May 27, 2008

INTERVIEW - The Wire's Omar Talks Up Two New Horror Adaptations

Life is funny. In setting out to write about the coming adaptation of The Road, I wound up getting in touch with Michael K. Williams, who played Omar Little on The Wire. Those last five words alone are enough to send tons of people into a slobbering fan-panic, so it's no surprise I wound up devoting the entire column to Williams' take on his two upcoming movies, both adaptations from scary-as-hell literature. Even so, you'll find the bulk of our chat right here.

The character of Omar was something of a brick heaved into the hornet's nest that was The Wire. A grim highwayman who robbed drug dealers and dealt violent retribution according to his own strict moral code--while shattering gay stereotypes left and right-- Omar was someone that most of us can relate to. (Well, I certainly can.) Williams' fearless portrayal is a huge part of why people are always obnoxiously telling you to watch this show. Including me-- watch it!!

[Click here for the interview!]

TB: What sort of environment were you in while filming The Road?

MKW: We filmed on location at Lake Erie in the state park over there. While it was very beautiful, in the context of our scene it could have been a very scary place. It was no joke, we were in the elements, and it was freezing.

TB: Did you find it difficult to shake the apocalyptic frame of mind that you had to adopt while acting in this film?

MKW: It was a good scare, because it could happen—it could actually happen! And it makes you pray that it doesn’t. This has made me very grateful, and it’s made me reassess the little things we take for granted, like shelter, food, water and even companionship and human contact. It’s crazy that we were scrounging and killing for the things we take for granted in everyday life.

TB: Considering which character you played, you must not have had much contact with other actors, right?

MKW: All my scenes were with Viggo and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who is an amazing young man-- he’ll be doing huge things once this movie gets out.

TB: Do you think it's even possible for a filmed version of this story to live up to the book?

MKW: There’s a lot of graphic stuff that you’ll see; to read and imagine it is better, but to actually see those things portrayed with actors and human faces is going to be pretty dark and pretty scary. Within the ugliness, like cannibalism and all that craziness, you see all these levels of humanity. You can't kill the human spirit! No matter what happens, that will to love and be compassionate is ever there in the darkness.

TB: Did you meet Cormac McCarthy?

MKW: No, he wasn’t there the days I worked. He was very much involved though, in fact one day he had notes for me.

TB: Wow, you got notes from Cormac Mccarthy?

MKW: Yes I did! Via the director of course, but yes, I had notes from him on how he saw the character.

TB: It must be weird to appear in an adaptation, knowing that if you ever go back and read the book again, that’s YOU in there.

MKW: I especially got that feeling from The Road. Right after I was cast, Tyson Beckford and I were hanging out in a club, and this young lady and I started talking. We talked about The Wire and so forth, and then she asked me, “So what’s new?” And honestly I hadn’t read the book yet, so I said, “This Cormac McCarthy book called The Road, actually.” And she went “OH MY GOD!”—you know, her voice went up in pitch. And then she asked what role I’d be playing-- I guess she assumed I’d be one of the road-gang members, right? But I said, "No, I’ve got this weird thing with Viggo over a shopping cart." And she went fucking ballistic. “No fucking way. You’re cart-man??” So she sat me down and explained what that scene means in the story, and how pivotal that part of the book was to her, and it really opened my eyes. It made me rush to go pick up the book and read it.

TB: When the movie comes out, I wonder if you’ll get notes from her.

MKW: You know something? I would actually welcome that, because of her knowledge of the character in the book. I hadn’t even read the script at that point, but she was dead on. Everything she told me that night at the club was accurate, down to the level of intensity that John [Hillcoat] was telling me he wanted in that scene. So if I ever see her, I’d love to get her opinion on how I did.

TB: Okay, now tell me a little bit about Tell-Tale. What would you like horror fans to know about this film?

MKW: First of all, Josh Lucas is an amazing actor, I really enjoyed watching his work. The Tell-Tale Heart is my favorite of Poe’s stories, and as for writing an adaptation, it’s set in modern times, but the story and the emotion are the exact same.

TB: Fair enough. Is it safe to say you've had a really dark and creepy acting career so far? Why is that?

MKW: It’s definitely a painful place to go, but for some reason I’m drawn to it. I guess I've gotten used to equating my good work with dark traumatic stories, but that’s just where I’m at. It's a cross between what’s out there and what I find interesting. I’ve gotta go with that until I feel something different-- maybe I need to go through a nice funny love story in Hawaii in order to balance things out. [Laughs]

TB: After bedding down with one role for so long on The Wire, is it strange to be in movies and jump from role to role?

MKW: It’s not really weird. I kind of always had that vision for myself, and I knew The Wire would end one day. What’s interesting is that it’s pretty much like starting from scratch again—like you earn credits, but when you go to another school, you have to start at the freshman level at that school. That’s where I’m at now, I’m at the beginning of a new phase of my career, but I’m starting at that level and working my way up, hopefully.

TB: Well if you don’t mind my saying so, if you have to pick a level to start from, that’s a pretty good one.

MKW: Yes, I guess it is!

TB: Is there anything out there that you'd really love to see get adapted or remade into a new film?

MKW: It’s funny you should say that— there’s this old film with James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, and Richard Pryor called The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. I love that movie, and I'd love to see it get another chance!

TB: That sounds great. You’ve got to get on that!

MKW: Yeah, I guess I do, right?

TB: So do you consider yourself a horror fan?

MKW: I grew up watching horror movies. To this day, I can’t go camping-- I’m a grown man, and I still cannot go camping. I'm fine in the daytime, but when that sun drops and I can’t see my hand in front of my face anymore, that’s a wrap! As I get older, I’ve started to shy away from the bloodier movies. A good murder mystery scares the shit out of me, but I can’t take the gore anymore. When I was growing up, I was scared by like, Jason, and the early Freddy Kruegers-- and those characters scared the living hell out of me. Michael Myers was my all time favorite, though; even the last one they just released, where they showed him as a kid... I thought it was amazing, I flipped! It still frightens the shit out of me.

TB: Yeah, I still have bad dreams about some of those movies, and it seems so ridiculous afterward when I wake up.

MKW: No it doesn’t, man! Those are good old-fashioned horror movies.

TB: So it doesn't bother you that they're remaking all those older horror movies now, like Nightmare on Elm Street?

MKW: Why should a new generation be deprived of all that horror, and years of trauma and nightmares? It shouldn’t be limited to us.

