, including a psychologist (Carlo De Mejo) and a young child (Luca Venantini), to fight off the impending zombie apocalypse. Can they stop it before it’s too late?

I am really surprised more people didn’t dig this movie, because I thought it was abso-fucking-lutely fantastic! When you go into a Fulci flick, you have to realize that you won’t get a very well-developed story or even one that makes sense. What you will get, however, is a highly atmospheric and stylized, gore-filled treat! City of the Living Dead is no different, packed with eerie shots of a fog-filled cemetery, a creepy, undead priest and some cringeworthy gore!

The visuals are outstanding, with Fulci creating some seriously nightmarish images. Characters keep seeing the creepy priest appear and disappear, zombies begin stumbling around the nearly-deserted streets and the city of Dunwich begins to take on a very apocalyptic feel. Fabio Frizzi’s dark score helps to heighten the atmosphere and kept me on the edge of my seat!

Besides the sinister visuals, Fulci gives us a heaping plateful of his trademark ooey gooey gore. Once the priest puts the impending apocalypse into motion, people start behaving a little…oddly. In one very memorable scene, a father catches his daughter hanging out in the garage with a guy and suspects the worse. He punishes the man (who in earlier scenes we see is a disturbing sexual deviant, played by none other than Italian horror icon Giovanni Lombardo Radice) by drilling right through his skull in a fantastically shot scene! In another legendary scene, the priest appears and makes a girl cry blood tears and slowly regurgitate her own intestines. Truly a sick, sick sight, but oh so worth it!

Now, no matter how much I enjoyed this flick it still has some very serious flaws. The most glaringly obvious is the poor storyline. The story itself is pretty nonsensical and there are plenty of plot holes to jar your enjoyment of the film. Believability MUST be suspended quite a bit to believe the sequence of events portrayed in the film. Example – without any explanation, the zombies in this film, including the undead priest, can teleport. Pretty handy for freaking people the fuck out! Also, the psychic coming back to life after nearly being buried alive is pretty implausible…didn’t they stuff corpses with embalming fluid and whatnot back then?

The dialogue is pretty horrendous as well, with the characters endlessly babbling about Dunwich being built upon the remains of Salem, going back and forth on how they must stop the priest and on and on. The film gets a lot better towards the end when there is more screaming than talking. Yet, I found myself being able to overlook the bad dialogue and just enjoy the action happening on-screen.

While City of the Living Dead certainly has its flaws and isn’t the best Fulci flick around, it still has a certain charm that made me love it. For those that haven’t experienced Fulci’s unique style of filmmaking (shame on you!) I would NOT recommend this film. It’s a little too all over the place for a starting point. Instead, I’d suggest first checking out Zombi or The Beyond. Still, those that haven’t yet peeped this gorelicious treat are truly missing out on an atmospheric and grue-filled flick!

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

I had never gotten around to seeing Tom Savini’s remake of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Maybe I had better things to do (doubtful), maybe I was lazy (probable) or maybe I just thought a remake of THE great zombie film could never live up to its source material. Whichever the case, I’m glad my boyfriend turned me on to Savini’s fantastic remake of the original or I might never have seen it!

The remake follows almost the exact same storyline as the original Night of the Living Dead, with a very different ending. It all begins with Johnnie (Bill Moseley) and Barbara (Patricia Tallman) driving to a cemetery in the middle of nowhere to visit their mother’s grave. Before you can say, “Barbara, they’re coming to get you,” they are attacked by the newly risen dead. Barbara flees to a nearby farmhouse and is soon joined by survivors Ben (Tony Todd), Tom (William Butler), Judy Rose (Katie Finneran), and the Cooper family, Harry (Tom Towles), Helen (McKee Anderson) and little girl Sarah (Heather Mazur). Can the group survive the growing numbers of zombies that appear outside?

Tom Savini sure did a heck of a job remaking one of the most revered zombie films of all time. He stuck close enough to the original to keep the same terror-filled atmosphere of Romero’s movie, but added a new ending that seemed like a very appropriate update.

