Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mutant Insects, Malevolent Spirits and…Muckmen? Catching up with Veteran Horror Director, Brett Piper

Author and screenwriter Bruce G. Hallenbeck recently sat down with director Brett Piper – or as Bruce refers to him, “Harryhausen on a B-movie budget”. Piper, who recently wrapped on his latest production, MUCKMAN, dishes about the challenges of directing “a parody of the History Channel reality series MONSTERQUEST,” and reminisces about the classic films that influenced his career.

Dir. Brett Piper

Article by Bruce G. Hallenbeck

New Hampshire-born Brett Piper brings new meaning to the term "old school."
For Piper, the old school of stop-motion animation beats anything done in CGI.
From the first time he picked up an 8mm movie camera at age eleven, he filmed
claymation dinosaurs and remade his favorite Hammer horror films. Currently, Piper is based in Pennsylvania and is producing his own projects. "I haven't bothered trying to raise money since leaving ei," Piper continued. "I had a couple of near misses getting a producer in LA to back some movies but they fell through, so Mark (Polonia, director of DIY cult favorite SPLATTERFARM and recent Camp release SPLATTER BEACH) and I decided, what the hell, we'll just finance a movie ourselves. When I say 'finance,' I mean pay the out of pocket expenses because everyone's working for free. It's like an old MGM musical: 'Hey, gang, let's put on a show!'"

Muckman / Dir. Brett Piper

Piper's newest "show" is MUCKMAN, a kind of parody of the History Channel
reality series MONSTERQUEST. "It's like MONSTERQUEST meets THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK," Piper explained, "but the assumption seems to be that it's a SWAMP
THING type of scary monster movie. If you call SWAMP THING a scary monster
movie. We had a short, tight shooting schedule all worked out, three weekends,
six days. Like an old Roger Corman movie. We had to stick to the schedule
because, among other things, (lead actress) Alison Whitney was getting married
and that was all the time she could give us. Apparently when a woman gets
married the rest of her life gets put on hold while logistical preparations that
would make the invasion of Normandy look like a trip to the corner store are set
in motion. Anyway, on the very first weekend two of our 'actors,' one of whom
claimed to be a professional based on some extra work and who knows what else,
bailed on us with virtually no notice. The reason given?! 'Well, we thought it was going to be more fun and we're not having fun.' So Mark and I scrambled to replace them while trying to finish shooting with the people we still had. Eventually we squeezed another day or two out of Anju (formerly known as AJ Khan, veteran of many Seduction Cinema movies) and Alison and, by a fairly amazing coincidence, I happened to hear from my nephew who joked, as he always did, 'If you ever need another actor for your movies, don't forget me.' Little did he suspect what he was letting himself in for. When I told him I could use him he said, 'Can my roommate be in the movie too?' and we had both
our replacements.

Muckman / Dir. Brett Piper

Muckman on Set / Dir. Brett Piper

"By now, however, everyone was struggling to give us a little more time
here and there and we ended up shooting the entire movie in bits and pieces over
the next five or six months, frequently with anyone who happened to be
available, so in the final movie you might see a scene with six people in it
that was shot over a three-month period with one or two people at a time and
then all stitched together. And, son of a bitch, but in the final version it's
damn near seamless. Even I forget that they weren't all together at the same

The trailer for MUCKMAN is a B-movie hoot, with classic man-in-suit
monsters ala Roger Corman's THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED and IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, along with some cool stop-motion, a little female flesh and a lot of
off-the-wall humor. It looks like another hit for our "poor man's Ray Harryhausen."

Brett and I have been corresponding since we were teenagers (I hope he
doesn't mind that I mention that was a long time ago), yet I've never actually
met the man and know next to nothing about his personal life. As he puts it,
"Between movies there is no Lon Chaney," which is what the screen's original Man
of a Thousand Faces said back in the 1920s to deflect any questions about his
private life.

What I do know about Brett is that, at age 27, he made his first feature
film, MYSTERIOUS PLANET, which had a budget of only $5,000. It ended up grossing
over $50,000 when it was released on video in the US and in Europe. His next
feature, released by the legendary Sam Sherman as RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD,
was picked up a couple of years later, and his best-known early feature, A
NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL, was released by Troma in 1991.

Raiders of the Living Dead / Dir. Brett Piper

All of these films were marked with Piper's special brand of low-budget
special effects wizardry. He sculpts his own stop-motion animation models in the
style of his childhood hero Ray Harryhausen (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, the
original CLASH OF THE TITANS, etc.), something which carried over into his films
for PopCinema. For this interview, Piper told me a little about his influences.


"Hammer was a very big influence," Piper said. "I grew up watching the old
Universals and they pretty much formed my image of the classic monsters,
Frankenstein, Dracula, et al. My introduction to Hammer (not counting seeing
HORROR OF DRACULA when I was so young I barely remembered it) was issue #2 of
"Castle of Frankenstein," the one with the Larry Ivie painting of (Christopher)
Lee's Dracula on the cover, and I was appalled. These new-fangled takes on my
old friends were sacrilege! But a little later I saw BRIDES OF DRACULA at a
matinee and it was amazing. It showed me you could go in an entirely different
direction with those characters. In addition to doing stop-motion dinosaurs in
the backyard I began trying to recreate scenes from the Hammers on 8mm. I must
have done the disintegration scene from DRACULA half a dozen times."

