Hilarious Interview: Hell Baby!

by Mark Ramsey
Published September 8th, 2013

It’s straight from Hell to a DVD or VOD near you – it’s Hell Baby, the new horror/comedy from two of the guys behind the classic Reno 911, Tom Lennon and Ben Garant.

What happens when you take the premise behind Rosemary’s Baby and add a slew of very funny people? That’s what I asked Tom and Ben in this hilarious conversation. Listen in!

An expectant couple who moves into the most haunted house in New Orleans call upon the services of the Vatican’s elite exorcism team to save them from a demonic baby!

Come to think of it, even that premise sounds funny.

Listen and enjoy! Tom and Ben are two of the funniest guys in Hollywood.

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Interview with Harrison Smith, Writer of “The Fields”

by Mark Ramsey
Published July 14th, 2012

Harrison Smith is the producer and writer of a terrific movie called The Fields – it’s kind of a horror movie/thriller with some comedic elements. Read this edited transcript or listen to the funny Q&A at the end of this post.

Walk me through what this movie is, Harrison.

It’s a semi-autobiographical account of what happened to me as a boy growing up right on the outskirts of Easton, Pennsylvania. It’s very accurate in the portrayal of my grandparents. My grandmother is played by Cloris Leachman in the film, and the events took place right around the late fall of 1973.

Now does that imply that there were people murdered in the field near you when you were with your grandparents because that’s not…

There was one death, I don’t want to say how that death happened to give away any spoilers, but some things were embellished because you need to to make a movie. However, it wasn’t straight carnage or anything like that. But the film definitely focuses on the terror and the attacks on the farm are all very accurate.

Well, not only does it focus on the terror but it also focuses on the Tara because you had a Tara Reid in this movie which is a world class embellishment, if you ask me. And the good news is –I mean this sincerely – she did not ruin this movie at all.

She’s fantastic. I’m telling you, the media has made a demon out of her and it’s totally unwarranted. She was a pleasure to work with – she was 100 percent professional. I’m not just saying that because I’m sure people will be saying, “he just has to say that.” That’s not true. I mean it. She was in the zone (as we call it) – 100 percent professional, and I thought she gave a really great performance in the film – she’s just terrific. She really is.

Well, as I say, she did not ruin it. So that much I’ll agree with you on. Other than that, if she had had my phone number, I’d probably watch my words, too. Now, Cloris Leachman plays your grandmother, and that woman hits it out of the park. It’s just an amazing performance. It’s funny, it’s warm, it’s touching, it’s scary, all of the above, right?

That’s exactly how my grandmother was. When I say that Cloris Leachman portrayed my grandmother, what I really do mean is that basically she channeled her. I think that the scene that stands out to me the most in the film with Cloris is the night that [the actor playing my grandfather] collapsed outside and she finds him, because as a boy I remember that happening very well. That was the first time I saw my grandmother scared. And it wasn’t because her house was being attacked, but because of the fear of losing her husband.

I had no expectations going into this movie at all. I rent lots of crappy movies. But boy, when I saw this one I got about halfway through and I turned to my wife and I said, ‘I really care about these people.’ As you know, in a horror movie or a thriller to care that much about the characters is really so rare. So I have to congratulate you for that.

Wow. Thank you. Originally, there was a bigger Hollywood director who wanted to direct The Fields who actually and came to me with a bunch of script notes – and I’m not going to say who it was – but I can tell you that they basically wanted Children of the Corn. By the end of the movie, they wanted everybody dead and lots of blood and mayhem. First of all, I didn’t write that kind of a movie and I’m not out to make that kind of movie. I probably would have gone quicker that way, maybe even making more money, but it’s not the movie I wanted to make.

I really wanted it to be a tribute to my grandparents because so often these thrillers, they don’t feature older people as the heroes. They mostly focus on young adults, college-aged kids, that kind of thing, and it’s rare to see a movie where older people are the heroes.

Now, for anybody who doesn’t know when you check this movie out on IMDb you’ll be surprised and delighted to learn that Richard Harris stars in it? Did you know that?

[Laughs] Richard Harris. I love what ends up on IMDb. It’s amazing. No matter how many times you patrol that thing, you’d be amazed what pops up.

I think I look for The Field instead of The Fields. So I guess that’s my fault.

But I know that at one time IMDB had…I want to say Christopher Walken or something… No, he’s not in The Fields. There is The Field; I know there is that movie. Actually we had a bit of a title fight with Amy Mann over The Fields. The movie, The Texas Killing Fields actually was supposed to be called The Fields. They had to change their name because of us.