This version moves quickly and when the action begins with the first zombie attacking Johnnie and Barbara in the cemetery, it doesn’t relent. The action after that comes fast and furious. Chaos, bickering and bloodshed all take place once the survivors take refuge in the farmhouse and the zombies slowly surround the place. The suspense and terror really start to build, even though most of us have seen the original Night.

The film’s characters are all pretty similar to the original, with the exception of Barbara. This time around, Barbara is much stronger and tougher. I appreciated the make-over of Barbara’s character and really enjoyed seeing Patricia Tallman in her take-charge role. The rest of the cast do a fantastic job, though Tony Todd could never live up to Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille’s performance as Ben. Tom Towles does a fantastic job playing the highly unlikable Harry Cooper and you’ll be clapping when he meets his surprising demise.The remake does a great job at recreating that claustrophobic atmosphere that is so prevalent in Romero’s version. The farmhouse is spectacularly spooky and very dark and depressing. Everything from the basement up to the attic is dank and you never know what might be waiting for you in the shadows or around a corner. The gore is limited (surprising with Savini behind the scenes), but is still effective for a Night of the Living Dead remake.

Now, the ending is completely different but it is still shocking, though perhaps not so much as in the original version. Of course, it attempts to go the politically correct route, though the rednecks still love their guns and their zombie huntin’. Even so, I thought it was a nice 90’s update and it definitely added to the film instead of spoiling it.

Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead is definitely worth checking out, whether you are already a fan of Romero’s Night or if you’ve never even seen the original. This zombie movie doesn’t deserve many of the negative comments that it has received and really should be placed alongside another successful and entertaining remake of a Romero Dead film – the Dawn of the Dead remake.

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What Have You Done to Solange? (1972)

What Have You Done to Solange? is a prime example of a giallo done right. It is brutal and unflinching, but also takes the time to build up a very suspenseful story filled with memorable and believable characters. Its murder mystery stands out as one of the better stories of the giallo genre and is expertly executed by director Massimo Dallamano.

On the banks of the Thames in London, a Catholic schoolgirl is brutally murdered. A handsome Italian teacher, Mr. Rossini (Fabio Testi), and his pretty young pupil, Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo), are engaging in some extracurricular activities when Elizabeth sees flashes of the murder through the trees. The next day, Mr. Rossini finds out via the news that a girl was indeed murdered on the banks and the murderer is still at large. Even though Elizabeth was witness to the murder, he begs her not to come forward lest their relationship be revealed.

As more girls from the Catholic school where Mr. Rossini teaches are killed, suspicions fall on the good-looking and flirtatious foreign teacher. He and Elizabeth reluctantly come forward to tell what they have seen as Elizabeth remembers more and more what she saw. Mr. Rossini, with help from his German wife Herta (Karin Baal) who is also a teacher at the school, uncover more and more about the secret lives of schoolgirls and learn about a girl named Solange (Camille Keaton, who would later star in I Spit on Your Grave) who might be the key to the hideous murders.

This is seriously one of the best giallos I’ve ever seen and I can’t believe I haven’t seen it until recently. What Have You Done to Solange? does what many giallos and horror films don’t; it focuses on a well-developed story instead of splattering the screen with senseless grue. The mystery of the murders is the focal point for the film as the audience is taken through many red herrings and twists and turns. The horrifying murder scenes are not explicitly shown, which I think was a very wise choice. The murders are very graphic, brutal and hard to look at AFTER the fact, much less while it occurs. The young age and vulnerability of the victims makes the murders that much harder to see, even if just the aftermath is shown. Though the murder scenes are not shown, they still had a very strong lasting impact on me.

The story keeps building the entire time and there’s never a second to catch your breath. I was impressed how the story drew me in and wouldn’t let me go. This is a giallo, so yes, there are some slow moments but these still add to the story and tension. The suspense just keeps building and building and the ending was anything but a letdown. Unlike some giallos, the ending was entirely believable and shocking at the same time. Everything was tidily wrapped up, actually made sense and the revelation of the murderer genuinely surprised me.

The score by maestro Ennio Morricone only heightened the affect of the tight scripting. It helped create an even more mysterious and tense atmosphere. Morricone’s score in What Have You Done to Solange? is haunting and atmospheric; a perfect companion to the events unfolding on-screen.

