A little horror history for you... and, if I'm wrong on anything here, I'm sure someone will let me know. Giallo horror is a particular style of horror that came out of Italy in the 60's and 70's. The most famous Giallo director would be Dario Argento or maybe Mario Bava, as he's credited with making the first of the Giallo films... in any case, the first Giallo films were based on Italian pulp novels, but what made them interesting was the fact that they were really the first horror films to have a contemporary setting, meaning they took place in present day and the killer was of that time. Some classic Giallo films would be Argento's "The Cat o' Nine Tails", Bava's "Twitch of the Death Nerve" and Fulci's "The New York Ripper". The success of these films is what launched Italian horror and gave us a lot of the crazy shit that people DO remember, stuff like Fulci's "Zombi", Argento's "Suspiria" and Umberto Lenzi's "The Man from the Deep River". Actually, you may not remember "The Man from the Deep River", but it was the film that sparked the Italian cannibal genre. In 1980, the Italian cannibal genre peaked when Ruggero Deodato came out with "Cannibal Holocaust", which was easily the most well known film of the sub-genre... but it was definitely not the last Italian cannibal film to be made. In fact, I know it's not the last because I just saw "Isle of the Damned", from Mark Colegrove and Mark Leake, about a week ago.
There's a couple of things about "Isle of the Damned" that make it semi-genius. First off, plain and simple, it's a great homage to the Italian cannibal films. Not once does it turn and give a nod to the screen, as if to say... this is a farce. It opens like an authentic cannibal film and it ends like an authentic cannibal film. In fact, after a few minutes, you'll feel like you've managed to get your hands on some lost gem from the 70's. The other ingenious aspect was that they put it together as if it WAS a lost gem from the 70's... they made up a fictional director, Antonello Giallo, and set the whole thing up as if it was a lost film of his that just happened to resurface. Is this something that mainstream film fans are going to watch or enjoy? Probably not. However, if you're into your horror history or if you're into the Italian horror films of the 60's and 70's, it's something you have to see to believe... a great piece of independent filmmaking that's remarkably original and entertaining.
We had the chance to discuss the film with Mark Colegrove, the director, and find out just what the hell he was thinking.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences (aside from Italian Cannibal Films) and what brought you into the world of indie horror filmmaking?
I love the early Peter Jackson films... Bad Taste, Braindead, etc., and of course the Evil Dead movies, and Troma films. Horror-comedy has always been one of my favorite genres... there's something inherently sick and wrong when you turn a disembowelment into a slapstick gag, and that's what I always loved about those films. But besides horror films, I was a child of the 80s, so I've always been a fan of Star Wars, Indiana Jones... some of the classic big budget 80's adventure movies. With Isle of the Damned, I wanted to do a cannibal movie that had some of the quicker pacing of an Indiana Jones film... so I often refer to it as a poor man's Indiana Jones with sleaze and gore.
Film School: Yes or No?
Yes, I did go to film school... I think a good knowledge of some of the basic rules of filmmaking is crucial to making a good movie. Whether you get that knowledge from film school, from books, or just practical experience is entirely up to the individual, but I can say, like a musical instrument, it's something that you have to continually practice at to do well. Also, it's important to stay on top of the technology... things seem to be continuously changing these days.
Where did you get the idea for "Isle of the Damned"?
Leake based the script off of the genre conventions of several of the old Italian cannibal films. Isle is also a sequel to our first film, Pleasures of the Damned, so it has some basis in the storyline of that film, but it's not completely required viewing to enjoy Isle. The opening scene brings the audience up to speed.
What was the approx budget and how did you secure financing?
I think it was around 10K... I'm scared to tally up the receipts. We put up all the money ourselves... which I will never do again unless I hit the lotto.
It appeared to be shot on 16mm or even super 8, but I'm more wrong than I am right. What did you shoot on and how long was the shoot?
We actually shot on MiniDV. We used the Panasonic DVX100b with an SG Pro focal adaptor. The newer technology finally gave us the look of film without the expense. It was about a 2 year shoot, off and on, since we could only film during the summers.
Talk about shooting an homage to Italian cannibal films... after five minutes, I actually forgot it was a parody. What kinds of things did you do to ensure the look and feel was authentic.
We studied the films for awhile. Leake's script was peppered with some of the traditional "rules" for cannibal films. The films always start in the city before moving to the Jungle, they always juxtapose the civil man with the savage, and of course there's always a castration scene. Before we began shooting I watched all the cannibal films again, and looked specific notes on certain "stylistic" camera movements, and other elements that were sort of "unintentionally funny." Of course, the music was also a big part of it, and Paul Joyce did an amazing job with Isle's score, which was modeled after a typical Goblin or Fabio Frizzi soundtrack.
There was some great gore, too... you had the Romero-esque stomach rips, a decapitation or two, but my favorite was the dead guy with a spike through his mouth at the cannibal ceremony. Talk about creating the special effects and what was your favorite?
