On a Thursday evening in February, I sat down with horror filmmaker, Christopher Bickel, at his home in West Columbia, South Carolina. Chris has wrapped filming on his psychedelic sexploitation horror film The Theta Girl (2017). At the time, he was making a pseudo-1970s short film, Vampyras Psychedelikas, a movie-within-a-movie for existential revenge thriller, Sister Vengeance, set in present day. Vampyras has since wrapped so keep your eyes peeled. The Theta Girl and Vampyras Psychedelikas were both filmed in Columbia, South Carolina.
I met with Chris back in February, during Women in Horror month. Chris has made so many contributions to the feminist horror world, and I was excited to learn more about his processes and influences as an indie horror filmmaker.
I had a blast talking with Chris and we laughed a lot, which helped calm my nerves a little. In my twenties, I had no problem approaching horror master Wes Craven (Scream), but there was something quite eerie about this interview experience.
I drove to Chris’ house that night and driving at night scares the shit out of me. There’s something about the glaring lights, not knowing whether that’s a cop behind you. I pulled into his driveway and my hands were shaking. What if my questions were stupid?
As soon as Chris greeted me at the door in a black shirt and jeans, I felt at ease. As I looked around at the skeletons, mannequins, and other items from the horror world, I felt at home. I asked Chris about certain items, and he said people just randomly buy him mannequins since he’s into horror. I could definitely relate. I have a ton of Scream masks from random people.
We walked into his living room and could hear planes going by from the nearby Columbia airport. I had met Chris several times. First at Low Brow at the Nick, then again working as an extra on The Theta Girl. When I was on set for TTG I was too starstruck to ask Chris any questions, so I was excited to finally get my chance.
Chris is one of those people that just makes you feel comfortable. He’s honest, kind, and lets you know it’s totally normal to be afraid of making small talk with a complete stranger. His spiky black hair and sinister smile, they make you feel like you’re hanging out with John Cusack, the High Fidelity version. I could totally see Chris refusing to sell a crap record to some square in a suit.
You’re a South Carolina filmmaker. What do you consider your hometown?
I was born in Louisville, Kentucky. But I’ve lived in Columbia for like 25 years, so it feels like home. I moved here because of a job my dad was working on. My last year of high school, I ended up going to Aiken, South Carolina and then moved up here to go to college. Then I just liked Columbia a lot, so I stayed.
How long have you been making movies?
A year and a half.
Yeah, so The Theta Girl (2017) was the first one. Unless you count the fake movie trailer, Teenage Caligula (2016). That was basically just done to have a demo reel for the crowdfunding campaign. I didn’t have a demo reel to show that I could make a movie, because I’d never made one.
You went to the University of South Carolina for film? Where do you work?
Yes, for undergrad. I studied Media Arts, they didn’t really have a film department. I don’t know if they do now. It was … not a very good program, I don’t know how it is now. I went into that department because I wanted to be a filmmaker back then. Just found myself, through their program, ill-prepared really for anything. I look back at college as like a colossal waste of time and money.
The training I received there was commercial, and the technology was so outdated. I had a required course where I had to make a slideshow, which was ten-years outdated. I had to use a slide projector and PowerPoint was out. You’re preparing these people to get in a time machine and go back ten years. I graduated in 1993. While I was in school, things that were coming into the forefront was HD-Video and desktop editing. All these things existed, and USC just didn’t have them.
Any positive experiences studying film at USC?
I did have one professor, Dan Berman, who was really good, that taught me some critical thinking skills that were really important in analyzing film. Other than that, everything I’ve learned about filmmaking came from YouTube videos. Of course, no Internet when I was in college. If the Internet had existed then, I wouldn’t have gone to college. I would’ve learned way more online than I could’ve learned at school.
But you know, I went to school, you know, hoping that I could learn the skills to become a filmmaker. And basically, I had the skills to go out to L.A. and get coffee for people. So, my other great love was music so, right out of college, I opened a record store instead. I owned a record store for five years, it was called New Clear Days. Then I ended up closing that store mostly just due to burnout. And I took a year off with the money I’d made from the store. I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life.
Actually, that was like the first time I tried to get into filmmaking, after I closed my store. I’d made a bit of money and I bought some gear. I started on my first film and had all my gear stolen along with all the footage I’d shot. It was so devastating, that I kind of went into a really bad deep depression for like six months. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t leave my house. I came out of that and got a job at Papa Jazz, and I’ve worked there ever since.