The acting and the directing of the film were superb as well…even the dubbing didn’t bother me all that much. I haven’t seen any other films by director Massimo Dallamano, but I wish he had directed more giallos. I pretty much loved all the actors, especially the smoking hot Fabio Testi. For the guys, there are copious sleazy shots of naked girls in the showers.

If you are a fan of the Italian giallo genre, I highly recommend What Have You Done to Solange? if you haven’t already seen it. It is definitely one of the better-made giallos that relies on a solid storyline instead of just pretty visuals to entertain the audience.

Available on Amazon!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Interview with Author D.L. Snell

D.L. Snell is the author of the recently released Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines (read our review), a visceral tale of a post-apocalyptic world where a group of vampires and their dwindling human food supply face off against hordes of zombies who are evolving into something much more horrifying.

Snell has authored several short stories, his most well known probably being in The Undead anthology published by Permuted Press, but Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines is his first full-length novel. We were so blown away by his unique book and his different writing style that we just had to interview him.

Fatally Yours: D.L., thank you so much for doing this interview! I really was blown away by your excellent debut novel, Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines. How did you come up with this fantastical story? Why did you decide to write about vampires and zombies?

D.L. Snell: Glad you like the book! I came up with the idea for Roses and its short-story precursor, “Limbless Bodies Swaying,” after reading Richard Matheson’s classic vampire novel, I Am Legend. Matheson’s vampire apocalypse often reminds readers of a zombie outbreak, but it should be the other way around– I Am Legend allegedly inspired the zombies in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. I didn’t know that. And I thought it was cool to see zombie-like vampires. Then I thought how cool it would be to pit vampires against zombies; I thought it would make a great Darwinian struggle because they would fight over the same food source. Hence, “Limbless Bodies Swaying” and Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines.

I talk a bit more about the genesis of the story in the free reading companion, No Amount of Lead, available to download at

FY: In Roses of Blood, I really enjoyed how you put a new spin on both the vampires and zombies. The vampires aren’t your typical romantic-types that you might find in an Anne Rice novel and your zombies aren’t your standard George Romero shamblers. What was your inspiration for your creations?

DS: The vampires AREN’T very romantic are they? They’re brutal–yet there’s something human about them. It’s not that they have pulses or that they breathe, which they do. It’s not that they are vulnerable to the zombie bite, which they are (not in the way you would expect however). It’s that no matter how evil they are, their hopes and fears are relatable and human: Shade wants to uphold her legacy, a barricaded apartment building surrounded by zombies; Frost wants to migrate to an uninhabited island where they can be free. So human worries and desires inspired me the most when creating them.

As for the zombies? I have no clue what inspired the tentacles and the mutations–other than an obsession with everything macabre. Circus freaks have always engrossed me, so I’m sure they partly inspired the deformities. And the tentacles? Well, what’s monster horror without tentacles?

FY: Did you base any of your characters from Roses of Blood on people in your real life?

DS: My friend pointed out that two of the minor characters, Thomas and Liam, share names with his kids. I tried to convince him it was unintentional, but he’s still suing. Other than that, all my characters are a blend of people I know, a mix of quirks, habits, speech patterns, and physical traits.

FY: If Roses of Blood were ever turned into a movie, who would you cast in the lead parts and why?

DS: Hard question. I would cast relatively unknown (but good) actors because it would make the film seem more real; you wouldn’t recognize anyone. What would be really cool is an animated film or a highly stylized film like 300. I think the writing style calls for it.

FY: There is some fantastical artwork contained in Roses of Blood. Who designed the cover and the drawings within the book?

DS: Stephen Blundell created the cover. He also did the interior art, originally separate concept sketches that I compiled in Photoshop; so Stephen drew them and I grouped them into a composition. Publisher Jacob Kier laid out the typography on the cover, with some harsh criticisms and doubts about his manhood from yours truly.

FY: When did you realize you wanted to pursue writing and why?

DS: I started writing when I was about seven. I wrote about time machines, monsters in the attic, and dogs from hell. I’ve always had a vivid imagination (in fact, my mom would find me playing alone quite a bit, despite that I had an older brother; I could always entertain myself); writing is a way to share my visions with other people. But I didn’t consider it as a career until high school.