May 26, 2008

INTERVIEW - Project Runway's Chris March Delivers the Best of the Worst

I normally don't feel anything for people when they are sent home from reality TV shows, because I'm dead inside. But I was furious when Project Runway sent Chris March home this season, seemingly squeamish over his garments made of human hair (which is apparently beautiful when it's glued to your scalp, but disgusting when it fringes your jacket?). I tried to suss out how bitter he was by asking what he'd like to dress Heidi Klum as for Halloween-- and his answer shocked me with its total absence of malice. Humbled, I am.

Chris gave me his top ten horror movies, but asked if he could send me a second list of his top ten bad horror movies-- the best of the worst, as it were. I'm happy to be able to include that awesomeness right here, Don Knotts and all. Thanks, Chris!

[Click here for the interview!]

TB: First, can you catch us up a little on what you're doing now?

CM: I am working on the pilot for a new fashion makeover show I will be hosting. I am also working on some Broadway projects, a coffee table book of my costume designs, designing red carpet dresses, plus a few new projects with Bravo--whew! So, I guess you could say I'm a little busy.

TB: You endured a really long run on Project Runway. Was there any sort of hangover for you when it was all done?

CM: As soon as filming was finished, I literally slept for two months. Then I had to get to work on my Bryant Park collection, and go right back into filming the finale week. So I'm still a little bit exhausted, believe it or not.

TB: Horror and fashion intersect all over the place; if you had an opportunity to costume the remake of any movie, what would it be?

CM: I suppose I'd go with a classic and say Dracula, but I'd love to get my hands on that Bride of Frankenstein hairdo!

TB: Earlier you mentioned a deep appreciation for "the best of the worst." Can you explain what draws you to those movies?

CM: The sheer audacity of making something with such a high schlock factor is fascinating to me. Did they know it was bad? Was it bad on purpose? I find the humor (intended or not) to be a great compliment to the horror.

TB: You seem like a person who's pretty hard to shock. What's the last movie you saw that really scared you?

CM: One of the only movies that has truly scared me (even though I left it off my list) was Candyman. I got caught up in the idea that those childhood games could really make something terrible happen.

TB: When you presented your final garments to the Project Runway judges, there was a flap about the fact that you'd used real human hair in your designs. Considering the crazy shit that goes down runways all the time, I felt the judges' queasy reactions were quite unfair. Care to comment on this?

CM: You know, its funny. People seem to be clearly divided about this--either they think its disgusting and they hated it, or they love it and think it was completely inspired and creative. Other designers have used the exact same hair at Fashion Week, and been thought of as cutting edge. Its reality television, and they couldn't resist taking aim at the obvious. But people are still talking about it...

TB: Heidi Klum and Seal celebrate Halloween very conspicuously. If you were in charge of her costume this year, what would it be?

CM: I would love to see Heidi as an incredibly beautiful and artistic version of the Teutonic goddess Brunhilde (!) or the inimitable Marie Antoinette. (I have already been asked by Nina Garcia to make her Halloween costume!)

TB: In general, why do you love horror, or think it's important?

CM: It gives me a great fun scary feeling, like Halloween, Saturday morning monster movies, and being afraid of the dark all mixed together. I think safely experiencing fear by watching a horror movie makes real life a little less frightening.

Chris March's "Best of the Worst" Movies:

10. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

9. Theater of Blood

8. Gruesome Twosome

7. Strait Jacket

6. The Tingler

5. Lesbos Vampyros

4. Parents

3. Motel Hell

2. Leprechaun 4: In Space

1. The Abominable Dr. Phibes

May 20, 2008

INTERVIEW - Jennifer Lynch Under Surveillance at Cannes

Jennifer Lynch was mere hours away from Cannes and the debut of her new film, Surveillance, when we spoke on Monday. Since this is her first feature film since 1993's controversial Boxing Helena, there's really no telling what awaits her there, but Lynch was more relaxed and good-humored than you'd think a person could possibly be, under the circumstances.

The movie itself looks really good, and goddamn sinister. Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman star, her father, David Lynch, is executive producer-- and Cheri Oteri is in there somewhere too(!). It all seems to add up to something very unusual and very upsetting, which is just my style.

Jennifer opened up about her concern for child actors, her own daughter's participation in the film, her parents' influence. The only thing left unclear is whether I'll be hired as her valet the next time she takes off for Cannes. (Jennifer, you know where to reach me!!)

[Click here to read the interview!]

TB: I know you’re traveling today, so I’ll keep this short and sweet.

JL: That’s alright, I hate it when men say they’re going to “keep this short and sweet,” so you know, just do what you need to do.

TB: Oh. I actually hate it when women say “Just do what you need to do.”

JL: Oh, sorry! Then let’s have a good long talk together; let’s take as much time as we need, Tom.

TB: Who have you screened Surveillance with so far?

JL: The list goes on and on... I’m more informed about the list of people who haven’t seen it yet. I guess there are some folks seeing it today in Cannes at a market screening, so when I get there they can either yell at me or salute me, whatever they feel is appropriate.

TB: I had an interesting talk with Tracy Letts about the way that Bug was promoted, and how often interesting, intelligent thrillers wind up being re-packaged to draw in a hardcore horror audience. I’m curious about your perception of Surveillance—do you think the film they’re showing off in the trailer is the film that you’ve made?

JL: It concerns me a little bit that the big reaction I get is, “Wow, that looks scary.” Because I made what I hope is a frightening film at times, but it’s more psychologically scary than it is Saw 5. So hopefully it won’t be billed as anything but a thriller and will stay away from the horror market, because if people go in expecting a horror film, they may find themselves disappointed.

TB: Boxing Helena came out in 1993. Are we going to have to wait another 15 years for your next movie?

JL: No you’re not! Those 15 years were filled with working on a book, and trying to recover from the backlash of Boxing Helena. And I got pregnant, and realized I was going to raise my daughter alone; she’s twelve now, she’ll be thirteen in September, so now I can get back to work. I also had three consecutive spinal surgeries, and that took some time. I’ve already got my next picture planned, though, and I’ll be shooting this summer.

TB: What can you tell us about that?

JL: I can tell you I’m very excited about it, and that I’m shooting it in India.

TB: Gotcha. As a mother and someone who had a great exposure to film as a child, what was it like to direct Ryan Simpkins, an actress who is about your daughter’s age?