I also write for Dangerous Minds, a website. I’ve been a staff writer for three years now. And that’s a lot of fun. Other than that, I don’t know if you could call hosting the Low-Brow Film Series at The Nickelodeon a job since it’s volunteer-work, but I curated “A Cult Movie Night,” once a month.
Did you ever find out who took the film?
No, no. It all just disappeared. I was on my way to a shoot and I parked for just ten minutes and when I came out to my car, someone had thrown a cinder block through the passenger window. All my gear was hidden. I believe they actually had thrown the cinder block through to steal some change in a cup. Then they found all this gear and got all of it. Also, in the bag, was all the footage that I’d shot.
So, having come along to eventually decide it was time to make a movie, was kind of overcoming that obstacle of having a thing built up for myself, where the bottom just completely fell out. There was a long period where I was afraid to go back to it, because it was such a traumatic experience the first time.
Was it a horror film?
It was probably, in the grand scheme, good that it never came out. It was going to be really experimental and I mean I was younger, so it was going to be really pretentious. A lot of people, right out of college, that get into film, they make very experimental films. Often, they’re not entertaining to anyone but themselves. In a way, I’m kind of glad it happened.
What are your current projects?
I’m trying to do a lot of things at once. As far as filmmaking, I’m trying to sell The Theta Girl, trying to find a distributor for it. Part of that is doing festivals, which I enjoy. It seems to be doing well as far as that goes. That takes up a lot of time. I also was so excited about the process of filmmaking that I wanted to immediately get back into it.
I started the short film, Vampiras Psychedelikas, which serves two purposes. I’m going to use it in crowdfunding to make money for the feature, Sister Vengeance. But it’s also going to be a movie-within-a-movie in Sister Vengeance. There will be a scene in SV where one of the main characters goes to a date to the movies and this is the movie she watches. Then the movie breaks the fourth wall and has a conversation with her.
Usually in horror movies, they use a movie that’s already been made. So that’s creative.
Yeah, I’ve seen in movies like in Hostel (2005), where they’re watching The Evil Dead (1981). Usually it’s some filmmakers trying to pay an homage to other films.
Yeah like the way Scream (1996) shows Halloween (1980) and Halloween: H20 (1998) shows Scream 2 (1997). That’s cool you’re using your own film.
Well, you know, it’s not like I could afford to rights to use someone else’s movie.
To buy the rights to show a five-second clip of The Evil Dead (1981) would cost more than it’s gonna cost me to make the entire movie.
Any official nominations for The Theta Girl?
We’ve gotten official selections in a number of festivals, I would say maybe eight. Then we were the big winner at the South Carolina Underground Film Festival. We didn’t enter in Indie Grits, but the Teenage Caligula trailer was shown there. I just checked IMDB, we are the second-highest rated science fiction feature and the third-highest rated horror feature.
The press screeners that we’ve sent out, have all been all good reviews. There haven’t been any negative reviews yet, knock on wood. And we just got accepted into Horror Hound in Cincinnati which will be a really big festival. That’s going to be really crucial as far as getting distributor eyes on the movie. It also helps build an audience. We have a couple of potentials right now, but I don’t wanna jinx it.
Since the interview, Chris has secured a distributor for The Theta Girl. The slasher will be released on VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray.
Now to check on your emotional well-being, how are you?
I’m good. I’m frazzled all the time because I’m so busy. I work like 50 hours a week at my day jobs and then doing movie stuff on top of it. So, I get five hours of sleep a day, usually. I have two days off from my day jobs, but those days are completely usurped by movie stuff.
Do people have misconceptions about what it’s like being an artist?
I haven’t heard much of that. Mostly because I’m so busy that I don’t interact socially with anyone to hear that stuff.
How’s everything going with your current film, Vampyras Psychedelikas?
Really good, we’re gonna wrap shooting this Saturday. The last shoot we have is just gonna be effects shots. So, we have Brandon McIver doing effects stuff for us. Lots of wounds and blood being sprayed around all day. I’m cowriting Sister Vengeance with Shane Silman who acted in The Theta Girl (2017). We have the whole story worked out, we just have to write the script, which takes a month. Once we have the script in hand, it takes another month to do casting. Then I’m going to do a crowdfunding campaign, another month. SV will be shot around September or October to have the entire project finished by the end of the year.
