SWEETS TO THE SWEET
SWEETS TO THE SWEET: DAVID GREGORY TALKS THE THEATRE BIZARRE
Fans read about the hotly-anticipated horror anthology The Theatre Bizarre in these pages back in April when we interviewed Karim Hussain, Doug Buck and Richard Stanley, and now we turn our focus to the man who brought the whole project together (and is sure to bring the house down with his own segment ‘Sweets’): David Gregory. The co-founder of the Severin Films DVD label, director of Plague Town (2008) and likely the most prolific director of behind-the-scenes featurettes and DVD-extra exclusive interviews, Gregory is an enthusiastic genre fan living the dream. He was kind enough to subject himself to an interview for Spectacular Optical about the way The Theatre Bizarre took shape, and how his own gluttonous segment can teach us a thing or two about relationships.
What made you choose these specific collaborators? Was there a balance you were trying to create between directors?
Given that we were offering full creative control to the directors, we wanted unique voices who would be enthusiastic about telling a story their way. So filmmakers who had directed no more than a handful of films would in theory still have that fresh unjaded passion for filmmaking, where little things like budgetary restriction could be seen as an exciting challenge in how to tell their story under these conditions, not something to just bitch about or phone the film in. Karim and I had hit it off at the Boston Underground Film Festival in 2009 and I brought the project up to him first. He immediately suggested Doug Buck because they both live within inches of each other in Montreal and could shoot and edit each other’s segments and share key crew members thereby stretching their budgets to the max. Mitch had introduced me to Doug a few months prior at AFM and I had familiarized myself with his work after that meeting so thought it was an excellent idea — particularly as the Family Portraits trilogy had already exhibited his talent for powerful short films. I wanted to make sure the pure horror genre approach was covered too so that’s where Richard and Tom really fit the bill. Richard we had worked with on the HARDWARE blu-ray but I’d not really established whether or not he was ready to jump back into dramatic filmmaking after such a long hiatus so I was delighted when he agreed to come on board. Obviously I was a fan of Tom’s since I was a nipper but I only knew him personally on a peripheral level having interviewed him for DAWN, DAY, TWO EVIL EYES and DEATHREAM DVDs. But co-producer Mike Ruggiero, who had produced my Spaghetti Western doc while at IFC, was good pals with him so was able to get Tom into the mix. Evan Husney who had just joined the Severin team was tight with Buddy G, having broken the mould over at Troma by producing an extras-laden special edition of COMBAT SHOCK, so he talked him in. Then Jeremy Kasten was brought in when our plans to shoot the wraparound in Paris fell through for one reason or another. I had met Jeremy a few times but when we decided to shoot the wraparound in LA I knew he was the perfect choice, not only having been the guy who made the very Guignol-esque WIZARD OF GORE remake but also because I knew he was obsessed with old theatres and spook shows and the like. It was an excellent fit. And sure enough none of the directors on the project gave us a hard time about budgets, they all took the concept, ran with it in wildly differing but equally impressive ways and came back to us with some outstanding films — in a couple of cases, by their own reckoning, their best work to date.
Tell me about the framing story – that seems to have come together kind of at the zero hour so I don’t think it’s been talked about as much as some of the other segments.
Jeremy Kasten’s framing story is called ‘The Theatre Bizarre’ and follows a reclusive young girl as she breaks into an old theatre wherein a disturbing show is taking place, hosted by a human marionette. We had to wait until last to shoot this because we didn’t know what order the films were going to play until after we had seen cuts of the individual segments. All of us had ideas about it but they quickly went out the window when we started seeing the films; you know things like mood and pacing can be so different when you’re actually watching it versus reading it on the page. Anyway, writer Zach Chassler and Jeremy had to know that order before they could finalize their script. This coupled with the fact that we wanted a name in the lead role and the casting of that took some time. As luck would have it, Buddy G is very friendly with Udo Kier having directed him in a couple of TV movies in Germany so he made the call to Udo and Udo said “yes” immediately. So glad it worked out that way because there really isn’t an actor I could think of who would be more perfect for the role. It was shot at an old, unused movie palace in downtown LA. There’s no way we could have afforded that location under normal circumstances but luck was on our side as the owner of the place is the director of the eerie 70s drive-in chiller THE CHILD, a man still sensitive to the plight of the indie horror filmmaker, even after all these years. I’m very happy with Jeremy’s film, it sets the perfect creepy mood for the film but also treads a stylistic and tonal line which sits very nicely amongst this kaleidoscope of segments.
Your own segment is really strong – it’s unique, colourful, and really disgusting in an unconventional way. Where did the idea for Sweets come from?