JL: It was fantastic! What I love about Ryan is that she’s an incredible performer, but she’s not a kid actress. No offense to kid actors out there, but they scare me. I worry for them. Ryan just happens to be a kid who can perform very well. I was very careful to protect her from some of the images that I didn’t think she needed to see. But obviously I needed her to be reacting as if she had, so she and I spent some time creating things that are okay for a kid to be afraid of, or for a kid to be confused about-- so that, like everyone else, she could enjoy the experience of the film and then not carry it around afterward like terrifying baggage.

The role I wrote for Ryan was inspired by my daughter, and by the fact that children see so much more than we give them credit for seeing, because they’re not caught up in their ego, they’re not caught up in “How do I look? Is my ass too big? Do they like me?”

TB: Was your daughter around a lot while you were filming?

JL: Yes, the entire time. And I would have let her do [Simpkins’ role] but… if she wants to flip me off when she’s 18 and say, “Mom, I’m going to be an actress,” that’s fine, but right now, I don’t want that for her.

TB: Do you really think that’s going to happen?

JL: I don’t know! There are little insert shots of her in the film; if that’s what she wants to do, I’ll celebrate it. I’ll say, “Yay!” and then come home and curl into a ball—but I’ll say “Yay!” in front of her.

TB: Does it ever get tiresome when people ask about your father’s influence on your work?

JL: What's funny is that he had nothing to do with this film. The Executive Producer credit is both my gift to him for all his help over the years, and his gift to me. He loved the script, he was thrilled to help make it happen. He saw it for the first time after I was done cutting it, his influence is obviously in there, but if you look through my mother's paintings, you'd see her influence in there too. It never gets tiring. I adore my parents, even when we piss each other off. Hopefully they're as proud as they keep saying they are after seeing this film.

TB: Tell me about working with Bill Pullman, who seems to take lots of risks to be in some fantastic and unusual movies.

JL: He is one of the greatest actors, men, friends, or guys you could pass in an airport, in the whole world. He’s so devoted as a performer, and has an intellect and genuine playfulness that is unmatched in most other people. You can’t help but just sort of giggle around him! And he can go from a really dark moment to “Hey, how’s it going” in a flash. I wanted him from the start, and he wasn’t available and wasn’t into it. Three years later, when I was literally a week from shooting, I lost my lead actor, so I called him up and said, “Bill, I won’t be able to sleep again unless I at least try. I know you can only give me one of two answers. Yes or no?” And he said, “Now, why didn’t I want to do it before?” And I said, “I don’t remember.” So I sent him the script, and he called me a few hours later and said, “I’m flying to Canada.” It all came full circle.

What shocked me more was the fact that Julia Ormond actually called ME… When I heard that Julia Ormond wanted to meet with me about this part, I said, “THE Julia Ormond? Well damn, sure I’ll have coffee with her!” And she just blew me away. She’s totally undercover as a proper English woman, but there is sex in Julia when she just walks across the room, or clears her throat. She’s a powerhouse.

TB: Are there any other films at Cannes that you’re looking forward to seeing as an audience member?

JL: I want to see them All, but I’m not going to get to see a doggone one of them. I want to see Woody Allen’s new picture, I want to see Kung Fu Panda with my daughter. I want to see the films I’m in the same category as, such as Barry Levinson’s film.

TB: What kind of pressure do you feel from Cannes as far as Surveillance’s US release?

JL: Magnolia’s picked it up, so we have a distributor. Pressure… [laughs] having never been, and having come out of 15 years of a totally different life, the whole thing is exhilarating and terrifying. I feel like I’m about to enter an enormous library; it’s really only 26 letters jumbled up in different ways, and all these stories are alive in there. All of this imagination, all these facts, all these opinions. And that’s where it feels like I’m headed, to this cinematic library where we’re all using the same 26 letters to tell our stories, and I just hope the way I’ve arranged them works for people.

TB: I think you'll find that people are already very excited and curious about it-- though I can't speak for people in Cannes, since AMC's not sending me to cover it.

JL: They should be. Want me to make a phone call?

INTERVIEW - Nico Muhly Has a Tongue For Your Ear

Falling for Nico Muhly's music was the next logical step; I'm a fan of Philip Glass, Björk, and Antony and the Johnsons, and he's worked with all of them. It's like there's some rowdy street-gang of musicians out there that occasionally puts down their hockey-sticks and paintball guns long enough to conduct an orchestra or release a mindblowing album.

Incidentally, today's the day Nico's new album, Mothertongue, enjoy its digital release (physical album available July 22nd), and while I can't describe it, I also can't stop listening to it.

As you may have guessed, I got Nico to share his top ten horror films, but I'd be remiss if I didn't post the rest of his comments here, or append this one on his choosing The Exorcist over Rosemary's Baby, (submitted via email):

"This actually could be number one, although now I just watch it and wait for her to get that haircut and say, ive BEEEEN to viDAAAL sasSOOOn, so the terror has been replaced by high camp."
Thanks, that made my whole day.
[Click here for the interview!]

TB: Horror and classical music have intersected frequently-- almost symbiotically-- throughout history. Do you think they'll continue to?

NM: I hope that they do! Horror is such an extreme emotion-- specifically suspense, actually-- and I think classical music is really best suited to marry with those kinds of images and narrative vocabulary. In fact I'm not sure what kind of non-classical music could work with horror...

TB: What are some pieces of music that never fail to give you the creeps?

NM: The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky is constantly shudder-inducing. The Arvo Pärt Miserere is good at the awe and the terror of the old testament. And the theme from Rosemary's Baby is scary and simple.

TB: After deciding to do the soundtrack for Joshua did you watch any particular movies for inspiration?

NM: I watched a whole bunch of old movies with Bernard Hermann scores, then some obvious newer ones, like The Omen or whatever, but I tried to avoid giving the filmmakers anything that sounded like other movies... Horror music now I think has lost its intrigue and is just a bunch of bowed cymbals and synthesizers. Bring back the pitch!

TB: Your new album Mothertongue will be many people's first exposure to your music. What do you hope they hear in it?

NM: I hope they hear a very wide breadth of influence on my musicianship and also a real sense of drama (as compared to my first album which is more about texture). Also I would hope that first-time listeners will be excited by the three very different treatments of the human voice.

TB: Can you tell me why you love horror or think it's important?