My favorite effect was probably the face rip off towards the end of the film. We had a great crew of guys working on the FX: Shane Vannest, Ian Potter, and Leake and myself to a lesser extent. We would stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning on the weeknights and roll into work the next day like zombies. I really learned a lot from Shane and Ian about making casts, but I think I also wasn't prepared for how much work goes into what sometimes is only a 2 second shot in the finished film.
Talk about the location, it worked perfect. How did you secure it?
Most of the wooded area was public property, so we never needed a permit for that, although we did get hassled a bit by some of the folks that lived nearby, but it was never that big of a deal. The mansion is a famous one in the area, that were nice enough to let us film for a relatively small fee... we ran through and shot everything inside very quickly because we were paying by the hour. The only other location that we needed permission was the cannibal village, which we actually shot in a cow pasture.
Tell us about some of the hurdles you overcame to get the film done. Any advice you can pass on to other indie filmmakers who might be just setting out to make a film.
The biggest obstacles were time and money. It took 3 summers to complete the shooting, and it was hard to work around everyone's busy schedules. If one person couldn't make it it would screw up a week of shooting. Also, if we were to forget one of the fake moustaches, that would also screw things up. It just took a lot of patience... we wanted to get it right, so in the 2nd summer we actually reshot some stuff that didn't come out quite right the first time around. In the 3rd summer, the film had mostly been edited already, and we realized there were a few embellishments that it needed, so we filled in some gaps with a couple more shoot days. I wanted to take our time and make the best possible film. Obviously we called in a lot of favors, and we're tremendously in debt to our great cast and crew! So my advice to any aspiring filmmakers is to start by doing some shorts... it's not as big of an investment (money or time) but can definitely give you the practical skills that you need.
Also, keep your locations simple, and don't schedule too many scenes that need a a lot of actors.
Did you enter festivals? If so, how did it do? Talk about the festival circuit, is it something that every indie horror filmmaker should consider doing?
We have entered a couple big fests... one we've already been rejected from, and Fantasia I'm waiting to hear back from... I'm not holding my breath though. We also entered a lot of smaller fests, mostly ones with no entry fee. I'm a little bit jaded on the festival experience, and I didn't want to go crazy submitting to a bunch of 'em. The average submission fee for a feature is $50, so by the time we've submitted to 10 fests, we're out about $500, with no guarantee that the film will play at any of them. Also, a lot of bigger fests will only screen it if it's an area premiere, which is total bullshit. It's not like EVERYONE that wanted to see it saw it on that ONE day that it ran.
Most mainstream movies run for weeks... most of these "independent" fests should do a better job of giving the little guy a chance at some exposure instead of being concerned with their own egos and being the first fest to screen a film. It's kind of similar to the whole pretentious music snob attitude "Oh I loved the Beatles before they were famous." These fests only like you if they're the ones that can claim to have discovered you.
So we went at it with a different approach. We've been four-walling the film a lot at various venues that already have a built in audience for this kind of sleaze. We've played at both the Washington and Savannah Psychotronic Film Society screenings for example. We've also been hitting horror conventions, bars, and rock clubs. The big difference is, instead of paying a fee to play the film, we get paid (although most times we spend more than we make on our bar tab.) We also sell the DVDs at a screening... most fests won't touch a film that's already out on DVD.
Tell us about the process of finding distribution. How did that go and what insight could you pass on to other filmmakers who are looking for distribution?
We decided to self-distribute it. These days, it's easy enough to press up some copies, list them on Amazon, sell them at the conventions, book the screenings (as mentioned above), and sell the foreign rights yourselves. I've seen some friends get screwed by some of these scumbag distributors of low-budget films... I know someone who is actually IN DEBT after having their movie distributed by one of the biggest companies out there.
Where can people find out more about "Isle of the Damned" or, better yet, buy a copy?
It will be available at the screenings, but March 31st is the official North American release... so check out Amazon, Diabolik DVD, Netflix, etc. Join our mailing list on direwitfilms.com to stay updated.
Talk about the indie horror genre, where do you feel it is now and where do you see it going?
Well, I think the fact that it's getting easier and easier for anybody to make a movie is both a blessing and a curse. The market gets saturated with a lot of crap that's for sure. I am really excited that we are able to self-distribute the film, and I'm looking forward to seeing how digital distribution (we've already streamed Isle online once) will become a new standard... I think more people are watching films on their computer than ever before (although the quality of the picture and sound isn't quite there yet). Also, the big push to put digital projectors in theatres, takes away the cost of a film print, and will hopefully help level the playing field a bit down the road, as it also opens up the possibilities for more programming in the theaters.
What's next for you? Do you have any projects in the works?
We're still heavily promoting Isle, but there are a couple things potentially coming down the pipeline. There's Soldiers of Sodom, Antonello Giallo's 1970 Nazi/Dinosaur film, and the direct sequel to Isle, City of the Damned. Right now we're just sort of talking, so we'll see how things go!