You were able do some improv with Cloris. I saw some of that in the DVD extras. That woman is a master of that kind of thing. What was that experience like?

She’s not big on improv. She’ll do it, but she really likes the script, because her attitude is that somebody took the time to write these words for me and I don’t want to do any disservice by changing what they wrote. Now, there were times when she just went off and did her thing. The attitude of the directors especially was to just let her go because almost invariably after a cut somebody would just look and say “and this is why this woman won an Oscar.”

You let Cloris do what she wants. We had a personal chef for her on the set and there were nights that Cloris decided she was going to eat off-set. And one time I was actually sitting at the production table and I heard on the walkie-talkie an assistant say, “Cloris is going over the wall.” She’s just leaving. She’s going to go do something.

Now you had her dressed to be heavy and that wasn’t really her, right?

Right. Actually Cloris, believe it or not, for 80-some-years-old is very shapely, and when she arrived she sat down with me for hours looking at photographs and studying video of my grandmother. She turned to the directors, and she said ‘I want to be 25 pounds heavier.’ Because my grandmother was stockier. She was perfectly right because she wanted to have that walk and embody my grandmother –even down to how she held the cigarette, she wanted to make sure it was all right.

But she really didn’t go the full distance because she didn’t get her nose changed. That’s the Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts move, isn’t it?

Right, right, yeah, she didn’t do any plastic surgery. But God love her, she was just a month out from getting a knee replacement. She had blown her knee out skiing. She’s 80-some-years-old and she’s skiing.

Now the next movie that’s in the pipeline is one you’re working on right now, correct?

Yeah, it’s actually wrapped. It is done. It just came back from Cannes; we sold a number of foreign territories on it already and now we’re waiting on who’s going to pick it up for North America. It’s called Six Degrees of Hell, and it stars Corey Feldman.

Now, I’ve got to ask you the obvious question which is do you not want anybody outside of a Comic Con to see this movie?

Here’s the thing with horror, unless you have a really big budget, the issue is that horror makes names. It doesn’t really need names. And so when you’re an Indie film, every schmuck with a Best Buy prosumer camera thinks they’re going out to make the next Paranormal Activity. It doesn’t happen that way.

You just don’t go out and drop $15,000 to make $250 million.

It did work for Oren [Peli, writer of Paranormal Activity]. You got to admit that.

It did, but here’s the thing, most people don’t know the whole story behind that. Believe me, I talked to the distributor that passed on Paranormal Activity, and that movie sat around Hollywood for two years. Steven Spielberg was going to remake it into a 100-million-plus kind of film and they didn’t know what to do with it. And then finally they came up with this whole Blair Witch kind of marketing campaign and that whole “demanded” thing was so totally fabricated. “Demand the movie to get a million signatures, we’ll bring the movie to your town.” They were bringing the movie to your town anyway.

It was a clever ploy to rack up as much marketing data as they could. But it gives the false impression that anybody with a camcorder and Final Cut Pro is going to make the next $200 million dollar blockbuster.

Wait a minute….

These things do happen, I mean obviously. But even Blair Witch was shot for like 60 grand and Artisan put close to a million in that to clean it up and do a proper viral marketing campaign.

Okay. So wait a minute. I’ve got to stop because I got to get all this down. So I need a Prosumer camera, I need Final Cut Pro. What else do I need?

I don’t know. They think they’re going to make the next Paranormal Activity. And so my point is that, we were going to make the film without a name, and just take our chances with it…

I think you might have.

Most independent filmmakers will tell you that the first thing a distributor asks for when you walk through the door is “Who’s in it?”

But do you actually fess up and tell them?

Oh yeah. Again, Corey gets a bad rap on some stuff but he’s got hell of a fan base.

And when you’re making a film as small as ours, you need to set yourself apart somehow to get that attention, and it worked for us. Most big budget horror doesn’t really need a name. Look at The Shining, the only reason The Shining is successful is really because of Jack Nicholson. With 1408, the Stephen King movie with John Cusack and Sam Jackson, it didn’t work. I mean, it bombed. Big names don’t really do a lot.

Hey, I had to tell you I got a text message from Carrot Top, he wants to be in your next movie.

Oh yeah, are you serious? I love Carrot Top.

I was afraid you’d say that.

I do. He’s funny. I actually saw him perform live and it was like “why does this guy get a bad rap?”

Oh no!