FY: How did you start your writing career and what was the very first thing that you had published?

DS: My first published story appeared in my junior college’s literary magazine. The story was titled “Insanity,” and it wasn’t very good. It wasn’t even a story. It was just a barrage of violent images and really big words. They loved it! I had a few small acceptances after that, but my first sale was to PublishAmerica. They printed my dark fantasy novella, Hourglass. I barely promoted it and sold little more than one hundred copies (I’m guessing). It certainly didn’t launch my career. No, I would say editing and contributing to Permuted Press’ zombie anthology The Undead got me going.

FY: Can you tell us about some of your earlier short stories and where to find them?

DS: Sure. They were all pretty horrible, but if you really want to know… “A Story to Tell” can be found at the old DREAM PEOPLE (, and a reprint of “Tooth Decay,” which first appeared in Cyber-Pulp’s Halloween Anthology 2.0, can be found on the “Free” page of my website, I don’t care to describe them. They, uh, they speak for themselves…

FY: In your opinion, which one of these short stories is your personal favorite or the one you would recommend the most to people?

DS: “Bullet Solitaire” is an older story recently published in Raw Meat, a signed limited-edition anthology from Wicked Karnival. I’m in there with the likes of Deborah LeBlanc, James Newman, and Michael Laimo (he wrote the introduction). If anyone’s interested, I posted a link at

FY: You have a very distinct, very visceral writing style. How did you develop this style and how did you find your own “voice?”

DS: I read and write a lot, and my voice just kind of developed with hard work and experience. And I really like the surreal and the fantastical, so I started to incorporate that into my writing style.

FY: You are also the editor at Permuted Press, where many of your stories have been published. How did your relationship with Permuted Press come about?

DS: I submitted a story, “Pale Moonlight,” to Permuted’s first anthology, The Undead. Jacob Kier accepted it and asked if I wanted to edit for him. So I edited The Undead with Elijah Hall, and we must have done a good job because Jacob kept offering me assignments, some with excruciatingly tight deadlines. I think I edited Kim Paffenroth’s novel Dying to Live in less than a month.

FY: Does your job as editor at Permuted Press ever come into conflict with your job as an author?

DS: Everything conflicts with my writing. This includes eating and taking craps. I can be at a friend’s house, eating pizza, watching Alan Partridge and having a good time and still think, “I should be writing.” I’ve actually quit Permuted a few times–or have tried to. Jacob keeps wheedling me back with handsome offers. He’s like Satan.

FY: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

DS: I play guitar. I use to play heavy metal, but I play hippy music now. I also read. I’m a slow reader though. About a page a minute.

FY: What authors do you look up to and which ones do you think have influenced your writing?

DS: The four biggest influences on my writing have been Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Robert R. McCammon, and Richard Laymon: King for the psychology, Koontz for the prose, McCammon for the vision, and Laymon for the simplicity–oh, and for the sex.

FY: What are your top 5 horror novels at the moment?

DS: Island (Laymon), Off Season (Ketchum), The Girl Next Door (Ketchum), Swan Song (McCammon), and I Am Legend (Matheson).

FY: What are some of your favorite horror movies?

DS: Slither, Dawn of the Dead (both versions), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (the original), and Hellraiser. Hell yeah.

FY: What is next for you, D.L.? Do you have any stories planned that you can tell us about?

DS: Permuted will publish two novellas: “Remains” in Elements of the Apocalypse and “Mortal Gods” in Headshot Quartet. “Remains” is apocalypse by fire (not the type of fire you’d expect though), and “Mortal Gods”…this is going to sound lame, but…”Mortal Gods” is superheroes vs. zombies. My next novel will be a free serial novel, Pavlov’s Dogs, co-authored with John Sunseri ( It’s a zombie/werewolf concept, but I can’t say much more than that as of now.

Click to buy Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Vacancy (2007)

I had skipped Vacancy in theaters, partly because I was sick of slick Hollywood horror and partly because I just felt “meh” about it. When it was released on DVD this week, I decided to give it a shot because I had heard some positive reviews on it. Big mistake…now I’ll know to trust my gut instinct on horror releases in the future, because, as I suspected, this movie was just “meh” bordering on bad.