Brett Piper / Misty Mundae - Fangoria SHOCK-O-RAMA 3/2006
Brett Piper and Misty Mundae / 2006 SHOCK-O-RAMA Fangoria Screening

Over the years, Piper has worked with cult movie faves such as Misty
Mundae, Linnea Quigley, Ron Jeremy, Matt Mitler and the Polonia Brothers. In the
mid-90s, he wrote and directed a film called THEY BITE, a kind of take-off on
both THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, which was made in Florida. One of the producers (who shall remain nameless) was, shall we say, not an Einstein: when Piper used the expression "Rhodes Scholar" in front of him, the clueless fellow responded in an unexpected way: "Actually, he thought it was a 'road scholar,' sort of a rural version of 'street smarts,' and
(that) it referred to a kind of savvy hobo or bum who lived on the road. He was
a genius."

Working in the low-budget field, Piper has come in contact with several
"geniuses" who provide him with no end of anecdotes: "...The producer of THEY
BITE got us kicked out of our primary location on the first night of shooting
there. In fact, he started interfering with the shoot the very first morning of
the very first day. We were supposed to shoot at a nearby restaurant at nine in
the morning, but as were were about to leave I got word that the 'producer' -
didn't want us to leave until he'd spoken with me, and it was important. He was still in bed. We waited around until noon when he finally shambled out. 'What's up?' he said. 'What do you mean, what's up? We've been waiting for you all morning. What do you want?' 'Oh, well, I just wanted to know what was going on.' For that we blew off our entire first morning of shooting."

Brett Piper / Misty Mundae BITE ME Making Of
Brett Piper on the ei Cinema produced “Bite Me”

Piper had much happier experiences working with Michael Raso on various
ei/PopCinema projects, starting in 2003. "Mike and I had been in touch off and
on for years," Piper recalled. "One day he called me up out of the blue and said
he'd like me to make a movie for him. I found out later it was Kevin Shinnick's
idea. Kevin had interviewed me for an issue of "SPFX" Magazine and suggested me
as someone who could make a cheap movie that didn't look so cheap. Mike said,
'Do you have anything ready to shoot?' As it happened, I had just written the
script that would be called SCREAMING DEAD. He said, 'Is there a part for Misty
(Mundae)?' Yes, I said, as a matter of fact there was. I'd seen her in GLADIATOR
EROTICUS and thought she had talent and charisma. So I was asked to come down to
ei for a meeting and we pretty much hammered out a deal and that was that. It
really was just that simple. SCREAMING DEAD was a success and I made three more
movies for them. It was actually the most productive period of my life."

Brett Piper / Rachael Robbins SCREAMING DEAD

Brett Piper / Shock-O-Rama

Piper has also loaned his talents to other people's productions, doing the
effects for such films as BIKINI GIRLS ON DINOSAUR PLANET and KINKY KONG.
"BIKINI GIRLS was a pretty painless experience," Mike asked if I'd be willing
to shoot some stop-motion dinosaur cuts to flesh out a movie he’d acquired. I
could shoot whatever I wanted as long as I included a shot of a dinosaur taking
a dump to tie in with a big scene. So I very quickly built three wire frame
stop-motion puppets and shot a bunch of clips, including several with a painfully constipated ceratopsian which, to be honest, was some of my best animation. The whole thing took three weeks."

Kinky Kong / Effects by Brett Piper
Brett Piper lends his talents to KINKY KONG

On KINKY KONG, the fearless Piper had even more of his work cut out for
him. "This could turn into a long, long story, but essentially, while Brian
(McNulty, senior editor at POPcinema) edited the live action, I built and shot a bunch of miniatures. 'Bone Island,' the Wall, some other things. I designed an ape suit, which, frankly, I never liked. It was bad but not bad enough to be amusing. It should have looked
like the one in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, really awful. The director came in and
talked the guy in the ape costume through a bunch of shots in front of a green
screen. Later, Mike said, 'We need shots of the girls in the ape's hand! You
can't do a KING KONG parody without a girl in an ape's hand!' So we brought in
Anju and the lead girl (I forget her name) and I directed them in a few inserts
that I matted into a shot of an ape's hand, which was in fact my own hand with
make-up. And I did a stop-motion T-Rex, a Goofysaurus, for a fight scene."

Kinky Kong / Effects by Brett Piper
The Brett Piper “Kong” suit for KINKY KONG

When I asked Piper if he would ever "retire" from filmmaking - let's face
it, it's a stressful business - this was his reply: "Almost anything is less
stressful than making movies, isn't it? Once in a while, once in a great while,
I think about quitting. After all, I'm only a few years younger than Harryhausen
was when he retired. Maybe if I had a successful career behind me I would
consider it more seriously, but as it stands I can't stop until I've achieved at
least a few of my goals. The really good movies are still ahead of me, or at
least that's what I tell myself. When I'm eighty, I still be at it, like Jess
Franco or Joe Sarno. You never know."

Shock-O-Rama / Directed by Brett Piper

The SHOCK-O-RAMA Horror Collection

A new four-film collection of critically and commercially acclaimed Brett Piper “B” movies, directed for the Shock-O-Rama Cinema studio, was released this June 15. The collection, which contains BACTERIUM, SHOCK-O-RAMA, BITE ME! and SCREAMING DEAD, embodies his passion for classic FX and retro-filmmaking.

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