Your new movie Phantoms
of the Fog - in a few words, what is it about?
of the Fog is essentially an Italian-horror-inspired short film
with a nod to those cheesy Vietnam War action flicks produced throughout
the world during the 80s. The story follows a lone American soldier
traipsing around the Vietnam jungle, in search of a way out or an answer
as to why he's there. He encounters traces of other soldiers -- possibly
in the same situation -- and the body of a dead VC guerrilla. Beyond the
confusion, there seems to be something more going on.
Phantoms of the Fog
being a loving hommage to low budget Italian horror and war movies from
circa the 1980s - what can you tell us about your love for films of this
kind, and some of your genre favourites?
It's no secret
that I am a big fan of Italian cinema of the 60s - 80s, but I believe the
80s are when the horror and action genres reigned supreme. What I enjoy
most about Italian horror is the atmosphere! The cinematography, score,
and substance all combine to form something amazing not captured by
anything else in the world! The same for the action films -- even those
films possess a unique quality that makes them far superior to the
(supposed to be far superior) films of today! The over-the-top action and music
are the epitome of 80s action. Unfortunately, those days are gone. In
terms of specifics, there are just too many good films out there... I'd be
afraid of leaving something out. I don't think I'd be revealing anything
new, considering the Italian staples like Lucio Fulci [Lucio
Fulci bio - click here], Joe D'Amato [Joe
D'Amato bio - click here], Bruno Mattei [Bruno
Mattei bio - click here], Sergio Martino, Ruggero Deodato [Ruggero
Deodato bio - click here], Umberto Lenzi [Umberto
Lenzi bio - click here] etc. would all be
of inspiration when dreaming up Phantoms
of the Fog?
It may be strange to have a favorite
war, but I've always been attracted the Vietnam War... the time period,
the geographic area, the culture, the weapons / planes, etc. As a hobby,
I've wasted away many hours studying the war for no real reason other than
that interest. With that said, the actual Phantoms
of the Fog story came
about thanks to the old army radio and other Vietnam war-era items I had
access to. I figured, they're there, so why not do something with them.
The uniform worn by the lead is also
period, though probably never left the USA (pre-1967, maybe not the most
practical, but best-looking, with white name tape and yellow "ARMY"
lettering which would make you just a little more visible target for the
enemy). Also included is a hint to another strange interest of mine --
criticality / nuclear power / nuclear weapons -- which is a clue as to
what's going on in the story. SPOILER: The keen observer may notice the
soldier's call-sign is "Buster Jangle". Operation Buster Jangle
was a nuclear weapons test program that included the Desert Rock I,
and III exercises. In these tests, American soldiers were positioned
within close proximity to atomic blasts and as such, were exposed to radiation --
you know, kind of like the Gov't testing on its own people without regard for their safety.
Do talk about your movie's approach
to horror for a bit!
As I mentioned, I am more about
atmosphere than that which most horror fans of today want -- over-the-top
blood, gore, and nudity, fast chopshop editing, shaky shots, and heavy
color grading. For capturing atmosphere (which I hope I do successfully),
I like to use slow dream-like shots, long pans/tilts, lots of b-roll, and
good sound design, but of course, the musical score is probably the most
critical part in capturing atmosphere. And with Phantoms
of the Fog, Luca
Coscarella certainly hit his mark! In terms of the actual story, I feel
the idea of the soldier being stuck in a trap while a zombie slowly
approaches makes for some good tension. He literally has to choose the way
he wants to die... but things may end up differently. And in the end, the
implied blood and gore requires the viewer's imagination. I believe the
mind should be stimulated and active, not stagnant by having everything
spelled out on-screen. The viewer should be involved with the story.
What can you tell us about Phantoms
of the Fog's zombie, how was it conceived, and to what extend were
you involved in the creation?
I usually do it all myself,
but I'm admittedly not too good with special effects. I made the zombie
mask myself and think it came out well, first sculpting it out of clay and
then simply making the latex mask. I've always been more a fan of those
terrible looking zombies, such as those in Burial
Ground, as opposed to
the "pristine-applied-makeup" style of zombies of today.
Clearly, Burial Ground
was a big inspiration. Interestingly and perhaps
grossly, the hair on the zombie is actually my own -- collected after many
weeks of brushing (I have long hair!) What's even more funny is that I
have blonde hair, so I spray painted the hair black! The clothing the
zombie wears is the typical VC black pajamas uniform -- actually purchased
straight from Vietnam where they still wear that style of garb even today.
of the Fog being mainly an outdoors-movie - where was it filmed, and what was it like shooting there?
While most of those 80s Vietnam War flicks were filmed in the Philippines, that was just a little
beyond my $0 budget! So, the short was actually filmed in the jungles of... my hometown here in the USA,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (with some b-roll shot in the jungles of... Palmyra, New
Jersey). I say jungles
in jest as this area is very densely populated. It's certainly not tropical, but the deciduous woods were
lush and green enough to do the trick. To be honest, shooting was actually quite difficult but you have to do
what you have to do. It was shot in the dead of summer, with temperatures being 90+ degrees Fahrenheit and very
humid. Complicating matters, when shooting outside, one is always at the mercy of the weather. No matter how much
you watch the weather forecast and plan ahead, it's never right... so twice, we got caught in the rain. All the
while, many mosquitos made a meal of us and I got bit up by chiggers... but that is the price to pay to get the
shots you need! I must really commend Karen, as I believe she had it worse, being trapped in a hot latex mask
(which had no eye holes, by the way, and very minimal breathing holes)!
