Few Gen-Xers walked away from the 80s without knowing and loving The Monster Squad. It was a film for our generation and it endures to this day. Director Fred Dekker tapped into childhood fears in a way which was both scary and exciting and along with Spielberg, Lucas and Dante he helped build a generation of resilient and adventurous kids. In addition to Monster Squad Fred also brought us the classic Night of the Creeps and the ill fated (yet audacious) Robocop 3. He is also responsible for some of the best episodes of Tales from the Crypt, including The Thing From The Grave. With writing credits on Star Trek Enterprise also under his belt, Fred Dekker is a respected and sought after cult figure with fans flocking to conventions and screenings just to shake his hand. His work has certainly influenced my life and I feel really fortunate to have had the opportunity to pick his brain. What a guy!
What was your favourite movie as a kid?
A few come to mind, but let's go with the original KING KONG which was huge for me (no play on words intended). I probably saw it 50 times.
What lit the fire and your passion for film?
My dad was a movie buff from way back, and he'd point out the character actors from old black-and-white war films on TV. He took me to the drive-in, where I'd wear my pajamas and bundle up in a sleeping bag in the back of our family station wagon to watch films like PLANET OF THE APES and WHERE EAGLES DARE. His influence was formative.
How did you first get into the industry and what was your first job in it?
My first gig was writing the script for Steve Miner's planned 3D GODZILLA film. It was never made, but it was a wonderful experience and Steve rallied some amazing artists to design and storyboard -- people like William Stout, Dave Stevens, and Doug Wildey who created "Jonny Quest."
How did the movie “House” come about? You are credited for it’s story but not it’s script.
HOUSE was an idea I wanted to direct. I intended it to be shot at my parent's Victorian house in Northern California -- one character, very low budget, very run-and-gun. When other things came up (like writing NIGHT OF THE CREEPS), I handed script duties to my pal and college roommate Ethan Wiley. Then Steve Miner loved it and got Sean Cunningham to produce. The movie they made was a lot different in tone from what I had intended, but I'm glad people liked it.
Night of the Creeps was released that same year. As a first time director it must have been a scary prospect. Can you tell us how you came to direct the movie?
I wrote the the script in about three weeks then gave it to my agent and said, "I want to direct this." I had an unfinished 16mm short film, which we showed the studio to prove I knew where to aim a camera. Next thing you know, I was in charge of a $6 million movie. It was sudden and terrifying.
Your next movie, Monster Squad, drew influences from the classic Universal Monster pictures. Given that Tristar produced your film, what difficulties did you face recreating the Universal Monsters.
As you can guess, the Universal make-ups are copyrighted, so it was a tightrope walk to make them recognizable while not treading on the copyrighted elements. Luckily, we had the great Stan Winston and his team designing the monsters, so it was kind of hard to go wrong. And I'm on record in thinking our Creature is one of the three best monster costumes ever made for movies (the others are ALIEN and the original Creature).
Both of these movies have gained huge cult followings over the years and continue to screen around the world. Has their longevity amazed you?
Another movie you wrote was Ricochet, starring Denzel Washington. This was directed by Russell Mulcahy who has a highly stylised approach to cinema. Did this movie turn out the way you had envisioned it?
I had actually written RICOCHET as a Dirty Harry movie. When Clint Eastwood deemed it "too grim" (which is funny if you've seen a Dirty Harry movie), the producer Joel Silver took in a different direction. I met Kurt Russell about starring in it with me directing, but eventually it became the movie you know. I counted seven things of mine left in the finished product. Great cast though, and Russell is a Facebook friend.
One of my favourite movies growing up was If Looks Could Kill. Again you are only credited for “story only”. Were you involved at all and did the final cut bare any resemblance to what you had originally written?
This was an original script I'd written called TEEN AGENT, which was my attempt to blend the Anthony Michael Hall character from John Hughes' films with a James Bond adventure. The final product is not at all what I envisioned, not the least reason being they cast a "cool" guy to play the nerdy lead, which kind of defeats the comedy. I'm not a fan, but the movie has its moments. (Trivia: the female lead was named "Mariska" after my college friend Mariska Hargitay -- who went on to star in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit")
You directed Robocop 3. Can you tell us a bit about how this came to you and what it was like to work with the legendary Frank Miller?
I was a huge fan of Frank's comics work, particularly his take on Batman (which redefined the character and influenced every incarnation since -- including the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan films). Frank had written ROBOCOP 2 with Walon Green, and when I came aboard #3 I learned he had written a draft for that one, too. Rather than toss it, I fought to keep as much unused material as possible from both of his ROBOCOP scripts. The fact that the studio wanted a PG-13 made things tricky, since Frank's voice as a writer is not exactly "family friendly." I'm sure he thinks I destroyed his vision, but a lot of ROBOCOP 3 is his -- especially the Japanese/samurai element and the notion of a corporate, fascist police force. I loved working with him, and I loved making him laugh.
I couldn’t ask you questions without mentioning Tales From The Crypt. What a show! Your episodes were among the series best. How did you become involved?
I was thrilled to be asked to write the first one by Robert Zemeckis, and continued to hang around for the first season. Each episode was a little movie, and I got to work with my heroes, Like Bob Z., Dick Donner, Walter Hill, etc., etc. It was a dream.
What have been your highest and lowest moments in the industry?
Highest would be the one-two punch of making CREEPS and SQUAD back-to-back. Lowest would be the critical reaction to ROBOCOP 3.
You haven't produced much over the past few years; will you return to the directors or writers chair?
Believe me, we writers scribble a lot of scripts that are never shot, so I've actually never gotten OUT of the writer's chair! As for directing, I'm definitely available but the phone doesn't ring like it used to.