Have you always had a love of horror? Looking around your house, I would guess so.
Yeah as long as I can remember. I remember being like probably four or five years old and there was a Friday night horror movie show on TV in Louisville, where I lived. They would show all the Universal Studios horror movies like Dracula and Frankenstein. From a really young age, I ate that stuff up. Always loved horror movies that were on TV. Then at age ten or eleven we got cable, and all the slasher movies were on cable.
I probably shouldn’t have been watching them that young. So, I saw the slashers like Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine, and The Burning on TV. I just loved those movies so much and my mom kinda watched them too. By the time Friday the 13th Part III came out, I wanna say like 1982, my mom actually took me to see the theater to see that in 3-D. Seeing that movie in 3-D was like, this is what I’m into, forever. I had a subscription to Fangoria magazine. I was just obsessed.
The funny thing, in retrospect is, going to see that movie with my mom and she’s letting me see all these gruesome murders. But whenever there’s nudity on-screen, she covered my eyes. I don’t know what kind of weird message that sends to a twelve-year-old kid. Like, “You can’t look at a boob, but uh, this guy getting decapitated was totally okay.”
I had a similar experience with my mom. She would let me listen to Eminem but would take my Marilyn Manson CD’s. My mom said, “Well, I don’t want you to be too depressed. Eminem’s just homicidal, Manson’s suicidal.” Like, I think that’s just like mom logic.
I take it you didn’t grow up super religious?
No, I did. My parents were Catholic. I went to Catholic school, lived in a really strict house, and I wasn’t allowed to do much until I left home for college. It was pretty restrictive. But they let me watch crazy movies. So, I couldn’t go to concerts with my friends. But if I was at home watching My Bloody Valentine, it’s like, oh that’s okay. My parents drank but it was definitely off-limits to me. I didn’t drink at all until I was 24. Didn’t have a single drink.
Would you consider yourself an auteur? Filmmaker?
Filmmaker, because when I think of an auteur, I think of someone that is part of every aspect of the story including the writing. And I didn’t write TTG, David Axe wrote that screenplay. With SV, I’m cowriting that with Shane so I feel like maybe I’m moving closer towards that. That is really appealing to me. On TTG I wore a lot of hats. I was the cinematographer, the director, the editor, did all the sound design, the costumes, and a bunch of little other things. I was as close to being an auteur as you could be, without writing the script. Maybe, after the next movie, maybe I would call myself that. I don’t know, maybe it does sound pretentious. Filmmaker is more appropriate I think.
Do you have any influences or favorite directors?
Oh, yeah. I’m really into Jack Hill, who did Spider Baby. I like his style. Of course, John Carpenter, George Romero. Maybe not so much stylistically, but I’m really interested in Herschell Gordon Lewis and Roger Corman, just as guys that could make something out of almost nothing. They could do it really quick and really cheap, and still be totally entertaining. Of course, I love all the classic, Italian, horror films from the 1980s. Hill and Carpenter are the big ones.
What are the struggles of being an indie filmmaker?
The main struggle is money, always. Not having money to pay a crew, you know. So, being on set and I have to move the lights around and then set up the shot. If the lights aren’t right, I have to leave the shot, and move the lights around. It makes a lot more work. Of course, I’d like to pay people more for being on set. But no one’s really complained about how much they’ve gotten paid. It would certainly be easier with more money.
Mainstream film reviewers are saying indie horror is trendy. Does that affect the genre?
I think that I like making films on a small scale — it forces you to be more creative. In a way, it’s liberating. You have more leeway with what you can do. Horror is really big right now. And indie films are kinda trendy right now, because they have more avenues for exposure.
Hollywood kinda fucked up in a way. Hollywood went from this system, instead of a studio making ten movies in a year, they went to making two or three really big movies in a year. They knew that if they made a big movie, then it’s a bigger return. But when you spend 200 million dollars making a movie, you can’t take any risks.
So, everything is focus-grouped. Everything is a reboot or remake, of something is tried and true. Or it’s a sequel where they can calculate, “Well the first film made x amount, the sequel can make three-quarters or half that, so we can still make a profit.” You don’t have much originality making these huge movies.