I’m telling you. I know, you probably think I’m the biggest idiot now and so do your fans. But I’m telling you… I guess really what it also comes down to is you’ve got to do whatever you’ve got to do.

I mean I remember Tommy Lee Wallace telling me when they made Halloween that John Carpenter wanted a name and that was it. And they got Donald Pleasence. Donald Pleasence hadn’t really done much of anything. He did Fantastic Voyage and he was Blofeld in one of the James Bond movies, but they ponied up a sizable chunk of the budget because they knew then that their film would be seen as legit, that they got at least a name in there, and that’s a part of the strategy that you do. You do that so…

I know you have to go because you’ve got Bobcat Goldthwait on the other line.

{laughing} And Scott Baio.

I do want to thank you so much for this film. It’s just wonderful. Talk about how we can see it now.

It is right now available on Amazon. It’s been doing extremely well in the Top 100. It’s on iTunes. It’s ready to open up on Netflix I believe at the middle of this month. It has been picked up by RedBox and will be over on Video on Demand on Comcast as well, too.

The movie is called The Fields. It’s really, really super. It’s going to surprise you. It’s going to delight you, and it’s going to enthrall you.

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Interview with Ti West, director of “The Innkeepers”

by Mark Ramsey
Published April 23rd, 2012

It’s fun, it’s scary, and it’s on DVD and Blu-Ray now!  I’m talking about The Innkeepers, the new chiller from director/writer Ti West.

Here’s the transcript of my funny interview with Ti.  But for the most fun listen to the podcast at the end of this transcript!

The Innkeepers

I guess it was, I don’t know, maybe two or three years ago, I was flipping around on Netflix to try and find some another crappy horror movie, because I love crappy horror movies. and I come across this movie called The House of the Devil. And I start watching this movie and I realize, wow, this is actually kind of good. And I keep watching this movie and I finish this movie and I realized, wow, this is really good. That movie, The House of the Devil, was written and directed by a guy named Ti West. Cut to 2012 and a new movie called The Innkeepers, which drops April 24 from MPI Dark Sky Films, also directed and written by Ti West.

Ti, I love this movie.

Thank you. I’m glad you followed up with both of them since liking the first one.

Yeah, actually that was intentional on my part. It was specifically because I saw your name associated with this and I thought I got to see what he’s up to now. And honestly, I was not disappointed.

Good to hear.

Now, I can’t say the same about the movie I saw a couple of days later in the theater called Cabin in the Woods.

Which I have not seen yet. I hear mixed things about it but I haven’t seen it.

Well, let’s just say, if a movie winked anymore at the audience than that one does, it would be guilty of some kind of neurological disorder, I think.

That’s what it seems like.

Anyway, let’s talk about The Innkeepers. A really good movie starring Sara Paxton, Kelly McGillis and Pat Healy. Given me an overview, what’s it about?

Well, it’s ultimately about these two nerds that work in a haunted hotel and they want to get proof that’s it’s haunted before it goes out of business. And as they started exploring, they get in a little over their heads. So that’s the gist of it.

That’s the gist of it. A lot of happens between those lines. Now a haunted house movie, it’s an interesting choice because you know it could be argued that that’s one of the oldest genres there is. What made you think you could bring something fresh to that, why’d you choose that?

First, I hadn’t done it before, so it was sort of on my to-do list. And also when I made The House of Devil, we lived in the Yankee Pedlar Hotel because it was a cheap place to stay, and I had these kind of weird things while we were there. I didn’t think much of it and when I wanted to do a ghost story, I thought well what if I want to make another kind of low budget movie. So what if I went back to the place that I know already exists and what if I wrote about that place, and that’s what we did. We just went back to the Pedlar and I made a movie about the Pedlar.

It’s kind of a weird – like you could go there today and walk in and you feel like you just walked into the movie, like it’s our own Universal Studios ride. It’s really strange because it’s so specifically about a place.

Now, what’s funny about that though is that’s the exact same motivation that caused Stephen King to write The Shining way back when, isn’t it?

TiWestHeadShot

When he stayed at the hotel in, was it Colorado?

Yeah, in Colorado.

Yeah, it wasn’t so much like the scary things that happened to me when I was there, it was just for some reason – what I want to do is I want to make a charming horror movie, particularly a charming ghost story because I’ve never seen that, and I wanted to make a movie that dealt with like minimum wage jobs because I don’t have any real skills. I can either make a movie or I can be a busboy, I don’t know how to do anything else.