What defines good “genre”, to you?
I think when a fantastical idea is treated seriously and with realism. The second you start making fun of the genre you're in, you're entering "camp" territory and that's something I just have no taste for. Good genre is work that has integrity and is true to itself. I'm also tired of remakes and reboots. More originals, please.
If you could have written one film in the history of cinema, which would it be?
Great question. I'd love to have my name on THE TERMINATOR or BACK TO THE FUTURE.
Do you have a favourite film?
What inspires you?
Great movies, great television. Sometimes music and art. Right now I'm in total awe of "Breaking Bad." I feel like I've never known how to write for television, and Vince Gilligan has kind of shown me how it's done.
Who have been some of your favourite filmmakers of the past few years?
Honestly, my heroes are mostly old school (or dead). But apart from Spielberg, Kubrick, Peckinpah, Coppola, guys like that, I'd say more recently: Paul Thomas Anderson, Alexander Payne, The Coen Brothers, Lars Von Trier, Rian Johnson. I admire Shane Carruth, but I can't begin to decipher his films. There's also an English director I've discovered recently named Andrea Arnold, whose work is sensational. Oh and Alfonso Cuaron. CHILDREN OF MEN was amazing, and GRAVITY looks even better!
What is a question you have never been asked in an interview?
"What's the great, unmade Fred Dekker film?"
Would you care to answer it now?
Thought you'd never ask. The feature film of JOHNNY QUEST, based on the 1960s animated series. I had a deal to make it in the 80s, then later wrote a script for Warner Brothers, but it was never made.
I am based in Australia and a question I ask most of my guests is whether they have any favourite Australian films. Do you?
I'm afraid my answer is going to be rather predictable: THE ROAD WARRIOR. George Miller is god.
If Max Landis isn't familiar to you then at the very least his surname should be. His father is none other than legendary director, John Landis. Growing up surrounded by showbiz, Max's career was practically set in stone from the get go and by his mid teens he already had dozens of scripts under his belt. He sold his first one (Deer Woman) at the age of 18, which was directed by his father as an episode of the Masters of Horror anthology series. From then on his rise has been unmistakable. His sci-fi thriller Chronicle dazzled audiences with it's unique take on the super-power genre and the last couple of years have seen several more of his scripts being snapped up by major studios. In addition to his writing Max has had a strong online presence with contributions to Trailers From Hell as well as many of his own YouTube videos. Scroll to the bottom of this article to watch his short film “The Death & Return of Superman”… it is truly awesome!Father & Son - John & Max Landis.
Max Landis has stepped out from the shadow of his father and paved his own road. His passion for cinema and pop culture overflows and listening to him talk about his influences is infectious. He might already have 100+ scripts to his name but this is only the beginning of a long and prolific career. Somehow, amongst his commitments, Max took the time to answer some of my questions.
You grew up with Hollywood all around you. What's an everlasting impression you have from that world as a child?
Well, I was a very misbehaved kid, so the amount I was actually able to experience the whole "John Landis' Son" thing was fairly limited. And even when I was on set, I'd just run straight to the prop truck and play with toy guns.
Was a career in film inevitable or did you ever eye off a different career?
I always knew that I was either going to be a film-maker or an astronaut. Then I found out you had to be smart to be an astronaut.
What was the first screenplay you ever wrote?
Battlefield. Concerned the trials and tribulations of one lone Earth soldier, lost in the No Man's Land of a planet consumed by a three way alien war.
DEER WOMAN. Written by Max, Directed by John.
I believe you have written more than 50 screenplays. Which is your favourite of those least likely to be made?
Of those least likely to be made? God, there are a lot. A lot of those old ones are really terrible, too. I don't dwell on them; I always try to move forward. I'd say the best IDEAS are probably Moth Magic, Dysphoria and Hell and The Policeman, but they're not great scripts.
Where does the inspiration for your stories come from?
Spontaneously. Songs, sometimes. Stuff just kinda pops into my head.
Who have been some of your biggest influences, creatively?
Stephen King, RL Stine, Shane Black, David Fincher, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Garth Ennis, Martin Scorsese, W.S. Van Dyke, Richard Matheson, Grant Morrison...I mean, the list goes on and on.
Do you ever turn to your old man for creative input or advice?
I try sometimes, mainly for advice. He always keeps it pretty simple.
You worked with him on Masters of Horror. Was it a good working relationship?
NOPE. But I was a terrifically immature writer, so I managed to make it even more fraught than it had to be.
Chronicle impressed the hell out of me. At a time when super power movies were boring me to death, yours came along and changed the game. How did this movie change things for you professionally?
It validated what had been going on behind the scenes in my career. I was already on a "streak" so to speak, but now suddenly all of these projects I'd sold were being taken a lot more seriously, and that felt really good.
As the characters learn to control their powers, so too does the film evolve from a shaky hand-held camera to being highly stylised and controlled. Was this written in the script or conceived afterwards?
It's written into the script. I definitely describe it happening in there, and then Josh executed it fucking flawlessly and inventively. Josh always said "Why are found footage movies shakey? Youtube videos aren't always shakey. People can hold cameras straight." And I really agree with him.
There have been mixed reports about the possible sequel. Can you clear anything up about that?
Haha, yeah, I'm off it. Mine was a super fun, kind of really dark psychological action thriller concerning the rise of the world's first "super-villain." Chronicle was about dangers of friendship and love, this one was about the dangers of fame and hate.
I am based in Melbourne, Australia and ask most of my guests if they have any favourite Aussie movies? Most of them answer The Road Warrior... so aside from that one, do you have any favs?