A few words about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
I'm generally pleased with the film, but there are certainly things I wish could have done better. My biggest
complaint, as always, are the special effects, which are lacking. Also, in the end, some scenes came out dramatically
different than how I envisioned (due to difficulties of doing what I wanted to
do - the office scene for instance, I was
reduced to a tiny corner in an office and was unable to have much diversity in the
shots). I also think some clues in the
story will be missed by just about everyone. For instance... SPOILER: The zombie's hands are tied with a bootlace. The spike
goes through the soldier boot. In the end, we learn that solider killed himself by choking himself with his bootlace. So with
that said, you can understand why I put those things in there -- but in the film, it's not so clear. But then again, did the
soldier really choke himself or did the project director imagine it? That's another one of those things that I include to involve
can you tell us about your cast, and why exactly these people?
generally work with people that I already know or local aspiring actors --
such as film students. My films are very low budget, and as such, I can't
expect a seasoned or experienced actor to be too interested (especially
with the type of films I produce). I would rather help aspiring actors or
students so they can at least get some experience, no matter how small or
low budget, or at least some content for their demo reels. The lead, Ryan
Fargo, was a local aspiring actor who answered an ad for the part. Karen
Lynn is actually my wife who has been involved with a number of my shorts.
Terry Reilly has been involved with a number of them as well. As far as
the soundtrack goes, it was actually supposed to be done by someone else
but that fell through. At the last minute, I luckily found Luca
Coscarella's amazing Burial
Ground cover song on YouTube and contacted
him. He was interested and that's how he got involved! I am very happy
with the music he composed -- he did amazing work! As for the rest of the
crew -- it is all me and only me!
talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere!
Quite honestly, I don't have too much to say! If there is just one person in the scene,
it was probably only me and one actor on set shooting. If we were there for a while, we were
probably a little miserable thanks to the heat. All in all, it actually took a few days
to shoot the outdoor stuff simply because it was so hot and tiring. With that said, it was also a
blessing that most of it was shot outside because I didn't have to mess around with lighting, which
kept things simple. It's always difficult doing it all yourself -- looking into the camera, seeing
something that needs to be fixed, running around positioning lights and props, looking back into the
camera, unhappy with the alignment, moving the camera, moving the lights again, etc, etc, etc. It's tough
when all of that is you!
$64 Dollar question of course, where can your movie be seen?
of the Fog, along with most of my other short films, is available for free
online viewing on YouTube at: youtu.be/xZj8LsPwfTs
-- it will also
be a part of an upcoming Vestra Pictures /
Schlock Films anthology film Drive-In Grindhouse. An alternate edit will be part of a
Gorellectors Films DVD featuring a number of my short films.
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Phantoms
of the Fog?
The short has been well received by
fans of Italian horror and those who understand/appreciate what I'm doing.
While I've read no critical reviews, I imagine any fan of modern horror
might not dig it, but I'm okay with that. I understand what I'm doing is
for a select crowd! The best thing I've read so far was a review which
stated the film "could be described as a Lucio Fulci achievement
based on a script by Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso." This is the
ultimate compliment for me -- though I totally disagree, because nothing I
can do could even come close to those Italian icons!
Any future projects you'd like to
I'm currently working on a project called Garden
of Souls. It's about 90% finished but I'm being held hostage by a location at
the moment, so there's a delay that I'm not too happy about (which I
should be used to, because there are always delays and problems). This
film will be quite different from anything I've done before -- an
experiment really -- as it will be a silent horror film in the vein of Nosferatu,
Haxan, Faust, maybe some Intolerance thrown in. I
can't say it'll be as amazing or over-the-top as some of those titles due to
budgetary constraints and the fact it's not 1918 anymore, but I'm trying.
I'm trying to keep it as authentic as possible, which includes simplifying
the special effects and cinematography, reducing the quality, etc. Why a
silent film? Because they don't exist any more and I like them! Believe it
or not, I am a big Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith fan -- they were the
inspiration for this project.
What got you into filmmaking in the first place,
and did you receive any formal education on the subject?
I have no formal education or training in filmmaking. What got me into
it in the first place was my disgust for the current state (at the time, and now)
of film. I really try not to be too negative, but I dislike just about anything
post-1992 or so. Gone is the style of atmosphere, good cinematography, and imagination.
I'm big on camerawork, and today, it's just completely different than years ago.
One would think it would be enhanced by technology, but in my opinion, with the
progression of technology, good cinematography has been replaced with lackluster and
unimaginative jerky shots, with no thought about lighting, and that ends up being way
too color-graded in post. Of course there are some exceptions, but as a whole, that's
what we have! I certainly understand that times change, but no one seems to be trying
to capture the atmosphere of yesteryear, as much as everyone loves it, so I figured,
why not give it a try. Having given it a shot, I can say it's admittedly a lot harder
than I thought, especially with no budget, but I don't understand why films with a
budget still can't capture it! I can't say I'm totally successful with what I set out
to do, but at least I try!
