Your new movie is called Midnight
Movie Madness. In a few words, what is it about?
It's a celebration of all the crazy horror and exploitation weirdness I grew
up with, boiled down into bite-sized chunks for the late night party crowd.
Very obviously, Midnight
Movie Madness was inspired by grindhouse/drive-in genre fare from
the 1970's and 80's. What can you tell us about your love for this kind of
For me, I love a movie because it is so good it's great or so bad it's
good. Anything that lands in-between is mediocre and quickly forgotten. A
lot of these old grindhouse flicks fall into one of these two
categories--either brilliant, powerful stuff like Keoma
or complete horseshit like The Pit.
Both films are unforgettable fun (for very different reasons) and both
have a place of honor in my collection.
Any other sources of inspiration?
The anthology horror comics of the 1950s-70s (Creepy,
Tales From The Crypt, Weird, etc.), 1930s pulp fiction magazines (Terror
Tales, Spicy Mystery Stories,
etc.) and of course, old time radio shows like
Suspense!, and The
Witch's Tale. Movie-wise, the biggest inspirations were, of course, Creepshow and Grindhouse.
being a loving hommage, Midnight
Movie Madness is also very tongue-in-cheek in approach. How would you describe
the humour of your movie, and how much of it was actually in the script,
how much was improvised on set?
A lot of the comedy was improvised; I like to stay flexible and
collaborate with my cast as closely as possible while we're "in the
moment." Having worked with many of them before, it was easy for
everyone to come together and really nail the kind of brain-damaged lunacy
I was going for.
The movie's website, and
when will it be coming out (tentatively)?
I would like to
see the film released sometime in 2011. We're currently seeking various
foreign and domestic licensing deals. In the meantime, you can watch the
trailer at the film's website, www.MidnightMovieMadness.net
Why did you
choose the anthology film format for Midnight
I have a lot of different
ideas and the anthology gives me the creative freedom to play around with
more of them than usual. I'm also a fan of the format; some of my favorite
films growing up were horror anthologies like Asylum
and Dr. Terror's House of Horrors.
Your favourite segments of
Movie Madness, and are there any you have grown to hate?
I like them all, they were a blast to make, but my favorites are Blood
Money, Death Moon and Meltdown.
They are the ones I'd most like to expand and remake as features, anyway.
I also love the faux-trailer we did for The
Sex Killer, which was my take on the slasher film, as well as a
send-up of just about every sleazy exploitation trailer ever made.
are several actors that appear time and again in the different segments of
Movie Madness, and I'd like you to say a few words about each of
Ada Mae Johnson aka Noname Jane [Ada
Mae Johnson interview - click here]?
wonderful to work with and we've become good friends. She is so sweet and
supportive, constantly surprising me with her raw enthusiasm and ideas. On
top of that, she is a huge horror fan and brought that love and
understanding of the genre into her performance. I couldn't have asked for
a better lead actress than Ada. I hope people see her in this and give her
more work in mainstream films.
Isaac and I were long-time collaborators going back to The
Necro Files, where he played the main zombie. He was instrumental
in helping me structure my first novel, Deathbreed,
and is a multi-talented actor/artist/editor. Having the right editor is
vital to a project; I don't think most people realize that an editor can
make or break a project in the cutting room. It's an "invisible"
art form; by that, I mean if you notice it, it's bad, but when you don't
notice it and become immersed in the "reality" of the film
because of it, then it's good. Editors are every bit as important as
directors and can make or break a picture. It's a shame they don't get
For Midnight Movie Madness,
Isaac not only had to edit the film, but he was in charge of creating all
the digital special effects and graphics. He put in a lot of research into
recreating the film grain and damage common to beat-up old grindhouse
prints, which was crucial to the look and feel of the film. I couldn't
have done this project without him; it's his success just as much as it is
Jace is a great guy and a very giving actor. He goes absolutely crazy
for horror and gore and jumped at the chance to throw himself into his
role, regardless of whether he was playing a vampire, zombie or cop. And
his sense of comic timing is spot-on. He had all of us cracking up during Revenge
of the Hand. That's the segment where he plays a horny retard
caught masturbating by his grandma so she chops off his hand... and, since
it is Midnight Movie Madness, the
severed hand naturally comes back to life and crawls around the house
strangling everyone! Jace just steals the show here; it's one of the
funniest things I've ever seen.
and I are old pals. He played the drug-addicted psycho cop, Detective
Manners, in The Necro Files. Not
to disappoint anyone, but Steve is nothing like the maniacs and mad
scientists I make him play in my films; he's a really nice, down-to-earth
guy and always willing to lend a hand. As an old school punk rock
musician, Steve embodies the punk aesthetic of "fuck art, let's
other castmembers or crewmembers who deserve special mention?