LAKE. FUCKING. MUNGO. Best horror film ever made.
What's your take on remakes?
Every single one is different. Usually the more cash grabby the motive behind them is, the worse they are.
Do you have a favourite film?
I have many favorite films.
Do you have a guilty pleasure movie you're game enough to admit to liking?
I would never be ashamed of admitting I like anything that I genuinely like.
Why do you think I am strangely besotted with The Stupids?
Because it's fucking dope and contains my greatest film performance to date, getting paint bukakke'd.
What's a question you've never been asked in an interview?
What's it all about, really? What's the true meaning of life? Why are we here? I mean, in the end, is there a purpose to life, the universe, and everything?
Would you care to answer it now?
What are some upcoming projects for us to look out for?
Haha, I don't kiss and tell. You'll know soon enough. Besides, I'm sick of hyping my own stuff without being able to guarantee to fans that it'll actually happen, you know?
Follow Max's weird & wonderful exploits on Youtube as he gets in it up to his knees.
Ask any true horror fan who Mick Garris is and they'll snap to attention. There are few names in the horror-movie world more respected than his. His colleagues and fans alike will attest to him being a kind, gentle and warm hearted man... who just so happens to have an unquenchable thirst for some of cinema's most sinister offerings. His career began with small yet successful movies such as Critters 2 and The Fly 2 and has seen him rise to become one of Hollywood's premier authorities on horror. He has become one of Stephen King's strongest collaborators as well as pushing boundaries with the awesomely gruesome Master of Horror tv series. You will see from the posters throughout this article that his stamp on the genre is permanent and incredibly influential. In addition to his film and television work, Mick is also an accomplished author and presented a fantastic interview-based webseries for Fearnet.com called Post Mortem with Mick Garris. I have certainly grown up with his films and again I have been blown away by how generous movie-folk like Mick can be. With a heavy workload and all sorts of commitments he has found the time to sit down and answer my questions. I didn't think my appreciation for this man could have grown any more but it has. With the hint of a scoop and insight into some of his lesser known work, I have just picked the brain of Mick Garris (OMG).
What was your favourite movie as a child?
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN
At what age did you make up your mind to pursue filmmaking?
Who were some of your early influences?
I loved the Universal classics; they were the doorway into the horror genre. I saw the Corman/Poe films on television, and also a lot of the noir detective type films from the 1940s. Then came Romero, and I became bathed in the blood of horror cinema.
I recently interviewed SS Wilson and briefly discussed *batteries not inc. It’s a little gem of a film and I believe the original story comes from you… was the end product a fair representation of your vision?
Actually, the original concept was by Steven Spielberg. It was originally going to be an episode of AMAZING STORIES called GRAMPS AND GRAMMY AND COMPANY. But when he asked me to do the screenplay and I developed it into the feature script, we were entitled to share the “story by” credit, but in his generosity, Steven offered me full story credit. So because there were other writers on the film once Matthew was brought in to direct it, I was fortunate to receive sole story.
It was a bit more kid-oriented and slapstick than the script I wrote (and the outline Steven first came up with for AMAZING STORIES), but the general basis was there. It’s hard to see something objectively when you spend months on a project and it changes, so I can't tell you if it’s better or worse or the same as the original script, but I'm proud to be associated with it.
Two of your early scripts were Critters 2 and The Fly 2. Both are about as good as sequels could possibly be to such strong properties, what challenges did writing sequels provide?
Well, the primary issue with sequels is to give the audience that wants to see a continuation of the storyline satisfaction, but bring enough new to it that they want to see more. Surprise and entertainment value are just as important to a sequel as they are to an original film, so it’s sort of a balancing act. I'm glad those sequels work for you. Again, there were other writers involved in both: David Twohey wrote the first CRITTERS 2 script, and I did the rewrites when I was assigned to direct it. Frank Darabont and the Wheat Brothers were on FLY II after me, and it did change a lot, becoming more of a teenage monster movie that what I had originally set out to achieve.
And of course you also made Psycho 4, which predates the new Bates Motel prequel screening on A&E. Can you tell us a bit about stepping into such a beloved legacy?
It was a very quick and amazing process. It was made for Showtime, the network that ran MASTERS OF HORROR years later. It had a low budget but a high pedigree. John Landis championed me for the job, and the movie was done for a division of Universal that made shows for cable TV at the time. I had created a series called SHE WOLF OF LONDON for them with Tom McLoughlin, and Ned Nalle, who was a mucky-muck in that division at Universal, knew me and liked the idea.
Of course, I was thrilled to be working on a prequel/sequel to one of my favorite films of all time. There had already been a sequel made by Richard Franklin, who was not well known in the US at that time, and Anthony Perkins himself had directed the second sequel, which was not a success, either at the box office or with critics.
So I felt that there was some remove there, not such high expectations. So sure, I was nervous as a newborn colt to take it on, but had a lot of love for it and ideas, and tried to make it visually original yet compatible with the Hitchcock original.
You enjoy a healthy creative relationship with Stephen King and your first adaptation of his was Sleepwalkers, if I'm not mistaken. This was also one of his first movies, not actually based on a novel. There are some divisive themes in that film, did you feel like you were pushing boundaries at the time?
Yes, it was his first produced original screenplay, and the first time we worked with each other. Yes, it was very transgressive at the time, and it came from dealing with some of the very same themes as we’d played with in PSYCHO IV… which was one of the reasons King approved me for the project in the first place.
I had no idea what we were doing would be quite as potent as others did, though. We had to go back to the MPAA five times to get an R rating, after lots of cutting and manipulating. They really had problems with some of the violence and sexual content we had shot, which actually were quite mild.