What’s cool about these indie films sneaking around Hollywood, is that they’re more interesting. It’s like, you know, people are going to see every Marvel movie that comes out. But ultimately, I think people are bored with those movies because they’re all the same movie. A movie like The Theta Girl comes out and it’s clearly low-budget, clearly not to the technical level of Hollywood movies, but some people find it more interesting because it’s a story they’ve never seen before.
The Theta Girl is innovative, and I think it crosses genres. You never really know where it’s going to take you. That makes me think you could get around what I think ruined horror in the 1990s was the MPAA’s new rules, essentially censoring all horror films. You could just see, everything was just watered-down.
They wouldn’t even let Freddy Krueger be called a child-molester in 1984. The change came in the middle of shooting, so if you watch for it, you can hear the mutter of the actors learning their new lines. They would stutter and call Freddy a “child-molest” uh “murderer.” So, I think late 80s early 90s the new “R” rating rules ruined horror. I love Scream, but they had to cut like thirty minutes from the kill scenes. But you guys get around that, right?
We’re not trying to get into mainstream cinemas, so the rating doesn’t matter to us. It seems like even the bigger films can get away with a lot more now. Even the MPAA has eased up quite a bit.
Yeah, I think I think they’re still arbitrary with their edits. And the edits tend to be sexist like they can show tits but not naked men? That’s something I appreciate about your films, it subverts and challenges that male gaze. Your editing is deliberate, not to support a heteronormative narrative. People make an excuse for sexist editing saying that a horror audience is mostly-male.
I think we’re still stuck in that. For TTG, we could probably get an NC-17 rating. But the thing that’s been a sticking point for us in getting the film in festivals and showings is the nudity, specifically the penises. There’s still this double standard today, that it’s fine if it’s a naked woman, but as soon as there’s a guy, suddenly it becomes really shocking, and something no one wants to see.
We had one showing of TTG and three people walked out of the theatre. They didn’t walk out over the violence, they walked out because they saw a penis. Specifically, they saw my penis.
As soon as that was on the screen for a few seconds too long, they stood up and left the theatre. There are some people that still can’t stand to see a penis. It was really important to me and David before he even wrote the story, we said, “well it has to have sex and violence.” It’s got to have nudity, but equal male and female nudity, knowing full-well that was going to be upsetting to people for some dumb reason.
In a way, we’re making fun of some tropes. I really didn’t wanna be ironic. But there are certain tropes we had to have, but I wanted to subvert them a bit. One of the ones is when the camera hangs on the boobs for a while, in a shower, so the only times in TTG the camera really lingers, is on the dicks. It’s great because it does make people a little uncomfortable and I like making people uncomfortable. That’s one of the things I wanted to accomplish with the movie.
It’s been fun at the showings. One scene when the camera hangs on the dick a little too long, people start laughing, like it’s really funny. Yet it’s kind of a nice break up where you interject a little bit of levity, but you’re not cracking a joke. People are laughing because they are uncomfortable having to see a penis.
Yeah it works because it’s like Wes Craven says, “Horror is the ultimate satire.” You’re not taking it lightly, you’re just kinda of showing what society thinks is taboo, because it’s funny, it’s just the male form. I mean people go to art museums full of dicks and they don’t seem too upset.
What motivated you to take The Theta Girl script?
David and I both decided that we wanted to make a movie. This was before the script was written. We brainstormed some ideas of what should go into a low-budget exploitation movie. We knew there were certain things, when you don’t have a high budget, great special effects, or name actors, you should have certain things that are gonna catch peoples’ attention and maybe they’ll talk about the movie later on.
So, we made a list of these things, based upon my knowledge of the history of these movies. So, I’m just going through every movie that I’ve ever loved and noting things I thought were really cool. Especially tricky things where the directors were able to overcome their budgetary limitations and really make something interesting. So I made this list and then David wrote the script. I read it, and I loved it, right out of the gate. We didn’t change too much.
What is your process for turning a screenplay into a film?
I was responsible for that process and it’s basically a process of just reading it enough times to become familiar with the story and try to visualize that story. Then you take those visuals and break them down into shots necessary to tell the story. That took a really long time. It’s basically like, I made notecards for every shot in the movie. The stack was really high, it was like a thousand notecards. Then you take those notecards, make a shot list from that, then you go out and shoot it and hope you have enough time to get all the shots you need.
David is the screenwriter and assistant director?