I really enjoyed working with Kordelia Devonshire, the snackbar
intermission go-go dancer. She did an absolutely fantastic job and was so
much fun to work with! I'd been dying to do a nudie-cutie 1960s-style loop
like that for years after watching retro-junk like Kiss
Me Quick! Kordelia captured that sexy '60s magic for me perfectly.
leave the present behind for now and move forward into your past: I've
read somewhere that before becoming involved with movies, you were
thinking about becoming a comicbook artist. Would you like to elaborate on
As I said, I grew up reading horror anthology comics like Creepy
and Eerie, and I wanted to
be the next great genre artist like my heroes, Berni Wrightson, Richard
Corben and Frank Frazetta. Unfortunately, the comic book market tanked
right around the time I was being considered for a job at Dark Horse
Comics and I made the fateful decision that pursuing a future in comic
book art was financially impractical. Instead, I re-focused my energies on
writing, marketing and filmmaking. Whatever I do, I have to stay creative
and keep challenging myself.
How did you get into filmmaking in the first
A guy contacted me about a horror film he had shot but needed finishing
funds for. I took a look at the work print and decided it would be a good
investment. The director's name was Matt Jaissle [Matt
Jaissle interview - click here] and the film was Back
From Hell (1993). It was a terrible picture about satanic ninjas
stalking a Hollywood actor during the apocalypse, but I doubled my money
on it and got my foot in the door.
You started producing horror movies in the early
1990's, right? A few words about your early movies?
after the modest success of Back From
Hell, Matt and I teamed up for the sci-fi actioner Legion
of the Night (1995, aka Dead City,
which is the 1998 director's cut). This one is about bionic zombie ninjas
vs. the mafia. It starred Bill Hinzman (the famous "They're coming to
get you, Barbara!" graveyard zombie from the original Night
of the Living Dead) and the late Ron Asheton (punk rock guitarist
of Iggy and The Stooges fame). They play the mad scientist and Igor who
create the army of undead cyborg assassins. Made for around $50k, the film
went on to gross over half a million dollars worldwide. The distributor
advertised it as "Quentin Tarantino meets Mighty Morphin' Power
Rangers" if you can believe that!
I think your career as a producer first eclipsed with Matt Jaissle's The
Necro Files in 1997. What can you tell us about that one, and how does
it relate to Midnight
Movie Madness' Dong of the Dead?
I rehired Matt to collaborate with me on The
Necro Files about two years after
Legion of the Night wrapped. I'd decided this new picture would
take a darker, less commercial tone. I wanted to make a film so bizarre
and crazy it would become an underground cult classic... I didn't care
about the money; this time it was just for fun. Unfortunately, the film
was confused as to what it wanted to be: Comedy, horror, exploitation, or
what? Still, it made a modest profit and went on to attain some kind of
international cult status but I was never really satisfied with it. That's
why, when the opportunity to re-cut the picture for Midnight
came up, I jumped at the chance.
Retitled Dong of the Dead, this
lean, mean, 17-minute new version of The
Necro Files includes never-before-seen footage as well as new
digital effects, more gore, all-new music and many new sound effects. The
editing is much tighter; in fact, it's been completely recut from the
source material. In short, it plays up the twisted comedy strengths of the
original and makes it more chick-friendly, which was one of the major
complaints leveled against the original film. Guys got in all kinds of
trouble if they showed it to their girlfriends, or if they got caught
watching it by them. (laughs) So Dong
of the Dead is a vast improvement over the original, at least in
that sense. Compare them and see for yourself.
words about Matt Jaissle [Matt
Jaissle interview - click here], a man you have collaborated with time and again
over the years?
Ah, Matt... Let's just say we have creative
differences. We went our separate ways over a decade ago after The
Necro Files. My last involvement with him was when I played a mafia
hit man opposite Steve Sheppard in the superhero film, Anti-Hero
(1999). Matt's still around, though. After taking a decade off,
he's got a new action/suspense film out called 300
Killers (2009, aka Drug Cult).
It continues his curious fascination with drugs, ninjas and the breakdown
of modern society.
What can you tell us about Necro
Files 2 from 2003?
The less said about that sequel
the better! But since you asked... A late night British TV show, Sin
Cities, had contacted me for an interview. No problem, except they
would only agree to do it if I was filming a sexy horror movie whose set
they could visit. So I quickly lied and said that yes, of course I was
filming a sequel to The
and they should come right on over and make me famous. (laughs)
I threw together a crazy scene for them, casting the show's host, Ashley
Hames, in the lead. The Sin Cities
segment turned out great and was one of the highlights of their third
season, so much so that they came back to shoot me again for the final
episode of the fourth and final season.