You also adapted The Stand, which is one of the most daring and epic of his adaptations. It was a phenomenon at the time; did you ever feel like you had bitten off more than you could chew?
Fear is a healthy thing for filmmakers, painters, musicians, performers. It was incredibly intimidating to have this 460-page stone tablet delivered to my door, based on history’s most successful writer’s most successful book! It was overwhelming.
But you take it a scene at a time. Once you know the script is in good shape, then you just chip away at it, a scene at a time, until the sculpture is finished. I knew the book was great, and so was the screenplay. We got a great cast and a wonderful group of creative cohorts to share the burden, and everybody did their best, most inspired work to create something as special as the book we were adapting.
You kept looking for the light at the end of the tunnel… but that tunnel was made of light. The hardest work I’ve ever had or will have, but as rewarding as it gets.
Your work with King has continued over the years with films like The Shining, Riding The Bullet, Desperation and Bag of Bones amongst others. What’s the key to your working relationship with him?
We're friends, we like a lot of the same things, we've both been in bands and have rock’n’roll in our souls. But we're also writers, and simpatico in so many ways. We have similar backgrounds in our home lives and pop culture upbringings, but maybe it’s mostly because of the respect I have for his work, and for him as a human being as well as an artist.
For an all too brief period of time, your TV series Masters of Horror was about as good as horror had ever been on television. How did the series come about and was it disappointing to see it shut down so prematurely?
Thanks. I’d rather look at it with the happy memory of two incredible years of being able to do something with such creative freedom that some of our great filmmakers did some of their freest, finest works in years in that format. FEAR ITSELF was going to be the third season of MoH, but it was for commercial television, which itself was a mistake, and was made under circumstances which made it impossible for me to remain in place, and I had to leave my baby to live with others.
So it is not with disappointment that I look back on MoH, but with pride and contentment.
With today’s television audience so hungry for horror content, can you foresee a Masters of Horror resurrection?
Maybe something like that, but not MASTERS OF HORROR itself. I have some things I'm working on of an anthological nature, but it will not have that title. But watch this space.
What’s been a career high for you? … And a low?
MASTERS OF HORROR was an amazing high… but so were all of the King projects. THE STAND being so hugely successful was a landmark for anyone. And creatively, I think in many ways THE SHINING was an equal high.
FEAR ITSELF would have to be the low point. It was a horrible situation, and a dismal flop in the ratings. It was the biggest disappointment of my career, and it could have been great. Breaks my heart.
What have been a few of your favourite films recently?
Hmmm…. That’s going to take some time. Most of my favorite recent films have not been in the horror genre. I have some catching up to do. I have been seeing a lot of films at international festivals, and most of the best ones never get a theatrical release. So I’ll have to get back to you on that.
I am based in Melbourne, Australia and ask most of my guests if they have any favourite Aussie films. Do you?
I love Peter Weir films; Richard Franklin was amazing. I love DEAD CALM and TWO HANDS. LONG WEEKEND, of course. And THIRST is one of my very favorites.
Australian genre films (Ozploitation) have enjoyed a new lease on life over the past few years. Have you watched much Australian horror?
Lots. But never enough.
What is a question you have never been asked in an interview before?
I think I may have answered all of them! Waiting for a new one; your move!
If you couldn’t be a filmmaker anymore, what would you be?
An author. I do write books as well, and it’s great to have an outlet for more intimate work than film or television can possibly provide.
Do you have anything in the pipeline you care to share?
There’s a lot of stuff coming up, but the biggest project I'm involved with at the moment is UNBROKEN. This is a bestselling book about my father-in-law, Lou Zamperini, who has had an amazing life, first as an Olympic runner, and then in World War II, where he faced incredible challenges, including crashing his plane in the Pacific and being on a life raft at sea for 47 days. Angelina Jolie is directing, from a script by the Coen brothers and Richard LaGravenese. I’m Executive Producer.
Mick, thank you for taking the time. I regard your work highly and it’s been an absolute pleasure getting the chance to ask you a few questions.
If you're into horror then you should be well acquainted with The Soska Sisters... aka The Twisted Twins. From Vancouver, Canada, these two audacious and deliciously depraved sisters have boldly announced themselves as a force to be reckoned with and horror fans from all over the world have embraced them as true mistresses of horror. In 2009 they made a micro-budget shocker called Dead Hooker In A Trunk, which they also starred in. That movie caught a lot of people's attention and in 2012 they followed it up with one of the most profound and artistic horror films of the decade, American Mary. Their understanding of horror, feminist sensibilities and their vision is unmistakable. With inklings of Cronenberg and McKee, they have strewn out a groundwork that is destined to see them amongst the most respected and influential names in the genre (if not cinema in general). Having lived in Vancouver myself I have taken a keen interest in The Soskas since Dead Hooker and its fair to say that I haven't seen any other film makers quite like them. Recognising their twinship as a brand, they have courageously capitalised on their niche marketing-angle and have forced a strong relationship with their fans. When getting in touch with filmmakers it is always gratifying when great films are backed up by genuinely nice people. Jen and Sylvia are two of the most approachable and spirited directors I have had the pleasure of knowing. Amongst world tours and preparing for their next project they have embraced my questions and offered some wonderfully insightful and honest answers. In high demand and being chased by the likes of Fangoria Magazine, they have still taken the time for a humble little site like this. I love these girls and I'm sure you will too.
What was your favourite film or television show as a child?