Thank you very much. Beautiful disgusting was what I said I was going for on set. SWEETS is a true story. What you saw on-screen is pretty much what happened. Just changed the names to protect the guilty and a couple of the finer details for dramatic effect.
I really related to this segment because it depicts a very grotesque exaggeration of the way I eat in real life. The scene where the lead actor is eating whipped cream and cheesies and whatever else off the livingroom floor is nauseating. How did you explain what you wanted to do to the set decorator?
Lorry O’Toole was the production designer on both mine and Jeremy’s episodes and while she had never supervised production design on a movie before I knew she had a wonderfully twisted taste in design having visited her apartment and checked out her vintage gynecology table, her Victorian child coffin, her ‘cunt’ t-shirt line and such. I knew she could really run wild with this script, not just in the revolting apartment but also with the interior of the restaurant. As an added bonus she had two very creative friends visiting from the UK around the time of production, Tree and Adam Carr (who play the yellow gooey kissing couple in the restaurant), and they served as costume designer and art director respectively. Anyway, Lorry read the script, we discussed how I wanted the color scheme in the apartment to resemble vomit and that the foodstuffs in there should be predominantly man made and not organic and she went well beyond the call of duty picking up the nastiest potpourri of grim eats you could imagine. And not just the food but also the couch was a wonderful mélange of upchuck colors, even the tacky embroidered “Last Supper” picture which hangs in the background…it’s not really that easy to see but it’s there as a subliminal nod to a later image in the film. That was not in the script but the scorpion and fish pictures were, so again she found the right scorpion and fish to flesh out the scheme of sick that I so desired. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of being in a small space heaving with artificial foods before but it really starts to smell quite toxic and chemical-y. I think the look of disgust on Guilford’s face throughout that scene is pretty genuine. While Lindsay actually got light-headed for a moment. The guy who owned the studio told our producer Alex Spector that we could leave the place messy, that they had cleaners to clean up after us, however I don’t think he quite understood what he was letting himself in for there. Definitely the grossest set I’ve had the good fortune to set foot on.
Have you ever eaten an entire bag of cookies?
Yes. I used to eat an entire bag of jaffa cakes with tea. Thankfully they’re not so easy to come by in the US. Have not found a suitable replacement over here. US cookies blow.
SPOILER question: In a way it also made me think of foodies, you know those people who are obsessed with fine dining and travel around the world going to weird exclusive restaurants – and that this was a world that this loser guy would never be accepted into except perhaps as a delicacy of sorts. What inspired the ‘society’ depicted in the last act?
You know, one of the inspirations for some of the acts in the film was MONDO CANE, not least that exclusive New York restaurant where people eat insects and reptiles and stuff.
Actually I have a bit of a thing about secret clubs. I indulged the idea in my thesis film SCATHED too, which I also made with Exec Producer Daryl Tucker and composer Mark Raskin. It must come from the first few years I was old enough to get into pubs back in England but could never get past the doorman into clubs. Pubs would close at 11 you see so to drink after that would require entrance to one of these presumed nirvanas. The bouncers were the gatekeepers to this world that I just could not get my 16 year old self into. What was it that was so special that they could judge who was worthy and who was not to enter their elite domain? Of course when I hit 18 and found my way into said clubs the world therein was a bit of an illusion shatterer but that notion of hidden excesses only accessible to the select few had already made its mark.
But the food story – in which his girlfriend goes through this transition that he doesn’t – is also symptomatic of horrible breakups in general. One person changes – or maybe they both change, but one always changes first, which is devastating to the person left behind. So how much did you see this as a story about consumption versus about the end of a relationship?
For me it was mainly about the end of a relationship and how one person invariably is in the stronger position psychologically than the other. The culinary indulgence metaphor was a good way to hopefully make it outrageous, gross, funny and disturbing in equal measures; that was the intent anyway. Buddy G’s episode treads some similar thematic ground — he had not read my script when he wrote his — but in terms of their stylistic execution they’re worlds apart.
There are also hints that this guy was normal before he got into this relationship, and that the relationship itself mutated him into the gross slobby sloth he became. Have you ever gotten out of a relationship and then looked back and realized that your partner had completely changed you into a person you didn’t recognize?
Absolutely, and it’s a gradual metamorphosis that you don’t realize is happening to you. It’s quite shocking sometimes when you look back and question how that gradual process could have occurred without you noticing.
Tell me about the two leads (the male lead is incredible!), as well as how Lynn Lowry became involved.