I wanted to make a movie that kind of encapsulated what it’s like being stuck at work, and the kind of apathy that comes with that with minimum wage jobs. It’s not digging ditches but you still are kind of hopeless, and I thought it was a good parallel to what a ghost story is like because I felt like these ghosts are stuck and so are these people in these minimum wage jobs. I wanted to play with that and play with the idea in perception. I felt it made sense to use that to get into a ghost story. I thought it was a good way for me to make relatable and funny and charming so that you cared about it, so when the ghost stuffs starts showing up, it’s much scarier than it would have been otherwise.

Wait a minute, are you trying to tell me that this is like a social commentary?

There’s definitely a personal element of social commentary to it, sure.

You know what it kind of reminded of this, just occurred to me, did you ever see that old movie called The Lady in White?

Yes.

That’s kind of another charming ghost story, isn’t it?

Yeah, a little bit. There’s not very many though.

No.

There’s not very many because they generally take on a very gothic tone which is great. I just felt like there was enough of those; I wanted to try to do something different.

Now, Sara Paxton, your lead in this thing is well-known from Shark Night 3D, Last House on the Left and some other movies. I got to say thanks to a little bit of CG, you did a great job hiding her feeding tube.

That’s right. The funny thing about Sara and what made me cast her is that – and the weird thing is we call Sara the human garbage disposal because all she does is eat.

Get out of here!

That’s all she does.

I was going to say, I looked at the screen, I knew it was horror movie cause I saw a skeleton and then realized I was looking at Sara Paxton.

She is constantly stuffing food in her face. But what’s funny about Sara is that when I first met her, I didn’t know much about her, I hadn’t seen her movies or anything. She showed up and she was like really goofy and awkward and clumsy, and it was such a curveball. I didn’t anticipate her being like that, and it was incredibly charming and incredibly fascinating because then when I went and watch movies with her in it, she plays kind of a straight character or like the bitchy character, and I was like but this girl that I just met is so far from that, I can’t believe that they would even consider her for those roles. I’m just excited that no one’s exploited this and I’m going to do it to the fullest.

Yeah, it’s interesting. It is kind of a punky, funky, fun, witty, twist on the genre which is kind of refreshing. It’s the kind of movie you can actually see mixed gender and not be embarrassed about.

Yeah.

Not that I’m mixed gender, you know what I mean.

I do understand.

Was it hard to get Sara to do those nude scenes though?

It would have been if we had had any but…

Ti, dude I’m trying to help you here. You want to sell some movies or not?

There’s one scene where she’s in the shower and she has this weird pink tube top on.

Now you had to ruin that, I cannot see the tube top. Now you just ruined it.

Yeah, your imagination ran wild with you but I remember her, the shame that she had with the goofy pink tube top on.

I love that Kelly McGillis is in this movie. You’ve worked with Kelly McGillis, you’ve worked with Dee Wallace, you’ve worked with these mommas from the ‘80s and I’m wondering who else is on your list from that era. For example, I have some suggestions for you, JoBeth Williams, any chance?

You never know, maybe.

Anne Archer, Karen Allen, Helen Slater?

Sure, as long as I’m making the next Indiana Jones movie; we’ll get Karen Allen in there.

Deborah Foreman?

Sure, she’s great. I’ll get her to dance around to some valley girl stuff.

I’m holding out for Spicoli from Fast Times, because nobody knows what he’s up to nowadays.

That’s right, and what happened to him?. Actually, Mike Damone is my favorite Fast Times character.

Now Pat Healy is in this movie. I got to tell you, I remember him not at all from anything ever before and he is just a revelation in this.

He’s great. When you see other movies and he pops up in them, you’ll be like, hey! and you’ll remember him now and he’s got great parts. He’s worked with a bunch of amazing directors, and he has had little small parts in some pretty impressive movies.

Now tell me more broadly speaking, what’s the trick to making a movie that’s actually scary without going over the top with CG. Because my observation as a critic is a lot of times these movies try and be scary and boy, Cabin in the Woods, perfect example and they just go over the top.

I think some of it is just not having the confidence to do it the normal way. I feel like there’s this feeling now that everybody has to have something clever or some really kind of mind blowing thing happening all the time. I am far too simplistic to care about that.

As far as the CG thing, this story didn’t really call for it. Also I don’t make these movies for very much money, so we don’t have the kind of money to be having Cabins floating in the woods. We just stick to the old school way of doing things.

Those limitations though, they also force you to do better work, do they not?

I don’t know, I’ve never had it the other way. I’d like to say that but at this point, give me $100 million, let me try to blow some stuff up and I’ll tell you afterwards.