NM: I like watching horror movies because they remain viscerally scary even in this very plugged-in and otherwise rational age. All those Japanese "ghost in the machine" films opened up whole new realms of things to be scared by, too. When that girl came through the TV in Ringu-- that was major. Unlike, say, science fiction, which I feel like has run its course a bit, good horror can still be a punch to the gut.

May 19, 2008

INTERVIEW - Faces of Death Interview Part II: Director JT Petty's Underground Approach to Horror

After discussing special effects with Allan Apone, I had a lovely chat with JT Petty confirming his plans for a Faces of Death-inspired horror film. It's still in its early stages, as he just finished up The Burrowers last week, a film I've been dying to see for a long time-- but more on that in a bit.

In today's column I reconcile these two stunning sources for the sake of making some kind of a point, but both of these interviews have been so fascinating to me that I could hardly sit on the rest of what they had to say, so here you go. Special thanks to JT Petty for (at least temporarily) repairing my optimism for the genre.

[Click to read the interview!]

TB: When did you first see
Faces of Death?

JTP: Like everybody, I watched it when I was twelve years old, from behind my fingers; I watched it again about a year ago when I got the writing job. Like anybody who watches it as a child and then as an adult, it’s amazing how fake it is. When you’re twelve, you’re like, “Oh my god, I just saw these people die!” but now it’s goofy as hell. What did the special effects guy have to say?

TB: [Recaps Allan Apone interview, i.e. monkey brains.]

JTP: Monkey brains specifically is hilarious. There’s no shot in that sequence that lasts longer than a second. Have you watched it again recently?

TB: [Admits technical ignorance of FOD]

JTP: There is real autopsy footage in it-- that I believe is real-- and that’s kind of fucked up to watch. But that’s not really horror, it’s just weirdly analytical. One thing I didn’t really remember about it at all is what a sort of false-hearted liberal diatribe it is. They keep trying to justify why they’re showing you all this horrible shit, so it’s like, “These are baby seals being clubbed,” and the voice over goes on to say something like, “Watching this I realize I could never again wear fur.” They do that for everything. After the monkey brains get eaten there’s a hint toward vegetarianism. Surprisingly moralizing. Which I guess all horror movies kind of are-- "If you have sex you get killed," that sort of thing.

TB: Your movie is a fictional take on the series, correct?

JTP: It’s a fictional narrative. I want to involve some real footage; I want to play with not knowing what’s fake and what’s real, which I think is just sort of interesting in general right now. Faces of Death would be impossible to make today, because if a kid wants to watch somebody die, they just go online and watch Saddam Hussein die-- you actually get to see real, honest-to-god murder anytime you want to. So figuring out how to make this movie scary again seems like an interesting challenge... When you don’t know what’s real and what’s not, how you’re allowed to enjoy it becomes really complicated, and ultimately, frightening.

TB: Do you think that the original film sparked an interest in this craving for real death footage, or was it merely symptomatic of our nature?

JTP: Faces of Death is totally more of a symptom than a cause. If you go back to the earliest motion pictures that Thomas Edison was making—

TB: Like the electrocution of that elephant?

JTP: The death of that elephant is just awful. There’s also The Execution of Mary Stuart, a silent movie where they lead this woman to a chopping block, put her head down on it, and then cut her head off. At the time it was pretty straightforward: “This is what it’s like to watch someone die.” I think technology was headed there right from the start, but pictures especially, and moving pictures very especially,

TB: In the meantime, what are your hopes for The Burrowers?

JTP: My hopes are high! It’s a pretty effects-heavy movie; when we were working on the picture, we worked on the sound and the visual effects separately, so I didn’t get to see it all put together until last week. So I got to watch it almost like a fresh audience, and it was really, really good-- and I’m usually fairly hard on myself with that kind of thing. I’m very happy with it. My biggest worry is how people are going to react to a horror Western. It’s not at all campy, it doesn't at all make a joke out of the fact that it’s in the old West. It’s just a straight-on John Carpenter horror kind of thing.

TB: Can you explain how a monster movie functions in that setting?

JTP: I’ve lived in NYC for 12 years now, and if I go out to the grasslands I get creeped out by the open spaces. The Burrowers is like that-- a horror movie in daylight, in open spaces. That’s what I’ve always liked about Jaws, it makes the ocean scary. It puts you and the poor bastards out in the middle of the ocean so you’re always on the monster’s turf.

TB: Speaking of the horror/Western crossover, do you feel competitive about GallowWalker coming out as well?

JTP: I saw the trailer for GallowWalker, and again, it seems pretty campy to me, so no. I really see both The Burrowers and Faces of Death as chances to get horror fans off-balance again, because we’re so insanely savvy about all the rules of the genre, you set up your five teenagers and you know in what order they’ll be killed in. If you set something in the old West, and you have something that doesn’t fit the mold, hopefully you can still surprise and frighten them.

TB: I can definitely see Faces of Death going in that direction.

JTP: People think that because it’s a Hollywood movie that it’s going to be safe. But then every once in Cronenberg sneaks The Fly through the system and you find yourself in the theatre saying “Motherfucker, what just happened to me?”

May 18, 2008

INTERVIEW - Faces of Death Interview Part I: Allan Apone and the Special Effects That Inspired Urban Legend

When I was in grade school, Faces of Death was the ultimate taboo. Descriptions of the film's supposed contents-- real footage of actual deaths-- were passed by word-of-mouth so religiously that practically anyone could recall a litany of them in hushed tones, reducing younger kids to puddles of pale dread.

I never got to see FOD, nor any of its sequels, which was fine by me. But I was intrigued to read recently that a DVD is being released, containing featurettes that give credit to the special effects artists whose work the film showcased. It was FAKE?? This bit of news totally un-traumatized me a little, and I decided that my next column at AMC would be devoted to the strange, windowless room in pop culture that this movie has become. Here you'll be able to read all about it, including my chat with director JT Petty, whose fictional meta-horror movie based on FOD is currently underway.

In the meantime, here's my chat with Allan A. Apone, whose career as a make-up and special effects artist spans over 30 years, and who has been powdering Samuel L. Jackson's nose for longer than I've been allowed to vote. I was nervous bringing up FOD with him, not knowing whether he'd put that hideous and notorious movie long behind him. Instead, I found myself gladly sharing in Allan's memories of his glory days as a young artist-- and learning the recipe for vegetarian monkey brains!