Yeah, so David wrote the screenplay, he was with me on set for most of the shoots. I would definitely call him an assistant director. Also, we both produced the film. There were certain times when I deviated from the script, but I don’t think there was ever much of an argument. We did butt heads a little bit before we started shooting when I had suggestions, fairly minor changes.
Once we got to shooting, we both realized it wasn’t gonna help us to argue about these minor points, because we had so much work to do. Also, neither one of us really knew what we were doing. When you’re not that confident with what you’re doing, you’re just trying to get it done and not fight about it.
I was only on set for two nights, but you guys seemed to work together like a well-oiled machine. As an extra, I was thinking wow they must have been making movies together for like 20 years.
No. I mean the next film will be easier. That was the first one and it’s surprising in a way, how smoothly it did go.
The Theta Girl, like many horror films, has empowering roles for women. Could you address misconceptions that horror films glorify violence against women?
I can definitely speak to this because we’ve been accused of having made a misogynist film. And it’s really absurd to me but I know where it’s coming from. Some people look at everything through a certain lens and they only see the things that come through that lens. We have one scene that’s a very brutal, violent, home-invasion scene where a lot of women are killed. People see that scene and they’re like “this movie glorifies violence against women.”
And it’s like, well if you watch the rest of the movie, a bunch of men get murdered too. If you want a tally, seven women get killed and nine men get killed. There’s not just a Final Girl, there’s two Final Girls and one of the Final Girls is a lesbian. And with the lead character, there’s no forced love interest. It passes the Bechdel Test. The lead character is not sexualized in any way.
The only thing I could say is even remotely sexy about her is she wears fishnet stockings. I just think they’re forever cool and wanted the character to wear them. She is both strong and frail at the same time which I thought was important. I didn’t want to have this over-stylized “ass-kicking chick” because I think that’s also a male fantasy. I wanted to make her realistic. I think we made a pretty damn feminist film — for a couple of dudes.
But it’s strange that some people have said it’s misogynist just because they see violence against women. Violence against anyone is horrible but it’s a horror movie, so horribly horrible things happen. In society, you have more and more people who are disturbed by certain things and they don’t wanna admit that it’s because they are personally disturbed. They want to ascribe it to some sort of moralistic judgment. They can’t just say “I don’t like seeing violence,” it’s “I can’t support anything that glorifies violence against women.
It’s a horror movie, horrible things happen. If it’s a well-done movie, you have someone who overcomes that horrible situation. I think that we did that. I wouldn’t make the argument that there’s no such thing as a misogynistic horror movie, there are. There are certainly movies that glorify violence strictly against women. By in large, most horror movies, three’s a good guy and a bad guy, or a good girl and a bad girl, and it’s clearly defined who is who, and somebody survives.
The only exception to that is going to be some of these torture porn movies. I’m not talking about Hostel which I don’t see as torture porn. I love Hostel. I’m talking about these movies where it’s typically low budget and there’s no story. It’s just filming someone being tortured.
It’s hard for me to watch movies like I Spit on Your Grave (1978). When I set out to review it, I had to do the ISOYG remake, because there’s a 20-minute rape scene in the original. In either version, it’s gritty and you see the torture, but then you see her journey and her revenge. The men in these films are emasculated, weak, they’re disgusting human beings. The women are heroes. It’s about the survivors.
I had a really interesting conversation with Camille Keaton, the star of I Spit on Your Grave (1978). We talked about how that movie has really been decried by a lot of feminists, but also a lot of other feminists loved the movie because of the revenge. I asked her, “What do you think about people that say this is a very anti-female film?” She said that she was very proud of the movie and that she was also very proud of the fact that they made the rape scenes so realistic and so grotesque.
If they had not done that, she said, it wouldn’t have done justice to people who are actually victims of sexual violence. Her thinking was that the film was not glorifying rape in any way, it was showing how awful it was. Then you got the payoff at the end where she was able to extract her revenge.
Carol Clover, one of the creators of Final Girl Theory, wrote about this film. She was writing that if you think about in day-to-day life, a woman gets raped, what’s going to happen? Nothing. She could even get arrested as it’s illegal in many states to even report abuse. Clover stated that by contrast, women have agency and get actual justice in horror.