A soon-to-be-divorced couple (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale) is driving late at night when their car starts having trouble. A friendly mechanic (Ethan Embry) helps fix it, but they only get about a mile down the road before it completely breaks down. Of course the husband of this less-than-dynamic duo took a shortcut off the interstate and now they are stuck in the middle of nowhere. They grumpily trek back to the gas station, but the mechanic has left for the night. Lo and behold, there is a questionable looking motel right next to the gas station. When they decide to spend the night, the odd motel manager (Frank Whaley) upgrades them to the honeymoon suite, complete with unwashed sheets and a serious layer of dirt covering the place. The bickering couple decides to pop in a few unmarked VHS films for a desperately needed distraction and end up face to face with snuff films that were filmed in their very motel room.

Soon, they are being terrorized by masked killers and they discover that they are also being filmed by hidden cameras. To paraphrase the film’s tagline, how can they escape if the killers are watching their every move?

Now, while this movie wasn’t a complete waste of time, I still felt underwhelmed by what I saw on screen. I appreciate that director Nimrod Antal tried to do something different with the horror genre, but the whole movie just felt so damn familiar that it failed to deliver any thrills.

Let me start by saying, Wilson and Beckinsale – not their best work to date. Now, these two aren’t known for their Oscar-worthy performances but their whining and fighting really took its toll here. Their characters weren’t at all likable or well-developed here, but that wasn’t a problem for me. I believe that it was Antal’s intention to keep us so detached from them. It’s like he wanted us to view them as if they were in an actual snuff film – with just a whiff of a backstory and no emotion towards the two. No, my problem wasn’t with the character development but rather how the characters were played and the unbelievability of their actions. I’m not sure these two downtrodden schmucks could face off against some backwoods snuff filmmakers. It just didn’t seem all that believable.

Next, the whole premise was, well, pretty boring. When the couple first arrived at the motel and the banging and rattling on the doors began, I was intrigued. But from there it all went downhill and fast. The next hour consisted of the couple running in and out of the motel room, trying to evade their attackers. And this was the point where I decided to do a little light housework and even bake a cake.

Yep, folks, I was that bored.

The constant musical cues that tell you something big and spooky is just around the corner made me role my eyes and keep reaching for the mute button. Egads, is it too much to ask to actually be surprised at a scare for once instead of being TOLD I’m about to be scared?? It was obvious from the opening credits that director Antal was trying to mimic some Hitchcock-style suspense, but, let me tell ya, Mr. Antal, you failed miserably.

Vacancy comes off staler than the air in a seedy, roach motel.

Available from Amazon!

Duel (1971)

I finally dusted off my copy of Duel, Steven Spielberg’s first major film, at the request of a friend who had fond memories of the killer semi-truck driver flick. Let me tell ya, I had reservations about watching a film that basically took place inside a car (bad flashbacks of watching Penny Dreadful) but Duel pleasantly surprised me. It was a rip-roaring, gas-guzzling good time!

The premise is very, very simple: A middle-aged business man named David is driving on his way to a business appointment in the middle of Nowhere, California and pisses off the wrong truck driver who is driving a souped-up but very rusty and old gas truck. From there on out it is a game of cat and mouse as the dangerous driver toys with the man.

I was always curious about this movie and after buying it a while ago, I’m glad I finally sat down to watch it. From the cool opening credits that show the point of view from the driver’s seat of a car to the explosive finale, Duel is definitely an entertaining film that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Dennis Weaver does a fantastic job as the business man who unwittingly picks a fight with a semi and its driver. He is the embodiment of a middle-aged man. He’s not heroic or courageous but entirely believable as he becomes angry, then panicked, then paranoid and eventually decides to stand and fight against his harasser. We never see the truck driver, and besides a few patrons at a café, The character of David is the only one we see or is developed. The semi-truck driver is never seen, and because of this the actual semi takes on its own persona. Every time the semi is seen in a rearview mirror, barreling down the road or stock still at a gas station, it fills you with a foreboding sense of dread.