[Click to read the interview!]

TB: You've had such an extensive career that it’s almost impossible that people haven’t seen your work. What jobs stand out in your memory as your favorite?

AA: Friday the 13th part III is definitely one. And 1981's Evilspeak... I made so many lifelong friends on that movie, I doubt I could go through a week without talking to at least one of them.

TB: How did you originally become involved in Faces of Death?

AA: I got a phone call from the producer/director, who asked whether I’d be interested in doing some death-recreations and body parts and some specific props for a movie. They sent over a sort of outline since they didn’t have a script yet, and he told us what specific things they wanted to do, and asked us to give them a budget. It was all really low-budget, our company was very new; it was one of the first five things we did.

TB: When it was all over and the movie gained popular notoriety, were you at all open about your involvement?

AA: We totally tried to preserve the reality of it-- all of us who worked on it were very close friends as well, and we just loved the fact that people thought it was real. I remember the very first times I heard people talking about it, like someone saying, “Have you seen this Faces of Death video? Oh my god, it’s incredible!” "Did you see the occult sequence? What’s so weird is that my girlfriend’s-friend’s-boyfriend knows two of those people, and it really happened!” And we could just laugh. No one ever piped up and said, “Oh, that never happened, I did that sequence!” Everyone [who had seen it] wanted to be a part of it, or know something about it. I think that it’s one of the best things about the film-- how many years we preserved the myth that it was all real. I never, and I stress, never, on any movie set that I was on, heard anyone talk about how there was fake stuff in it-- and it was talked about all the time.

TB: What about the sequels? Did you work on them too?

AA: Oh, we did all of them.

TB: Wow. Well, I’m glad artists are finally getting credit for work they did a long time ago. Although... some of the footage is real, right?

AA: Sixty/forty. That’s what I think, about 60% real. That’s the thing that helped to sell it; they picked really good [real] footage, and they tried to match that same style of footage when they filmed.

TB: So how do you think the truth started getting around?

AA: I don’t know how, my guess is the internet. I think that also people started to talk about it, like people who weren’t there, but know their parents worked on it.

I never even told my kids about it until a few years ago. My son was maybe a senior in high school, and one day he came home with his friends and said, “Dad, do you know about this movie Faces of Death?” and I said, “Oh yeah... I did that.” Of course he was like, “NO WAY!” I showed him myself in the movie, and they thought it was the funniest thing in the world.

TB: Did you swear him to secrecy?

AA: No. I didn’t. So much time had passed.

TB: Do you think more people will be interested in revisiting FOD now that they know a lot of these scenes aren’t real?

AA: Sure, I think people will definitely do that. “This looked so real when I saw it, how the hell did I miss that?” It’s the same reason people went back to see The Sixth Sense again once they knew the ending; they'll watch to try to figure out what they missed.

TB: You mentioned working on the occult ritual-murder scene. What's another of your contributions?

AA: Monkey Brains! People eating the monkey brains. Everyone knows THAT’s real, right? It's cauliflower, with green food coloring and gelatin.

TB: ...I have to tell you, that’s a real load off my mind, knowing that.

AA: That’s a sculpture of the monkey’s head, and when they hit him on the head and pull the skin back to break the skull-- which is a plaster cap-- people went “AAAUGH!” [Laughs.] It was so much fun to work on. When we did FOD, we were all twenty-somethings, you know. We were just having a ball!

May 14, 2008

A Woman In Trouble

I initially dug up this video because I'm hooked on the song and wanted to share. Then I got to the end of it and-- well if it doesn't belong here, where DOES it belong?

The funny thing is that before I saw this, when Tex played the song for me he said the female vocals in it gave him the creeps, that he couldn't help but envision "a woman in trouble," like Laura Dern in Inland Empire. Looks like he really called this one...

May 12, 2008

INTERVIEW - Pulitzer-Winner Tracy Letts Explains Why Bug Deserves Another Look

I was itching to pick Tracy Letts' brain about Bug long before he won the 2008 Pulitzer for his new play August: Osage County. The film flashed into theaters two years ago, flummoxing and enraging audiences who'd seen the trailer and looked forward to gorging on horror movie junk food, only to be served a full-course meal they weren't hungry for. I was entranced and repulsed by Bug, and everyone I've watched it with has been similarly impressed. So what the hell happened?

I spoke to Letts at length about this and more. An actor as well as a playwright, he has an natural appetite for horror and tragedy, and of course the easy humor that by necessity accompanies both. While Bug's off-Broadway run is ancient history, you can still catch his Pulitzer-winning play August: Osage County on Broadway if you hurry. You think parasites and conspiracy theories are scary? Wait till you meet the matriarch of the Weston family.

[Click here for the interview!]

TB: I’d planned on just talking to you about horror, but your recent Pulitzer Prize is sort of the elephant in the room. What has the last month been like? Do you feel a lot of pressure now?

TL: It hasn't really affected me; to receive the Pulitzer is very confirming. People who talk to me about the play I’m working on now say, “You must really feel a lot of pressure!” But it’s really the opposite. The pressure is off. It feels great.

TB: While you were adapting Bug from stage to screen, did you find any particular movies inspiring?

TL: I don’t know that I found other movies "inspiring." Certainly there’s a tradition of the paranoid movie, and that’s a very small niche-- you know, like The Conversation or even The Parallax View. Bug is such a bizarre little dude, a bizarre animal, a very strong cup of coffee, and I never saw it [becoming] a movie. The whole thing was staged on a single set, just a few actors. It was really Mr. Friedkin who said, “I think this is a film, and I also think you don’t have to do much to it in order to make it a film-- just a straight filmic adaptation within these claustrophobic parameters.”

TB: So he'd seen the play?

TL: He saw the play in New York, and called me. Obviously I was delighted-- I mean he’s William Friedkin. I was very excited to work with him, he’s a very geneous collaborator, and he’s become a good friend. I think the world of him.

TB: Bug is horrifying on many levels, but it was sold to audiences as a hardcore horror film—which wound up confusing a lot of people and interfered with how it was received. I found this very unfair to the film and to your script. Care to comment on this?