I think that’s something people miss, is that the justice in horror is missing in our society. I think some people are saying “I don’t want to see rape” and I’m not saying I do. People don’t want to face that rape happens every day. It’s not alien, it’s not foreign, it’s real. It happens every day.
Right. There are things that happen in stories that are uncomfortable, not necessarily a glorification of those things. It’s showing you ugly things that happen in real life and hopefully someone prevails.
February is Women in Horror month—any favorite female horror actors or filmmakers?
When I saw that question, I kinda had to think about it. The list of female horror directors is not very long. If you compare it to the list of male directors, it’s absurdly short. A couple of my favorite horror movies are by female directors. One is Near Dark by Kathryn Bigelow. I think that’s, maybe, the best vampire movie ever made.
The other is Slumber Party Massacre by Amy Holden Jones. That’s one of the best slasher movies there is. I think it was originally intended to be a spoof of slasher movies and ended up getting done straight. It’s pretty creepy. Those are both pretty good. One of my favorite acting performances, ever, is by a woman, that is Isabelle Adjani in Possession. Have you seen it?
No, I haven’t.
Holy shit! Her performance in that is one of the finest pieces of acting I’ve ever seen. Sam Neill is in that too. They’re both just astoundingly good.
I’ll check it out. A lot of the horror movies, they give roles to people that can’t act, that’s kind of like the trope. I don’t know if that comes from a fear of great actresses’ fear of taking horror roles.
Then you look at Carrie with Sissy Spacek as Carrie, that’s one of the greatest acting performances of any genre.
I think that’s John Travolta’s greatest performances. Outside of Grease, of course. He’s such a greasy, awful guy in that. Spacek was great in that.
Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween (1978) is a legit, great acting performance.
Halloween (2018) is being filmed in Charleston right now. Do you wish you could drop everything and go be an extra in it?
Yeah, I would love to! I wish.
I’m glad we got to talk about women in horror.
That was one question I was excited about when I read it. Because I had to think about it, who are female horror directors? I was racking my brain. I thought oh yeah, Kathryn Bigelow for sure. She’s done so many great films outside of the genre too. She’s more well known for her other films. Have you seen Near Dark? Oh my god.
No. Is it new horror?
Near Dark is from the 80s. It came out the same year as The Lost Boys (1987). So that year, there were two hot teen vampire movies out. Near Dark was a hundred times better than The Lost Boys.
Yeah, I didn’t like The Lost Boys. I guess it’s okay.
It’s a little mainstreamy, teen movie-ish. But Near Dark is like really fucked up and cool.
So, it got eclipsed by The Lost Boys?
Well if it’s 80s horror, I’ll watch it.
I think you will really, really like Near Dark. To me, it’s a perfect film.
I’ll check it out. I didn’t even know Women in Horror existed until I saw my name. A writer posted a review from my Final Girl column, and I saw the words, “Today, we’re honoring Dory Hoffman” and I was like, what? I had no idea. At the time, I couldn’t even name a female horror director, unfortunately.
When I was thinking about it, I had to Google, like I knew I was missing some. I looked at the list of female horror directors and I hadn’t seen hardly any the movies. It was all really low budget stuff. I think that’s really telling. There’s no entryway for women in this genre. I don’t think women aren’t interested in horror. They just haven’t had that entry.
You should check out Slumber Party Massacre. You’d really dig it. I don’t know what you’re writing on for Women in Horror, so that would be a great fit.
The killer in TTG is part of a fanatical religious ideology correct? Is that to satirize religion?
As far as the religious aspect of it, it’s not that we were trying to go after religion. It was more so to show the similarities between a drug experience and a religious experience. They are very similar. It also shows how one person could take a very surreal experience like that and get something really good and positive. Someone else could take the same experience and get something very dark and ugly out of it.
Maybe we were trying to make a comment on religion in that often times in the history of civilization religion has gotten really dark and caused a lot of brutality and bloodshed. It wasn’t necessarily like we were trying to indict religion.
We talked a bit about this, but have you pissed off people with TTG?
Six people got up and walked out right after a screening of the home invasion scene. It really struck a nerve with people. Which of course, to me, is great. That’s like a badge of honor. They were so bothered by it. Some people will watch a movie that’s a difficult movie and say, “I hated that movie.” A good example might be the movie, Kids. Friends of mine would say, “I hated it because it made me feel terrible.” And that’s why I liked it, it made me feel something.