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Phantoms
of the Fog?
Just about everything I've done is
inspired by Italian cinema and as such, I try to capture that essence (I'm
sounding like a broken record now). My first foray into all of this was a
short film, The Cold Eyes of Death, which was shot in 2013. To make it
special and more authentic, I contracted Italian composer Maestro Fabio
Frizzi for the score. Violets Bloom at an Empty Grave, my second short,
also had an original Frizzi score as well as minor participation from
Silvia Collatina (House
by the Cemetery) and Franco Garofalo (Hell
of the Living Dead and my favorite Bruno Mattei film, The True
Story of the Nun of Monza [Bruno Mattei
biography - click here]). Looking back now, I feel I totally
wasted their talents, because at the time, I had no idea what I was doing
and the films are admittedly quite terrible, haha... but they are what
they are! I should remake them in the future. After those came Help Me
Have No Human Ways (inspired by the Heaven's Gate cult), World of
Shadows (inspired by the last films of Guilio Questi -- that is portrayed and
filmed by the same person at the same time), Ghosts of Eden Hall (inspired
by some local Philadelphia history), and Welcome to the World Dear
(my least favorite film -- good idea, poor execution). I then directed a
few horror anthology film segments for Vestra Pictures
Architect / Trash Arts --
A Taste of Phobia, Poe IV: The Black Cat, and Philia. I think my
Poe IV segment, House of the Black Cat, is the piece
I'm most proud of out of everything I've done. To me, it totally captures
the essence and atmosphere of those Italian horror films I love. Of
course, it's not without its flaws, but as a whole I think it's my
favorite! I think that brings us to Phantoms
of the Fog (unless you want
to count a very short documentary I did called TMI2: The Entry about the
Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident. I had much planned for it,
but most of it fell through so it ended up being something much smaller).
How would you describe yourself as a
Perhaps a director that tries make the best out of what he has and
what he can do. Sometimes it's not easy, but I always say "I'll make it work!"
Filmmakers who inspire you?
course, many of the Italian staples like Fulci [Lucio
Fulci bio - click here], Mattei [Bruno
Mattei bio - click here], Martino, Lenzi [Umberto
Lenzi bio - click here], Bava [Mario
Bava bio - click here] etc. are all big influences, but I like to also mention some lesser
known directors like Angelo Pannaccio, Demofilo Fidani, and Mario
Imperoli. I also love Jess Franco and often state that my filmmaking
sloppiness is my Franco influence coming through! As of late and probably
the strangest, but Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith have been quite
inspiration and influence -- especially in terms of my new project Garden
of Souls. Now, having listed all of those names, I will say my biggest
influence without a doubt is Joe D'Amato [Joe
D'Amato bio - click here]! In my opinion, he is the world's
greatest director and cinematographer! From his horror films to cheesy
dramas, I love them all!
This is always the hardest question to
answer because I think it depends on my mood, but if I had to choose, I
think my all time favorite movie is Romolo Guerrieri's La Controfigura
(a.k.a. The Double). I love everything about that movie -- the locations,
cinematography, talent, and of course... the atmosphere. Some other
horror-esque favorites are Voices
from Beyond (yes, that is my favorite
Fulci film... with Door to Silence being next), Death
Smiled at Murder, Death
Laid an Egg, All
the Colours of the Dark, and A
Virgin Among the Living Dead. I also dig spaghetti westerns. I've seen hundreds, but
Death Played the Flute and Law of Violence are my favorites (the bottom of the
barrel lowest of the low budget). In terms of silent films, for those who
care, I'm not ashamed to admit my favorite is Maurice Tourneur's Poor
Little Rich Girl... but I love just about all of the Mary Pickford films.
Probably strange, considering how dramatically they contrast with horror!
I am big on the Biograph shorts, but D.W. Griffith's Intolerance is also a
masterpiece, very well worth mentioning! Once sound came in, during that
time period, my interest wanes.
... and of course, films you really
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Without singling out any one person or film -- I'd say about
98% of the movies out there are essentially garbage! They generally lack
atmosphere or anything else that sets them apart from everything else out
there. And thanks to technology, anyone can be a filmmaker (and that's the
group I probably fall into, haha, though I hope not). Like the music
world, it's just flooded with too many filmmakers and too much stuff. Of
course, anyone can do as they please, but you know what I mean. I don't
want to sound negative, but it really seems that's the current state of
things! That's not to say I don't appreciate the hard work and effort
someone may have put into their project -- strictly speaking about indie
filmmakers and not some big business big budget Hollywood productions.
Hollywood productions are just business and I don't care about them!
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
Anything else you're dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
The only thing I'd like to say is
many thanks to you for the interview and your interest in my work! It's
always a joy to know at least somehow out there understand and enjoys what
you're doing. I truly appreciate it!
Thanks for the interview!