TL: It was the worst campaign in the history of motion pictures. It was just an absolutely abysmally conceived and executed plan. When they first talked about opening the thing on 2000 screens, Bill and I both said, “You’re crazy! Why would you do that? This is not that kind of movie, this is a small picture, you need to open this in New York and LA, and put it on the festival circuit to let it find its audience. But they had this plan in mind to open on all these screens and con kids into thinking it was Saw or Hostel to bring them into the theater. As a result, people who would have enjoyed the film didn’t go see it, because they were put off by the marketing campaign, and kids who were enthusiastic to see the movie advertised were furious. “Why are these people talking?” They didn’t understand that there would be these long scenes of dialogue, so they felt cheated. Because they were cheated!

I was very upset at the time-- but you know, after a little time goes by, people don’t remember marketing campaigns. Eventually this movie will find its audience. And I think it has already started to-- I‘ve started to hear from those people who see the thing on DVD and say, “Wow, I don’t know how I missed this.”

TB: Do you think theatre or movie audiences are harder to shock nowadays?

TL: I guess movies are harder to shock people with; we’ve pretty much given them everything we can give them. There’s something about the visceral experience of seeing live performers that movies will never be able to capture, but then you also can’t exactly build huge oil derricks in the theatre either, so they’re just two different experiences. I think people are more willing to go to live theatre not knowing what they’re going to see. We don’t do that with movies.

TB: Do you have plans to write any more screenplays?

TL: I believe August: Osage County is going to become a movie at some point, and I’ll be intrigued to see how that goes. I love movies, I’m a movie buff-- I have a stupid DVD collection that has gotten out of hand. So I’m interested in working with film. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent any time on a movie set, but they’re just the most boring places on earth, so that’s one of the advantages of being a writer at least.

TB: Can you tell me why you love horror or think it’s important?

TL: Oh-- I don’t know! I don’t know that I can! [Laughs.] I think the reason I can’t is that it appeals to a sort of primordial instinct in people, so it’s tough to identify what it is I like about it-- but I like pretty much everything about it! I love cheesy horror as much as I love well-made horror, so I’m pretty democratic in my love at least.

TB: Have you found any recent movies to be satisfyingly scary?

TL: No! [Laughs.] The simple answer is no. I was into J-horror when that started to appear, then they all got remade and watered down. Something always reignites (horror) though, just when you think it’s played out. Wait-- the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, of all things! I thought that was really pretty good. I don’t know that here’s acres of social commentary, but it was a pretty good scare.

View Tracy Letts' Top Ten Horror Movies

May 11, 2008

Twilight Fansite Impresario Comments On Hype, Horror, and Hardwicke

What is Twilight? "It's classic storytelling, as imaginative as Bram Stoker," says Laura Cristiano, co-owner of the epicenter of its fan universe, the Twilight Lexicon blog. The hit series of novels occupies the crepuscular outskirts of horror and Young Adult fantasy, and the hype over December's film adaptation has only just begun. In my new column at AMC I examined whether someone who isn't an extreme fan (or "Twi-hard," even) has a prayer of enjoying this film and the PG-13-ification of a classic horror icon. “They’re vampires-- there’s no way of getting around it,” Cristiano says, "But the typical rules of the vampires don’t exist—they’re allowed out in daylight, they don’t have fangs, they’re super strong—basically nothing human can stop them. Someone asked, 'Couldn’t you kill them with a wooden stake?' and the author's response was, 'Try driving wood through granite, see how far you get.'"

[Click here for the interview!]

TB: Do you think the deeper storytelling aspect will actually carry over into the movie?

LC: Absolutely. so many people have access to the movie, and what comes up time after time is that Catharine Hardwicke, the director, is a person that believes in the story and in seeking out the true elements-- doesn't just go for the cheap and the cheese. She really wants a compelling reality, as surreal as that may be. The fact that Harwicke is the director gives it supreme viability.

TB. Tell me a little about your personal relationship with the books.

LC: I don’t normally like vampire stories, when I was a kid I was terrified of vampires. True story: my mother actually found her garlic powder on my windowsill one night because I was terrified of them. But two years ago my best fried Lori had read Twilight, and got me hooked on it too; she went online for more information, but here was very little besides a rudimentary author site,, so she didn’t find much. Lori has also written fan-fiction every now and then, and she’d written a little something [based on Twilight], and one day she got a note on her fanfic site from Stephenie Meyer. I thought, wow, it's amazing that an author would respond to someone like that! So they struck up a correspondence; they both come from similar backgrounds, they’re about the same age, have the same number of kids, they are both Mormon. When Lori decided to make a fan site, she roped me into it. That was back in March in 2006, and it’s just grown so phenomenally over the last two years. I remember celebrating our 500th visitor; we now get about 30,000 unique hits a day.

TB: Do you consider yourself a horror fan per se?

LC: I can’t say that I’m a huge horror fan. I’ve watched the classics, and for me it just goes back to the storytelling. There’s gotta be more than just, “Hey look, there’s someone getting chopped up! There’s a helpless female screaming in the closet!” One of the awesome things about Twilight is that you don’t get a lot of simpering females screaming in the closet. There are people with guts, who will actually try and do something about what’s going on around them.

TB: Clearly Stephenie interacts with her fans more than most authors. How much does she interact with you about the site?

LC: She's incredibly involved. We have basically a friendship with Stepehnie Meyer. She emails us, she phones, we’ve met with her a couple of times. She’s very generous to her fans, a very real person, and a gifted conversationalist. The first time we met her, we parked the car and thought, “We’ll just run downstairs and put money in the meter." We actually got a parking ticket, we were talking so long! That’s just the kind of person she is, and I know not every author is like that. It can be risky sometimes, and a little frightening to be that exposed to your fans.

TB: The movie’s not coming out until December, and there’s so much news flying around about it already. Is over-exposure even possible at this point?

LC: I think it’s going to continue to build positively. I think people have simply underestimated these books and the movie as well. Book 3 was the first book to knock Harry Potter off the New York Times bestseller list. It just doesn’t get a lot of credit because a lot of people will just pooh-pooh horror and romance—they don’t realize how popular this one is. Also, people read these books again and again and again. There is going to be a real Titanic factor to the movie: people didn’t just see Titanic once, there were people out there seeing it three, four, five times, and the same thing is absolutely going to happen with Twilight. Until then it will be the best kept secret we all knew about [laughs].

TB: When a movie is promoted, fans don’t really have any control over how the material winds up being presented to the rest of the world. Do you think that’s going to lead to some hard feelings from fans as more glimpses of the film turn up online?