Sylvia: DESPERADO, we would watch that non-stop, over and over again. I wanted to be El, then I grew up, I still want to be El. We watched Darkwing Duck, Beetlejuice, She-Ra, Gem, X-Men - you know, the usual suspects for kids that turn out like us.
Jen: ha ha, obviously we watched all the same shows. There were some films we watched a gratuitous amount of times. PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, GHOSTBUSTERS, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, SCROOGED... oh! And LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS! If it was scary it didn't matter. Our parents talked to us about what we watched and watched with us. More parents really ought to these days.
As twins have you always been passionate about the same types of film and arts?
Sylvia: Mostly. We are very similar but vastly different. Our joke is that she's the Joss Whedon and I'm the Lars Von Trier. She likes the heart, I like seeing it get ripped out. We like a lot of the same things, sometimes for different reasons. Jen is way better with people, she always booked more jobs than I did when we were acting, like the line in TWINS, she's all the good stuff and I'm the left over shit and I'm cool with that.
Jen: We like the same stuff, but to different extremes. I LOVE Buffy. It's had a profound influence on me. Sylv also likes Buffy, but I was the one who'd think it was romantic to force dates (usually terrified ones) to take me for walks through graveyards at night. And, yes, I was holding a stake at the time. I like Lars' work. I like ANTICHRIST. Sylv LOVES it. Sylv could teach a class on the many subtleties of Lars Von Triers' films and never ending brilliance. I don't think there's anything that one of us likes that the other hates.
What are some of your guilty pleasure movies to watch?
Sylvia: ABOUT A BOY is my sad, crying movie. DREDD, I watch as a little treat to myself. I do my best Dredd impersonation and say, 'MaMa Clan', and Jen knows I'll be putting it on in like five minutes. I really like HEARTBREAKERS, it makes me think I should have saved myself the trouble and just gone into con-artistry which seems way more financially beneficial than filmmaking.
Jen: Memoirs Of A Geisha. I love that film. It's my "I'm sad" movie. The line, "none of us receives as much kindness in this life as we deserve" really moved me. I read the book and cried at the end. It was so beautifully done. Maybe the raging feminist in me couldn't take a woman living her whole life to get close to one man. I did find it incredibly romantic and I firmly believe that real romance only exists in movies. BATMAN RETURNS. I can quote everything Selina Kyle says and she is the Catwoman that every other one since her has to live up to. Anything by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, but I have absolutely no regrets about devoting my time to their musical stylings and combined comedic genius.
How has the Canadian lifestyle influenced your work?
Sylvia: I wish more of Canadian lifestyle was celebrated in this country, if you look at the map, all our cities are along the US boarder and there's a big influence there. It's always been a struggle in Canada to have national cinematic identity as the country seems more content to attract foreign productions here rather than focus on our local talent. Canadians are weird and I mean this in the best of ways, there's a uniqueness to our humor, our interests, I love our genre filmmaking - we put a big focus on that in our work. We have Canadian casts and crews working on our scripts and it's something I'm extremely proud of. We wouldn't have had the same influence to start making films if Jason Eisener hadn't come along with his brilliant HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. My favorite thing about Canada is the celebration of the individual which is where I think that cool weirdness comes from and thrives.
Jen: I'm not sure if it has, but they say you can't see the forest from the trees. I'm sure it's had an impact. We watch a lot of American culture, America has a way of seeping into everywhere. If I was born and raised in Orange County I shudder to think who we may have become. Vancouver might be the most beautiful place on Earth. People complain about the rain and constantly overcast weather, but I think it's beautiful. It made the tone of the X-FILES so good and it's definitely influenced our work. I think dark things are beautiful. It's like I get to live in one of Tim Burton's classic films. I do struggle for us to advance our Canadian cinematic national identity, though. I like walking the trail that David Cronenberg blazed for us.
I lived in Vancouver myself and was always trying to sneak into filming locations. Did the presence of so many productions make a difference to you?
Sylvia: They didn't let you on set? Me neither. My biggest heartbreak was when they were shooting REINDEER GAMES a block away from my high school, Ben Affleck was there and we decided to go over there and get a look at him. They were pretty mean and sent us away, they didn't even want us looking. I understand now why they did it, but it's a bummer when you don't know why you can't interrupt their day and see a movie star. I was really proud to have so many cool shows shooting in my hometown - X-FILES was huge. I worked in film from a young age, nothing exciting, but I got to go to set and it was cool. Back then, I was convinced that the only way I could work in film was as an actress, I didn't realize that one day I would be writing, directing, and producing my own films with Jen.
Jen: It glamourized the film industry for sure. Everyone and their cat was on THE X-FILES at one time or another. I wanted so badly to be on it. Never had my chance. It added a sense of seduction to the whole filmmaking thing. It held a certain magic to it. It's still there. I love seeing places they're filming. I wonder which friends are working there.
My favourite Canadian film is Lynn Stopkewich’s Kissed starring Molly Parker. There are quite a few thematic similarities with American Mary. Did this film influence you at all?
Sylvia: You've seen KISSED?! I love that film. Our Director of Photography, Brian Pearson worked on that film! He had a great quote about it and MARY - the age restriction for when he would let his daughter watch either film is 38. It had an influence on the kind of films I wanted to make. I'm so stoked that you saw that film, not enough people have.
Jen: Oh, I LOVED that film. Still do! It's so cool that Brian worked on it. I think everything we watch influences us on some level, even if we don't consciously recognize it. We try to watch something new every day. We're always learning and looking for inspiration. We love watching international and indie films.
Can you explain the title of American Mary?
