Interview by Joshua T. Gravel
Could you give the Alternative Cinema audience some background information on your career in film or the arts in general?
I've been the managing editor of FANGORIA magazine for nearly 20 years and a contributor to Fangoria.com for nearly 10, and during that time I've written a number of horror screenplays. Four of them have been produced (Leeches, Ring of Darkness, Shadow: Dead Riot, Halloween Night), two of them to my satisfaction (I'll leave it to readers to figure out which ones those were). Even as I’ve enjoyed working on the horror journalism side of the industry all these years, I've never lost the ambition to direct that I first nurtured at New York University's film school. I directed a Super-8 feature many years back that remains uncompleted due to technical issues, and when the opportunity to contribute to SHOCK FESTIVAL came up, it struck me as a perfect starting point to getting back behind the camera.
What brought you to this project, and the GIRLKILLER trailer in particular?
I've been a fan of Stephen Romano's SHOCK FESTIVAL book ever since I came across a promotional display for it at a FANGORIA Weekend of Horrors convention in Austin, TX, and was briefly fooled into thinking the THAT FUCKING CAT poster was the one-sheet for an actual long-lost movie. I wound up doing a bunch of coverage on the book for Fango, and when Paige Davis told me about the DVD project, I got equally excited. I've always loved B-horror and exploitation trailers, and really enjoyed the faux coming attractions produced for GRINDHOUSE. I asked Paige if I could contribute one to SHOCK FESTIVAL, and was thrilled when she brought me onto the project.
The next step was going through the book and picking out a title to work with that hadn't already been claimed by one of the other trailer-makers. Since I'd be dealing with a micro budget, anything involving monsters, aliens or heavy-duty action was out; I didn't want cheap FX etc. to be a source of humor here! GIRLKILLER seemed to be a perfect choice: just a psychopathic young woman killing other young women. The fact that there were only a few lines of description of the alleged film in the book's text meant that I'd have a lot of freedom to come up with my own images, though I did make sure to incorporate those elements that were mentioned, like the psychopathic neighbor with a hammer fetish and the key image on the poster itself.
As for the structure, my initial inspiration was the trailer for EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, one of my all-time favorites. I wanted to do a similar preview that's all fast-cut images with no dialogue, just music; I rationalized that since this was supposed to be an American trailer for an Australian feature, the U.S. distributor didn't want potential audiences hearing any funny accents, but the real reason was that I wouldn't have to worry about ADR or other postproduction sound in the short time I had. I tried to throw in a couple of other clues that this was an Aussie film: If you look very closely during the kitchen strangling scene, you'll see a jar of Vegemite on the table, and in her concluding cast-rundown shot, "Briana Miller" is sitting in the passenger seat of a car, which is on the left side instead of the right (for which I simply flipped the image).
Can you tell us about the casting of Ian MCculloch?
I also wanted to throw in a few homages to Italian horror cinema, since Steve's GIRLKILLER director "Darby Silver" is an in-joke on Dario Argento—"argento" is "silver" in Italian. One of those is the opening shot, an echo of the classic SUSPIRIA trailer. And when I found out my friend Mike Baronas was bringing several actors from classic Italian horror films to a Chiller convention, I had the crazy idea of heading over there and, with Mike's help, trying to snag a few shots of one of them to slip into the trailer. My DP/composer Scooter McCrae is a huge fan of those movies, and agreed to join me on the mission.
Once we got there, it quickly became clear that Ian McCulloch had to be our man; he still looked very much like he did in the '70s, which is when GIRLKILLER was supposedly produced. Once Mike had made the introductions, it also became clear that McCulloch was still a true professional who would expect nothing less from us. Fortunately, my friend and FX artist Brian Spears and his pal Eugene Driscoll said we could shoot in their hotel room, which 1) was on ground level, meaning we could get shots of McCulloch entering from outside through the curtains and 2) had colored inlaid tile around the bathroom mirror that gave a perfect '70s look. We prelit the bedroom and the bathroom before McCulloch got off the convention floor, and recruited Ruby LaRocca, an actress I'm friendly with, to play a sexy girl opposite him in one shot.
What I didn't know was that Ruby is also a big fan of Italian horror and its actors, and I somehow neglected to mention her co-star when I pitched the scene to her; she was quite startled when she came to the room and saw who she'd be appearing with! The shoot went great, though; I had brought a trench coat for my actor to wear to appear like a '70s detective, and we had a bottle of J&B (actually filled with chardonnay, at McCulloch's request) for that Italian-genre veneer, and we got all our shots in about 45 minutes. Scooter and I still can't believe we pulled it off.
Can you tell us a little about the other actors you worked with?
Since no one would have any dialogue, I didn't really need to hold auditions, but went with people I knew who had the right look. Alia Lorae is a singer who specializes in dark music and lyrics, and was thus an easy choice for my anti-heroine. I've worked with Mike Lane a few times on our friend Glen Baisley's movies, and knew he'd have fun with the part of crazed filmmaker/actor Silver. Christine Spencer is an actress from a few films by James Felix McKenney and Larry Fessenden among others, and graciously agreed to appear in my little project. Audrey Quaranta and Logan DeSisto are both writers for Fango who had expressed an interest in appearing in a horror film, and were quite enthusiastic when I offered them roles as victims. Logan also helped out behind the scenes and, among other things, introduced me to Jessica Meirs, a figure model who had no problem doing the nudity required for the trailer's shower scene.
Who worked on the technical end of the production, specifically cinematography, music, and special effects?
As I mentioned, Scooter, whom I've known forever, did my cinematography and music and was invaluable in both capacities. We know each other so well that we were able to blaze through our shoot, capturing everything in two days, plus a few hours on another night and the McCulloch convention shoot. In several cases, rather than set up lights for interiors, Scooter suggested just using the natural light coming in through the windows, which wound up looking great and really adds to '70s look. Where the music was concerned, no one knows Italian horror scores better than Scooter, and he did great work using samples of '70s-appropriate instruments.
I've also known makeup FX artist Brian Spears for quite some time; he's contributed to numerous East Coast independent genre films (including SHADOW: DEAD RIOT, which I wrote), and came in to sling the blood for me, doing a great and messy job. Two filmmakers he's worked for are Glen, another longtime friend who served as my editor and brought years of experience in that capacity, and Brian Weaver, who provided the key location. Brian lives in part of a big house owned by his uncle, veteran Fango writer Tom Weaver, and the first time I set foot in there, I knew it was a horror-film location waiting to happen. The bedroom and living room have a black-and-red color scheme, the kitchen is all done in green and orange and it also has the ladder behind the walls and the tool room seen in key shots. Ninety percent of the trailer interiors were shot all in the one house, yet it looks like we used multiple locations.
Are there any current or future projects you would like people to know about?
I'm working on a couple of feature scripts right now, and after the GIRLKILLER project went so well, I'm anxious to get another feature going. But I'd rather not discuss any details until I'm closer to having something to actually show.
Michael Gingold’s GIRLKILLER trailer is part of Stephen Romano Presents Shock Festival, available February 9th from Camp Motion Picture’s exploitation / horror label, Bloody Earth Films.
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