LC: I think if anything, fans are getting more supportive. Initially when the cast was announced, a lot of people went, “Yuck, I can’t believe so-and-so got cast in this role,” but if anything, seeing clips have made the film more real to fans than ever. People went nuts over it. They loved it. They even got glimpses of special effects that aren’t really written that way in the novel, and I can’t even tell you how crazy people went over it. They’re going to be really happy with how this is going.

TB: As widely as this veers from horror, does it strike you as odd to have Twilight news showing up on sites like Bloody-Disgusting?

LC: It’s a little weird. On our site that's not the usual crowd, but on our forums we get all kinds of people, we’ve got people who are more into the romance angle, and those who are really into vampires, and horror.

TB: When they meet in forums, do all these people get along?

LC: Yeah, pretty much! I can only speak to my forum, but in general they really do. Even at Twilight events like book signings. I credit Stephenie; as a Mormon mom who is really into Muse and Linkin Park, she’s not a person you can fit into just one category.

TB: Do you feel a lot of pressure as a moderator of this site, knowing that a lot of Mormon kids wind up interacting online with a very wide spectrum of people?

LC: We definitely make it clear that it’s not a “Mormon” site. Every forum has its rules, ours is basically “Look. The books are written at what you’d call a PG-13 rating—let’s just keep the language of the site at the same level as the language of the books." Mormons won’t say hell or damn, they’ll get out their hecks and dangs—but the next poster will get out a hell and a damn, and it’s all fine. It’s just a matter of mutual respect. If nothing else, everyone at least agrees that we all find netspeak lame. Otherwise it’s not that challenging.

TB: How would you present this movie to someone who’s not into the books—people who are just going to hear that there’s a new vampire movie opening—how would you convince the dubious, such as horror fans who are turned off by PG-13?

LC: I would get them to think about their favorite movie of all time, and ask them what it is about that movie that pulls them back to it again and again. Maybe you’re on your second copy of a certain DVD because you wore the first one out. It’s like that for us; the writing behind this is is so good, you just get sucked into it!

Check out my new column at AMC this Tuesday for a reaction to the Twilight tsunami!

May 9, 2008

Bold Interiors

Maybe I'm just a huge sicko, but when I started looking through this gallery of interior paint colors, all the meticulously constructed interiors just reminded me of the incest-dungeon that Austrian guy built under his house. The captions don't help:

"The stenciling here was done in chalkboard paint, inviting tiny inhabitants to draw all over the walls."

See? Useful tips. I am so going to hell.

May 6, 2008

"Horror Roundtable" Blogger Steven Wintle Discusses His Site's Fate

I usually don't include my Site of the Week interviews here, but after speaking to The Horror Blog's Steven Wintle, I was moved to. The weekly "Horror Roundtable" posts-- in which a savvy panel of bloggers discuss a new theme every week-- has kept me hooked for a long time, and his revelation that a hiatus is approaching caught me off guard. For now at least, there are 97 weeks worth of entries (and counting) to be savored, including Steven's all-time favorites.

TB: How do you find all these people, or do they find you? What separates the Roundtablers from the commenters?

SW: I sent out invitations to the first batch of participants just to get the ball rolling. This group was comprised of practically every horror blogger I could think of. After that initial drive I would occasionally extend an open invite on the blog. So long as someone has an interest in horror and a horror-related site to promote, I'm happy to include them.

[Click here for more]

TB: What are some examples of your favorite Horror Roundtable discussions of all time?

SW: I'm a big softie, so overall I think the answers related to real-world experiences are among my favourites. These include first horror movie memories and the people responsible for our obsessions, among others.

I also really enjoy topics that allow the participants to flaunt their knowledge. I've discovered dozens of great horror movies through their recommendations in topics such as horrific non-horror films, the obscure, and the really obscure.

And I also like the goofy ones, especially playing Blackwell, bad Halloween candy, and the pros and cons of setting zombies on fire. It was hard narrowing it down to just a few. I just skimmed through all 97 posted so far, and I have to say, even when the topic is crap the responses are always top-notch.

TB: Your site started out as a great horror blog in its own right back in the day, but the Roundtable's vox populi aspect has almost completely taken over. How and why did that transformation occur?

SW: My reasons for cutting back are the usual tedious nonsense. The tipping point, however, occurred at the world premiere of Diary of the Dead. Night of the Living Dead is my favorite horror movie of all time, and attending the first public screening of one of George Romero's zombie films was set to be one of the highlights of my life as a horror fan. After the screening most of the audience started taking pictures and recordings of the Q&A, including me. Here I was, just minutes after watching a movie about the perils of living your life through a lens, and I was juggling a tape recorder and camera instead of enjoying the event to its fullest. That's when I decided to cut back.

The Horror Roundtable is still going strong largely because I promised a few people that I would take it to 100 installments. Otherwise I would have shut the entire site down months ago. That said, I should probably let everyone know that The Horror Blog will be going on hiatus for a few months, and when it returns it will be under new management. I'm unsure at this point what the fate of the Horror Roundtable will be.

TB: Most horror blogs are news or reviews first, editorial second. The Roundtable is unusual in that it's almost entirely based on opinions, yet is still a well-rounded read on the genre, very unlike other discussion forums. Do you think its popularity signals an unfulfilled need in the online horror community ?

SW: The creation of the Roundtable was partly an extension of what I wanted to achieve with the blog for myself; a forum that allows the participants to explore regions of the genre that they might otherwise not consider on their own using a constantly shifting focus. If it is popular-- and I might quibble with that description-- I'd guess that it's because the participants are dedicated explorers of the genre with interesting and provocative thoughts on the topics. It's like a dinner party, but everyone invited is a cannibal.

The reason I started the Roundtable in the first place was to allow readers the opportunity to check out a wide sampling of some of the best horror writing on the internet and continue on to those author's respective sites. So if you visit the Roundtable and see anything you like, please click on through. You won't regret it.

May 5, 2008

I Interviewed Mitchell Lichtenstein About Teeth And All I Got Was This Lousy Pencil-Sharpener

Maybe you already saw Teeth, maybe you didn't... but either way, you've probably already cracked a joke about it. Mitchell Lichtenstein's vagina dentata movie rode a wave of one-liners to the top of many people's 2007 must-see movie lists, and is virtually guaranteed a happy life on DVD starting this week. Rather than write a reheated news piece for AMC to celebrate the occasion, I got in touch with Lichtenstein personally to see whether fans of the radiant Jess Weixler can look forward to more Teeth turns in the future. Something tells me we haven't seen the last of Dawn and her underbite.