The film is packed with suspense, much due in part to the fantastic camera work. There are some truly stunning shots in the film, many of them coming from within the car that David drives. There were some great shots where the semi can be seen in the rear view mirror before David sees it and it took all my strength not to scream out, “Look behind you!!”

I thought David’s interaction with the few other characters in the film ratcheted up the suspense even more. There is one scene in particular that involves a broken-down school bus and little kids milling around the road. Whew! Was I gripping the edge of my seat on that one! I also enjoyed the scene in the café where David’s paranoia gets the better of him and he believes anyone inside could be the truck driver.

Duel does tend to drag a bit in some parts and others have complained of the rather abrupt ending. The ending seemed fitting to me and didn’t bother me too much. The film does get bogged down a few times, but it’s only for a few minutes and didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the film.

Duel was released in 1971 and it is considered Spielberg’s first major film. The budget may have been slim compared to his other endeavors, but even with his first film anyone could tell this guy had talent. Duel is packed full of action, suspense, great performances and stunning direction.

Available from Amazon!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Beneath (2007)

I saw the film Beneath just a few nights ago, but it is already rapidly fading from my memory. There have been many mindless straight-to-video releases in 2007, and while this new release is significantly better than many of those, that doesn’t necessarily make Beneath a good movie.

After causing the crash that burned her sister Vanessa (Carly Pope) alive, Christy (Nora Zehetner) has had psychic visions. Though her sister survived the crash, she was badly burned and horribly disfigured. Soon after Vanessa began home treatment, she died. At the funeral, Christy became convinced that her sister had been buried alive. Now, years later and after lots of counseling, Christy is 20 years old and returns to her hometown determined to find out what her visions mean and to find out what exactly happened to her sister.

She visits her brother-in-law John (Matthew Settle) in his creepy old house. Her young niece, Amy (Jessica Amlee), tells her that a “dark thing” stalks the house and lives in the walls. Also living in the house is John’s strict and stern mother, Mrs. Locke (Gabrielle Rose). Christy’s visions and suspicions intensify and she becomes even more convinced that something was very fishy with her sister’s death. Does the dark thing that Amy sees have anything to do with her sister’s death? Why are John and his mother so secretive and protective of the house? Is Christy going crazy or is something more sinister happening at the Locke estate?

Beneath wasn’t a bad flick and it certainly was better than most brainless horror movies released direct-to-DVD, but I found it very unmemorable. It lacked that certain something (like a cohesive, solid plot) to be considered a well-done horror movie. This was disappointing because I found the beginning to be completely engaging. After a while, though, the movie just began to drag and become repetitive. Story lines were vaguely explored only to be dropped. For example, it is lightly touched on that the Locke’s are closing their mine and many workers are pissed off at them…but this plot point isn’t followed through and ends up just feeling useless. The inclusion of a hunky police officer (Warren Christie) got my hopes up, but his relationship with Christy is standoffish and unhelpful (and ultimately boring). There are many other plot holes or awkward, underdeveloped plot points that really bog down the middle of the story, and even an impressive finale can’t make up for the lackluster chunk of the movie.

Despite the film’s pitfalls, it still boasts great performances from its actors. Nora Zehetner is impressive as the unwavering and determined Christy. She makes her character likable and you really want her to succeed in the end. Jessica Amlee as the young Amy is also a standout and gives a strong performance. Even though she has a very short time on screen, it was still fun to see Carly Pope, whom I remember from the TV show Popular. Every one else in the cast does a wonderful job as well and the acting might be the only thing about this movie I didn’t have a problem with.

Director Dagen Merrill (who also penned the script) does a pretty impressive job directing. I loved the very end of the film and the chase through the labyrinth-like Locke estate. The mansion looked amazingly dreary and spooky. There were quite a few good scares, just not quite enough to please me. Still, Merrill’s directing is much better than his writing, which I really think hurt the film.

Beneath is a solid movie if you only watch the first and last halves of the film. The middle is just too convoluted and messy for my liking and lacks tension or scares. If you are scouring the aisles looking for a horror rental, I wouldn’t make this your last resort but I also wouldn’t recommend it too highly. Put it at the top of your straight-to-DVD flicks list and at the bottom of your theatrically released horror film picks.

Available on Amazon!
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