Sylvia: Totally. AMERICAN MARY follows the story of an impoverished young woman who desperately seeks to be a surgeon at all costs of self, in an attempt to obtain the 'American dream'. It's an unrealistic pressure we put on ourselves and with the state of the economy, it's even more of a battle which means the sacrifices are often greater even though they still don't guarantee success as the goal is unobtainable. It follows a working woman which brings in the issues of appearance, which whether we like to admit or not, is another unrealistic expectation put on most notably women. The American ideal of beauty versus what is actually achievable, we explore these very Western real life issues that could really play out anywhere in North America, but since we are exploring the expectations from the world's dominant super-power, we made Mary American and used her life to touch on different issues of self that we are faced with today. Appearances are everything was a tagline that encompassed all those themes.
Jen: The other portion was "Mary". We wanted to give her a strong name. Mary Harron is one of our favorite directors. We got our introduction to her when we saw her defending AMERICAN PSYCHO. She was talked to outraged feminist groups and handled herself so eloquently and his such composure, intellect, and grace. It had a huge impact on us, before we even fell in love with the film. It also has to do with Mary, Mother of God, and Mary Magdalene, two very different, but powerful women. We also used "Ave Maria" as Mary's theme.
What attracted you to the world of body modification as a subject for American Mary?
Sylvia: I stumbled upon the body mod culture in a very backwards way - I saw an April Fool's prank posting featuring identical twin brothers who swapped limbs. Along with the photo diary of the procedures, there was a letter from the twins that explained that you had to be a twin to understand why they did this. It scared me. My mom taught me that fear come from having a lack of education about something, so learn about it and you won't be scared anymore. My fear turned to fascination to admiration. There is no group as misunderstood as the body mod community and very few projects that show them in an honest, positive light. That became very important to me, especially because I started with the general population's misinformation about the culture and truly embracing and understanding it enriched my life, I wanted to to the same for others.
Jen: The film is very much an analogy for our own ventures in the film industry. We started out acting and modelling and as you can imagine we came up against so very unsavory characters. I heard the stories, I thought I saw it all. Then when we made DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, we saw a whole new ugly side to this business where as much as we struggled to be seen as equal to our male counter parts, our gender and usually our age became the object of discrimination with many monster producers and execs. We found that the people you're meant to respect and hold in high regard are often the real monsters and the outsiders, the indie brats and the horror community which can appear to look a little different or seem intense are in fact the sweetest, most generous and honest people you'll ever meet. That's largely where our theme, "appearances are everything" came from.
Has the body-mod crowd embraced the film?
Sylvia: At the end of the day, body modification is a life choice that hasn't been represented properly in film much. It was important to us to have perspective from someone who is not only in the community but does the procedures as a flesh artist himself. Through our good friend, Amelia Smart, we were introduced to Russ Foxx who was that man and kept us in reality in the fantastical aspects of the film. He was so good to us and we kept asking him all these questions and he'd be very cool in getting our 'internet schooling' on the subject right. One of his favorite lines with us was 'You read that on the internet, so it must be true.' When we premiered the film at Fright Fest, I looked out at the audience and saw so many members of the body mod community there. It was what I was hoping for.
After the screening, Roni - who is person who brought body mod to Poland when tattoos and piercings are still taboo - was introduced to me. I was so excited/nervous to her what she thought of the film. She dug it. She's even done an American Mary-themed shoot in Bizarre. I feel so lucky to have this opportunity to share this community that I love and have people in body mod like what we did. Thank God for the internet, we talk to people around the world that are in the scene and have seen the film. I'm very happy that we didn't fuck up.
Jen: Very well. It was our intention to give an honest and objective look into the world of body modification that wasn't just out of context close up images of genital modifications. There's so much negativity falsely associated with the body mod community. They're beautiful and honest and brave people. I say brave because to step away from the norm and embrace your own ideal or self expression and beauty gets a very negative reaction. It's like there's only one accepted form of what society sees as beautiful and that's just bullshit to me. I'm so happy that we've at very least opened a dialogue about body modification. We intentionally didn't use it for shock value, but rather to further the themes of "appearances are everything". What many people regard as monsters are in fact very human. Most monsters hide away what they are under the guise of normality.
You and Astron-6 are taking the world by storm, it would seem. Australia has certainly embraced you. Is genre alive and well in Canada?
Sylvia: You know, there are brilliant genre filmmakers in Canada - most famously David Cronenberg - and I am such a big fan of Jason Eisener, Astron 6, and Jovanka Vuckovic's work. They are a real representation of the talent we have in Canada, not these sad family dramas that seem to be the only ones that get any support. For whatever reason, genre filmmaking has always been such a battle in Canada. I'm hoping the success of these filmmakers internationally will get it some more support at home. I would like to see a stronger cinematic national identity that embraces genre films here and more of a focus on celebrating Canadian made and Canadian talent-filled productions. The dream is to open our own studio where we self-finance our projects and consistently have projects with our teams coming out, eventually getting to the point where we can finance other artists works that we'd like to see get made.
By the by, we fucking adore Australia. Monster Pictures has been with us since our first film and they truly fight for their filmmakers. I loved getting to come to Australia, we're secretly plotting how to go back again.
Jen: It's thriving! We have some phenomenal talent up here and we are just in love with Astron-6. What they do and the way they do it is just unheard of. They're really changing the world with what they do. It's a basic human right to watch and own MANBORG.
You have promoted yourselves with a distinctive image and the horror fans are lapping it up. Is your public persona far removed from your own private lives?