(It looks like I'm not going to get a chance to say "Go-Go-Gadget Gynosaur!" in this post, am I? Oh, wait. Check!)

[Click here for the interview!]

TB: Teeth was gratefully received by horror fans, and they have a long memory. Do you have plans to return to the genre anytime soon?

ML: I'd like to. I don't currently have any ideas, but I enjoy the genre so maybe I'll come up with something...

TB: Teeth has often been described as a sort of superhero (or villain) origin-story. Is there a possibility of your revisiting this story?

ML: Conceivably. It's left sort of open-ended so that there could certainly be the further adventures of Dawn, but I don't quite know what they would be yet. I don't want her to turn into Aileen Wuornos...

TB: The special effects were pretty graphic. Did capturing an R rating impose constraints on your creativity?

ML: No, because I didn't have any obligation to get an R rating. It just luckily did get one.

TB: Did that surprise you?

ML: Yes, it did! We all thought it would be NC-17, but the ratings board was really behind the movie. They thought it was a cautionary tale and that parents should bring heir teenage sons to see it... it's made clear that if your intentions are honorable, things will go well, and if not... [laughs]. They really latched on to that aspect, and I was thrilled, because it is part of the movie. There was one specific shot I had to plead for, which is the one near the end where [details omitted that would spoil the movie and your lunch]. That was the only shot they had a problem with, so I was surprised.

TB: Last question. This is a genius merchandising opportunity; can we look forward to a video game tie-in? Action figures?

ML: I would love that! It could be sort of like Ms. Pac Man, gobbling up... uh. [laughs] We had some big ideas at one point, we were thinking about things like Dawn pencil-sharpeners--

TB: Surely by the time the trilogy wraps up, it will all be out there.

ML: Yeah, I hope so!

May 1, 2008

The "My Oral Surgeon Is Cooler Than Yours" Interview

In case you didn't know, I had my wisdom teeth removed this week. Practically the only silver lining to this miserable experience was getting to meet my new oral surgeon, Dr. Charles Ptak D.D.S. When I was in the chair he asked about my job, and within minutes he was cheerfully telling me about getting to watch The Hunger in Germany back in '83. This is why I love Brooklyn.

My editors thrilled at the idea of an interview with an oral surgeon—a figure scarier to some than Freddy Krueger or Peak Oil—so I'll share be sharing his fave scary movies with you on Tuesday. In the meantime, film-buff Dr. Ptak and I had a fine chat this afternoon about the ups and downs of being a gentle man with a fearful occupation—so fine, in fact, that I forgot to ask one of my most burning questions: "What's the craziest-looking thing you've ever pulled out of someone's head?" Guess I'll have to save that one for next time.

[Click here for the interview!]

TB: When people hear what you do for a living, are they intimidated?

CP: Many people don’t understand how you could handle the blood, or drilling in the oral cavity with blood and saliva and infectious material and so forth. It puts some people off.

TB: All that considered, are they pretty brave about it when it's their turn to get in the chair?

CP: I think just to be there they have to be brave! They’re dealing with it, and some deal better than others—some fall apart at the seams, but they’re there, and I have to give them a lot of credit for that. I’m there to help them; when people come in with problems, they may feel that I’m there to judge them because they may have neglected themselves, but not at all. I’ve seen a lot over the 25 years I’ve practiced; I can be amazed, but not surprised.

TB: No matter how sensitive a doctor you are, and no matter how necessary a visit may be, because of your specialty, you’re just one of those doctors that people go to assuming pain and discomfort are inevitable. Is it hard being that guy?

CP: It’s a challenge. I try to meet that challenge with good care and good judgment and patience so that they have as little discomfort as possible. I can’t eliminate it but I can mitigate it by giving patients options for their pain control, or a range of possible treatments—and most importantly, with careful, careful surgery.

TB: Did you have your wisdom teeth out?

CP: Sure, I was past twenty when I had them out. I was a Merchant Mariner then and we were able to receive care at public health service clinics. The guy gave me local and then put his foot up right on the arm of the chair and yanked my teeth out! [laughs] I was pretty shocked. Honestly, I’ve never put my foot up on the chair to remove a tooth! It was kind of startling, and I guess that was sort of like a horror movie. I recovered with no complications, so I won't disparage his work—perhaps just his style.

TB: Did you like scary movies as a kid? You were telling be about some TV show…

CP: Shock Theater? It was called Shock Theater in New York, and the host was known as Zacherley. He was somewhat scary, and pretty funny. We didn’t know what was campy then—it just seemed goofy at the time but as it got older you’d call it “camp”. He introduced a lot of the movies, and sometimes he would even comment while the film was rolling, like Mystery Science Theater 3000, except this was in the late fifties, early sixties—and that kind of added the humor to the shock.

TB: How is the stuff that scares you as an adult different?

CP: In the 80s there was Hellraiser. Being, by then, a surgeon, seeing people diced, flayed, dissected, pinned up like specimens insinuated the horrible side of this individual— he was a medical man, a surgeon of some kind. Are you familiar with Hellraiser? Here I am an adult, I was in college for thirteen years, and those movies scare the crap out of me.

TB: That actually ties into something I wanted to ask you: whether you feel your work makes you more sensitive to portrayals of suffering onscreen, or whether you’re able to dive behind a clinical perspective in order to cope.

CP: To a certain point, you can keep your wits, but yeah. I’m not so far removed from my emotions and empathy for other people that it doesn’t get to me. That film was horrible, very expressive—and that’s why we love movies.

TB: What’s another one that gets to you like that?

CP: We talked about this one before [at my previous appointment]: The Hunger. David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, Catherine Deneuve, they’re vampires. I actually saw it in Berlin. Seeing this movie in German, with English subtitles, seeing those three great and beautiful actors do this vampire story… I was attending a surgical convention and had a chance to spend a week there afterward, when it was still a divided city and the Cold War was still palpable. That in itself was scary.

TB: Why do you love horror or think it’s important?

They transport you out of the everyday. I think horror and science fiction really free the imagination of the creator of the story as well as that of whoever absorbs the story. That’s what I think. We enjoy being scared, and I suppose that, like when you were a kid, you enjoy when the movie’s over knowing that the monster didn’t get you.