Yeah, the first time I watched Kids, I watched it five times in a row. I don’t think I could go back and watch it unless someone hadn’t seen it, so I’d show it to them.
People say that about Requiem for A Dream.
I’ve seen that over a hundred times.
Yeah, it’s an unbelievably powerful movie. It makes you feel bad. That’s why it’s a good film.
I think a lot of the drug movies get it wrong by conflating drugs and culture. I felt like with your film, TTG, you did your research. You really got into the chemical names of DMT and those details are appreciated.
We made a fictional drug that was a combination of various drugs, called Theta. I would say it’s a little DMT, a little acid, and probably a little ecstasy, especially in the party scene where people are very euphoric and very sexual.
I feel like it’s healthy to watch movies that make you feel. Like when I watch Trainspotting repeatedly, I’m not ignoring the issues or emotions, I’m dealing with it.
What are your greatest fears? If Freddy Krueger came to get you, what would he appear as?
He would show up as a crowd of people, like a hundred Freddy Kruegers in a room, and I’d have to talk in front of them.
Public speaking is my biggest fear.
How do you manage to face crowds at formal speaking events and crowdfunding?
I enjoy the work so much so I’m not going to let some hurdle like that from keeping me from getting the work done.
Are you less nervous hosting Low Brow Cinema night since you know everyone?
No, I’m totally nervous when I host. But I like that work so much and I’m so excited about seeing those movies that I don’t mind getting up in front of people and telling them what I know about these movies. I mean, that’s what alcohol is for.
Is there a decade of horror you like best?
Between 1970 and 1985 is just my favorite time period for film in general. Not just horror, but action, and even dramas. There were so many good films that came out in that decade and a half. As far as horror goes, my favorite horror stuff is the early 80s. I love all the slasher movies—they’re guilty pleasures. I’ll watch anything that’s a slasher movie, and enjoy it, even the worst ones.
Yeah you opened up my eyes to Silent Night Deadly Night 2. I couldn’t imagine how good it would be. But it blew my mind—it was amazing.
Do you like any contemporary horror?
I think 2017 was an amazing year for movies in general, horror especially. Well, Get Out was phenomenal and I’m not sure if people consider Mother to be a horror movie. I do and that was, to me, the best movie in the last ten years. People either love it or hate it.
A lot of people hated it because they didn’t get the allegories. Then some people got the allegories but hated it because of that. Maybe they thought it was too pretentious. My only problem with it was that it was a little too heavy-handed with the allegories. It was so beautiful, and it made me feel so uncomfortable the entire time.
Part of it is having a little bit of social anxiety — the film, it all takes place in this house that this man and woman live in. All throughout the movie there’s just strangers coming in and out of this woman’s house. To me, it set off my anxiety. I’m that way if someone that I don’t know is in my house. I’m just like hyperaware. Like, what are they looking at? what are they doing?
That’s my worst nightmare. Strangers coming in and out of my home. I just feel like I can’t breathe or eat. I would just freak. I don’t know who the fuck they are. You know?
You will get something out of it. It will affect you this way. It’s just relentless with people encroaching on their space.
Any advice for aspiring indie filmmakers or artists in general?
It’s pretty simple, it’s just to do it. When David and I first decided we were going to do a movie together, we made a pact. The pact was that if the train went completely off the rails, we still had to get it to the station. Knowing that so many things could go wrong because we didn’t have any money and we didn’t really know what we were doing. Our rule was, we had to finish it, no matter what.
Even if we got halfway through and half our actors quit, or everything fell apart. We had to finish it and put our names on something at the end. No matter what. Setting that rule, it becomes a foregone conclusion that you’re going to finish it. If you put that rule into place, then you’re going to be successful. Because there’s no question, you’re going to finish the thing.
You know that the thing that’s finished is gonna have your name on it. Then you have to decide, how hard am I going to work on this thing because my name gonna be on it? You push yourself extra hard because you know there’s no out. There’s no way it’s not gonna get done. It’s gonna get done.
So, you just try a little bit harder. My advice would be, if you decide you’re going go into film, you have to make a commitment to yourself that you’re going to finish your film. Of course, you have to plan ahead. You can’t make Star Wars with a hundred bucks. Know your limitations but just set that goal and finish it.
Thank you for your time, I really appreciate it.
Yeah this was awesome.