Sylvia: Ha ha, we're a lot more bubbly than we appear in some of the images of us online. We're weird, we always have had a very strong interest in fashion and our lives revolved around horror, gaming, and comics. We never thought we would fit into anything because of our oddness. On set and at home, we're in high heels in our varga-inspired makeup. We didn't just like the characters we grew up loving, we wanted to be them. I guess it's very much our version of what a superhero would wear, just less spandex. It's nice that people are digging it - growing up we got teased like crazy.
Jen: The funny thing is that it isn't a shtick. People are surprised when they see us and we dress and act just like we do online or in interviews. We embrace who we are. I spent too much time in highschool wanting to be accepted until I realized that some people in this life are just going to hate you for no good reason and fuck them. It's a very important lesson. I dress and act and do what I do for me. Life is a show and we are in show business. I think the "show" quality has been severely lacking. We're trying to rectify that.
You recently visited Australia. Was it a culture shock for you?
Sylvia: Yes. I should have educated myself more on it other than Crocodile Hunter and CROCODILE DUNDEE. We started in Melbourne during the races. Everyone was dressed so fancy with those cute little hats, we thought there was like a million weddings going on at once. And it was winter and the weather was so hot and beautiful. The Monster folks, Neil, Ben, Zak, and Grant, were so kind to be stuck with us during our time there. We got to explore the country, meet so many people, and we were addicted to the real life horror stories of the country. I didn't know about the serial killers - it was so fascinating. No predatory animals and every bird was a fucking parrot. And the language, calling bikers 'bikies', so adorable, and sketchy situations is 'dodgy'. It's a magical place. I desperately want to go back.
Jen: It was hot. And kangaroos weren't just all over the place. I loved it! I LOVE Monster Pictures. They were so good to us. And the fans were cool as hell. Your minimum wage is much higher than ours. When I first say a burger for thirty bucks I asked if it was also going to have sex with me.
What was the highlight of your trip?
Sylvia: Actually meeting the people that have made this possible, the team at Monster and the people who have been watching the films. Seeing all those Aussie DEAD HOOKERS was amazing! We got to sit in the theatre and experience MARY with them for the first time - all the laughs, gasps, and walks outs. It was such an unreal special experience. I still can't believe how lucky I am to have this opportunity. Like how is this my life?
Jen: The people. No matter where we go, it's the people. Because of Monster Pictures giving DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK such an amazing release in both the UK and Australia, the fans were all fans back from DEAD HOOKER. I ask someone here if they've seen it and then either shrug or bullshit that they have. In Australia they all brought their copies for us to sign. When we asked audiences if they'd heard of it, they broke of in ravenous cheers. I cannot tell you how much that meant to us.
Do you enjoy Aussie cinema and if so, what are some of your favourite movies?
Sylvia: I really love WOLF CREEK and I'm very stoked about the sequel. Mick Taylor is a real personality in Australia. I got this cool bobblehead of him from Greg and every time we went through customs, they were all like - Do you know who that is? He's a really bad guy. And then they'd laugh knowingly. Of course, knowing about WOLF CREEK and traveling through foreign to us Australia, makes everything so much more terrifying. I think the statistic is that thirty thousand people go missing in the bush every year and 10% of those people are never found. Scary shit.
Jen: Same! WOLF CREEK is awesome! I really dig your real life serial killer stories. It's funny that those stories haven't really reached North America. Your serial killers make ours look like pussy cats.
Amongst other people you met and spent time with Greg McLean. What did you discuss?
Sylvia: Greg is a really cool guy, I'm so glad that he had time to meet us as he was just about to getting shooting on WOLF CREEK 2. His office is amazing with props and prosthetics from his films and this giant collection of comic books and action figures. He even has the Captain America comic where Cap punches Hitler. We have lots of similar interests, we're graphic novel nerds and love horror. We asked him a lot about the real horror in Australia that he drew inspiration on his films from. He's such a smart guy. We shared filmmaking stories - we have the same entertainment lawyer, Joel Vanderkloot - who is the best guy on the fucking planet, so we had to talk about how much we love him. I really love my lawyer - he's always fighting for us, I'm grateful to have him. That was actually how I was first introduced to Greg and his work by talking to Joel.
Jen: Greg is so cool! We hadn't seen WOLF CREEK at the time that we met him, but he was so sweet to give us each a copy, and ROGUE. We chatted about filmmaking, serial killers (again), comic books, and our lawyer that we all share and adore, Joel Vanderkloot. It was pretty much a love fest. I'm very excited for WOLF CREEK 2.
With a string of short films and two features under your belt, what’s next for the Soskas?
Sylvia: We were just announced as part of the ABCS OF DEATH 2, so we're really stoked about that. There's a couple projects that we're involved with that are coming up, as well as our third film which is a real monster. It's an original monster movie that we're teaming with Masters FX to bring something really unique to the table. The tagline is: There's a monster inside all of us, sometimes it gets out.
Jen: The monster movie is called BOB. It's going to heavily favor practical over CGI. It's a very right now story and it's a real passion project of ours. We've begun a lot of design and story boards for it. It's going to really kick the horror genre in the ass!
Chuck Parello is a filmmaker who I have admired for many years. His notorious sequel to Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer divided audiences at the time of its release but has since earned itself a deserved appreciation and loyal cult following. Working primarily with serial killer subjects his work is chilling, sincere and provocative, and his name has become synonymous with the genre. I can recall watching his film In The Shadow of the Moon (later retitled Ed Gein) for the first time and thanking the filmmaking Gods for an accurate depiction of Ed Gein's exploits... most films before it relied on fabrication, gimmickry and exaggeration. My respect for Chuck was later cemented with his effective and horrific film, The Hillside Stranglers and now I am feeling privileged for this opportunity to pick at his brains some. With a few projects in the pipeline Chuck found the time to answer some of my questions. Such a gent.