The male lead is Guilford Adams and he was brought in by Alex Spector after she was blown away by his performance in a production of “Twelfth Night”. He came and auditioned and I immediately wanted to hire him even though he was a little on the thin side. This was right before Christmas so we urged him to have plenty of seconds over the holidays and not be shy of that extra few beers. I think Guil did an outstanding job and he really was not afraid to get really stuck in to take it to the next level of ick. Lindsay Goranson was equally good though hers is certainly the less showy of the two roles. She really has to be an ice cold bitch which is fortunate because that’s how she is in real life. Actually quite the opposite – an astoundingly gifted and generous actress. Lindsay was cast as the frumpy step-Mom in my last film PLAGUE TOWN and the shooting of her death by repeated hubcap blows to the face was my favourite night on that film because she really went the extra mile to make it as disturbing as possible. At the wrap party, when she wasn’t in her frumpy step-Mom garb I told her she’d make a good femme fetale (read: ice cold bitch) and so when I was writing SWEETS I had her in mind for the role. I think Guil and Lindsay played off each other beautifully. She gets down to some pretty yucky stuff in the movie too.
I made a short career featurette with Lynn called THE CULT FILM LEGACY OF LYNN LOWRY for THE CRAZIES DVD a few years ago. She’d been out of the limelight for a number of years at that point so there was a real mystique about her, you know, this really unique beauty who had starred in a host of great 70s cult movies then disappeared (I can’t take the credit for tracking her down though; that was the Grindhouse guys who were preparing their I DRINK YOUR BLOOD DVD at the same time). I knew from that encounter that she still had that great feline look so I contacted her as a potential for Mikela and she told me that THE CULT FILM LEGACY OF LYNN LOWRY had partly inspired her to get back into acting, so she was definitely interested. She read the script, thought the perverse humor was right up her alley so off we went.
I tried to fill a lot of the restaurant supporting roles with faces from underground cultdom like Damon Packard (REFLECTIONS OF EVIL), Elissa Dowling and Jeff Dylan Graham (stars of tons of films, often together), Erin Marie Hogan (PARANORMAL ENTITY), Whitney Moore (BIRDEMIC) Dave Grave (from the LA punk band “Frankenstein”) etc.
Of all the millions of featurettes you’ve directed for DVD supplements (and I’m not even exaggerating – millions!), what was the most fun and brought out the most surprising stories?
The Polanskis were the most fun, because I got to go to Paris, talk to my favourite filmmaker and have him be an extremely charismatic and fascinating interview. Afterwards we interviewed Jess Franco in the same location and spent the evening with him at some dodgy eatery of his choice, guzzling red wine. Was a great day. And The Godfathers Of Mondo because those guys were just larger than life characters oozing with stories that had rarely been told on camera. And more recently SANTA SANGRE was a blast because again the colourful cast of characters that made that film had so much to say that I hadn’t heard before. And even though I’d heard a fair amount of what Jodo had to say, you can’t beat that man as an in-person storyteller. The most fun overall shoot would still be the first, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE – THE SHOCKING TRUTH because that was just me, two mates and a consumer camcorder exploring the environs of Austin, Texas, eating BBQ, searching for unused drive-ins and dead armadillos, and having all these amazing people only too eager to share their tales of that fateful and fortuitous summer shoot which would produce one of the most timeless masterpieces of modern cinema. Now everyone’s been interviewed a thousand times but before the DVD boom it wasn’t so common. I’m also really pleased with BAN THE SADIST VIDEOS, THE JOE SPINELL STORY, GO PUSSYCAT GO, BARAKA A CLOSER LOOK and various others. I still enjoy telling the story of the making of a really juicy production.
Now, a matter of taste: Who is the best Em(m)anuelle and why?
Aha, the eternal question. Well this might get me into trouble with the Severin hardcore but for me I think Sylvia Kristel in Just Jaeckin’s original film is the one. She wasn’t a jawdroppingly gorgeous screen siren but I think that was part of the appeal, that combination of laissez faire attitude and pretty girl next door looks. Now, let’s get one thing nice and sparkling clear…there’s nothing wrong with Laura Gemser. In fact the best of the those Black Emanuelle films (available in Black Emanuelle’s Box Vols 1 and 2 from Severin Films are some of the finest examples of exploitation film of that era. I mean it’s as if they sat around in Joey D’s dining room with a vat of wine and got bored with setting up circumstances for Emanuelle to get busy and just started coming up with crazy shit for the fuck of it. I wonder if anyone ever walked out of an uncut screening of EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD thinking “Wow, that was some pretty high class erotica right there. I’m horny.”
THE THEATRE BIZARRE has its World Premiere Saturday July 16th at 9:20pm in the Hall Theatre, and screens again Sunday July 17th at 3pm in the Salle DeSeve, with all seven directors, actors Udo Kier and Lynn Lowry and many more cast and crew! More info on the film page HERE.