Now the point you made about doing it your way is interesting because there’s one scene and I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s one scene where the camera lingers in a doorway for a very long time – I mean a very long time. Obviously you’re trying to build tension there and it works. How do you figure out how long is long enough and how long is too long?

Really what it is, this is the best way I can describe it to people, is it’s like you could tell a joke and make whole room laugh and your friend could tell the same joke and no one in the room laughs. There’s no real great reason why, it’s just there’s some intrinsic ability to have a sense of timing and a sense of feeling these things out. I can’t really explain it. It’s like you cut it together and you feel like that’s a little long, oops it’s a little short, oh, that feels right. And then you just trust your gut and then people watch the movie and you’ll find out if you’re right or wrong.

I got to ask you one question that only you are suited to answer as the director, editor, producer, writer. By the way, director, editor, producer, writer, obviously you don’t get along with people.

I just can’t find anyone else that will work for nothing.

On IMDb it said one of the taglines – there are a couple for the movie, but one of them was some guests never check out. Now tell me you didn’t actually make that up.

That was not mine. My idea for the tagline was “a ghost story for the minimum wage.”  That was my contribution.

I have some others for you to consider since you’re in the process of rolling this thing out wide. Okay, are you ready?

Yup.

“The Innkeepers, bedbugs are the least of your troubles.”

Funny you should say that, I’m about to write a movie about bedbugs. Like that’s legitimate. I got a job adapting a novel about bedbugs, and I start it in two weeks.

Are these killer bedbugs?

Not really, it’s more about someone going crazy because they think they have bedbugs, which is what would happen to me because I feel like bedbugs are the worst nightmare.

Here’s another,”The Innkeepers, Sorry, the fitness center is closed while it undergoes an exorcism.”

Fair enough.

No wonder you work alone. “The Innkeepers, 200 years old and that’s just the housekeeper.”

I like the exorcism one better but we could try it out, see what other people think.

That’s a good Hollywood answer. Last one:  “The Innkeepers, GM’s alive, Bin Laden’s dead, Sara Paxton is somewhere in the middle.”

Sounds about right. You could add Dick Clark to it now.

[Mark cringes]

Too soon?

Ti, I really, really, really enjoyed this movie. It is small, it is simple, it is elegant, it is effective and it’s good. The movie is called The Innkeepers. It’s available on DVD on April 24 from MPI Dark Sky Films.

Download the Interview with Ti West [mp3]

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MovieJuice interviews Jason Zinoman, author of ’70′s Horror Movie history “Shock Value”

by Mark Ramsey
Published August 2nd, 2011

How did a spunky group of Hollywood outsiders change the world of movie horror?

shockvalue

With grit, vision, little or no budget, physical ailments that manifested as plot points, leading ladies entangled with Texas financiers, and a whole lot of being in the right place at the right time.  Not to mention plenty of raw talent and some original, boundary-breaking ideas.

It’s the story of those famous ’70′s filmmakers.

No not Coppola and Scorcese, I’m talking about Craven and Hooper and Carpenter et. al.

And the best book on how these mavericks worked their horrific magic is Jason Zinoman’s “Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror.”

Yes, if that title were any longer it would come with its own index, but don’t let that dissuade you.  This is a fantastic book about an era in film about which much has been written, but not about these filmmakers.  And not about the horror genre.

Check out this fun conversation between yours truly and Jason Zinoman here.  I can’t recommend the book highly enough.

If you ever want to know how important the urge to get laid is to the urge to make movies, look no further than this interview.

And go buy the book!

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Light Dawns on Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

by Mark Ramsey
Published January 2nd, 2011

IMG_6344_elvira_highres

Hosting stale old horror movies is an ugly business, but somebody has to do it, and for years the somebody who is easiest on the eyes is Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.  Now Elvira has a new show, Elvira’s Movie Macabre (airing in on a channel near you).

I have seen just about every episode and I can tell you in no uncertain terms that Elvira is the highlight of these movies.

Tune into this conversation I had recently with the owner of Elvira’s trademark, one Cassandra Peterson.  She sounds quite a lot like Elvira but I suspect that’s just a coincidence.

Discover who would win a throwdown between Elvira and Joe Bog Briggs.  Find out which of Elvira’s movies she actually wishes she were in.  Discover how much money has to be spent remastering movies that never had a right to be mastered in the first place.

Thanks to Cassandra Peterson for her time and for a fun conversation.  And go watch Elvira’s Movie Macabre!

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caption this

“This is where we would kiss if I was attracted to girls”