What was your favourite film as a child?
The Sound of Music. But then I saw Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy on late night TV and I forgot all about Julie Andrews and her caterwauling brats.
How old were you when you decided to pursue a career in film?
I've always loved movies, but for the longest time I never even contemplated pursuing film as a career. I had no contacts, no big Hollywood producer uncle who could pave my way into the industry. And I had always heard how impossible it was to get a paying job doing movie stuff. But then I kept working at it and here I am all these years later.
Who or what have been big influences on your career, creatively?
Right off the bat I'd have to say director John McNaughton was a big influence on my career creatively. If I hadn't seen his film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, I wouldn't be here now.
I was a writer at a magazine in Chicago that wrote about film production when John McNaughton, then an unknown director, came into our offices. His film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was playing at the Chicago film festival and he wanted somebody at our magazine to write about it. I then took home the VHS tape and watched it and realized that I had found my life's work. I ended up getting hired at the home video company that owned Henry. I then started promoting the controversial film around and made it famous. Because of this, Martin Scorsese offered John a directing gig on the film Mad Dog & Glory starring Bill Murray and Robert DeNiro. I then went to work with John on that film as well as some of his other films.
Since I did a good job making the original Henry famous, the company that financed the first film asked me to write and direct the sequel. I agree that it was a ballsy move to direct a sequel to such a classic, but I was a nobody at the time with no reputation to protect. If I hadn't done it, somebody else would have. And I must say that I'm very proud of the results. I still get fan mail from people about the film, and it allowed me to have the career that I have now.
Where did your story for Henry 2 come from?
I had been doing some research on a bunch of insurance scammer arsonists who ended up getting involved with a murder and it dawned on me that starting fires for profit might be something a murdering son of a bitch like Henry could get into. He is a drifter and a criminal after all, so he's always going to gravitate towards a darker element.
Was there much support for what you were doing at that time?
The experience of making Henry 2 was a great one. I had a terrific team of really talented people behind me. I always knew that there was going to be a backlash against the film from people that have such reverence for the original, but ultimately I couldn't have been happier about the reaction Henry 2 received. People really seem to admire its craft and the superior performances by actors like Kate Walsh, who went on to become a big television star.
Was there a conscious effort to recreate the atmosphere of the first one?
We definitely wanted it to give off that scary as shit vibe like the original. And I guess we succeeded as the film went through hell with the ratings board before they would award it a rating that we could release it with.
Your next film was In The Light of the Moon (aka Ed Gein), the true story of Ed Gein. How did you become involved with this?
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer 2 was screening at the Cannes Film Festival market and John McNaughton just happened to be at Cannes at the time. Anyway, this producer who knew about the sequel was teasing John about how his idea was being ripped off. But John stuck up for Henry 2 and said it was a really good film. This producer was intrigued, watched Henry 2 for himself and ended up hiring me to direct Ed Gein.
I consider this film to be the best depiction of Gein's actual story. Was Steve Railsback your first choice?
Thank you for the compliment, as there are other Gein films out there. Steve Railsback was suggested to us by somebody so we met with him and he was absolutely perfect for the part. He even looked slightly like the real Ed Gein. I knew Steve's reputation as an intense actor who gave unforgettable performances and decided that he was absolutely the guy.
The Hillside Strangler is another one. What attracts you to serial killers as your subjects?
When I was approached to do The Hillside Strangler I was reluctant at first. But then I started reading up on the real story of these two men who committed all of these sex murders together and I couldn't help myself. I guess I've always liked this type of material, and I always will. It's interesting that everything on cable television these days seems to be about serial murder. So I guess I'm not alone in my fascination with serial killers.
Creative freedom would seem a logical perk to working independently but what do you consider to be the hardest thing about it?
The absolute hardest thing is finding financing and, more importantly, getting yourself paid after you finally find the financing. Since it seems like everybody can make movies these days, budgets for horror films are sooooo small and are shrinking by the second. The industry needs movies more than ever, they just don't want to pay the people who make independent films any more.
I have been reading about your comedy short, Dr 420. What can you tell us about it?
I was trying to talk this producer into doing one of my true crime films, but he said he was only interested in doing stoner comedies. Later it dawned on me that it might be fun to do a stoner comedy so I wrote a script centered around the medical marijuana industry called Dr. 420. Since I'm friends with the great comedic actress Lin Shaye, who had a part in my film The Hillside Strangler, I decided to do a short from my script that featured Lin in the lead part. The resulting short Dr. 420 is pretty crazy if I do say so myself. Lin is off the rails as a medical marijuana doctor with a thing for bodily fluids. So now that I have the short, I'm hoping I can use it to attract funds for the Dr. 420 feature.
Comedy is a departure for you. Did it come naturally?
I think comedy does come naturally to me. People are surprised that I like to laugh, but I do. Death and destruction only get you so far. Sometimes you just need to lighten the fuck up.
I am based in Melbourne, Australia and I often ask my guests if they have any favourite Aussie films. Do you?
Netflix streaming has allowed me to catch up on so many great Aussie films. The ones that spring to mind that I admire include Breaker Morant, Gallipoli and Mad Max!
Yes! Double Indemnity, which was directed by Billy Wilder and stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. An awesome film noir! So cynical. So perfect.
What's a question you've never been asked before in an interview?
Are you a man or a mouse?
What's next for you?
A film called City Gas, the shocking but true story of an East Indian gas station millionaire who ruins his life when he hires a career criminal to commit a string of contract murders for him over on long, hot summer. Naveen Andrews is attached to star.
Chuck, thank you so much for your time. I look forward to City Gas!