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!