After the TV show crew had left, I figured since we'd already shot one
scene, we might as well do the whole damn movie. And so we did. It was a
disaster--not that it doesn't have its moments. The cops investigating the
murders were certainly funnier in the sequel so that's something, at
If my information is correct, Misled
from 1999 is your debut feature as a director. A few words about that one,
and what made you go into directing?
I've always wanted to
direct; that's where all the glory is unless you're an actor, and I like
having that level of control, to be the master storyteller. It was always
in the back of my mind to make the transition when I was writing and
responsible for the notorious Faces of Gore-series. A few words
about the series and the philosophy behind it?
I don't even
like to talk about this series anymore. Faces
of Gore was an attempt to create a parody of the shockumentary
genre, which was the only new thing I could think of to inject some
originality into so disturbing and tired a subject. Unfortunately, the
parody and black comedy elements were lost on most viewers and the films
were taken to be dead serious! This was not my intention going into
production. I ended up taking a lot of heat from it. The series was banned
in the crucial German direct-to-video market before Faces
of Gore 3 and Best of Faces of
Gore (which included 30 minutes of new footage)
could be released, which killed the franchise. These latter sequels
did receive a limited USA release on VHS. Unfortunately, I probably get
more emails from die-hard fans of this series than for the films I'd
rather be known for. I don't know what to tell these Faces
of Gore fans anymore than I know what to say to the people who were
pissed-off by it. (laughs) Suffice
it to say that the series was an ill-conceived experiment I deeply regret.
It is not representative of myself, my views, nor my artistic vision.
Anyway, it's a closed chapter of my life and one I prefer to move on from.
making movies, you have also released a book in 2007, Deathbreed: A
Zombie Novel. A few words about that one, and what made you go into
Writing Deathbreed saved my
life. I was in a very dark place at the time, lost in-between projects,
and needed to exorcise some personal demons... Writing a novel gave me the
luxury of not having to deal with a bunch of different egos and
personalities on set. I didn't have to panic over "how am I going to
pull this off on my budget?" or answer to anyone but my muse.
Finally, I could just relax and do whatever I wanted; there was no need to
rush it. It was a very liberating experience and one I am keen to repeat
in the future.
Deathbreed draws heavily on my
trademark twisted sense of humor and love of noir. It was influenced by
the bleak, bitter writing of Jim Thompson (The
Killer Inside Me), David Goodis (Shoot
The Piano Player) and Charles Bukowski (Ham
On Rye). If you like any of those authors, and love zombies, then
you'll dig Deathbreed. Basically,
it's character-driven, pitch-black neo-noir survival horror on steroids.
Besides offering up a logical mix of fast and slow zombies, what makes it
so unique is that you get to spend some time with the characters in their
miserable, daily lives before the zombies appear. The characters are
essentially the walking dead, only coming to life when the
zombie apocalypse shatters their meaningless existence and forces them out
of their complacency.
Then the question becomes do you want to be the hero or the villain?
What does survival mean and what will you sacrifice in order to achieve
it? There are all these powerful themes and social commentary working
under the surface but, of course, I make sure and deliver on the brutal
zombie gore, sleaze and twisted comedy to keep things moving along. So you
can enjoy the book on whichever level you choose.
films you'd like to talk about, any future projects?
I'm glad you asked! Right now, I'm developing a screenplay adaptation of Deathbreed,
trying to retain the raw edginess of my novel while removing some of the
darker elements to give it more mainstream appeal. This means playing up
the comedy angle a bit more, adding, altering or removing a few of the
nastier Charles Bukowski type scenes that would detract from the picture's
popcorn appeal. It's basically Clerks meets Shaun of the Dead, anyway, so it's
an easy transition to make.
Your films and book are all firmly rooted
in the horror genre. Why is that, and is horror a genre especially dear to
I've always loved horror because I enjoy the catharsis
of being scared in a safe and secure way, and I also like to see how
different people react in crisis situations... no matter how improbable
(like being chased by Killer Klowns From
Outer Space). Horror is also an easy genre to break into and the
fans are best; they are the most accepting and forgiving fans out there!
Their expectations are never sky-high and that gives me and others who
work in the genre the freedom to be able to play around with new ideas.
Writers and directors who inspire you?
George Romero, of course, but I think the directors who inspire me the
most are the Italians: Sergio Leone, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci [Lucio
Fulci bio - click here], Enzo G. Castellari [Enzo
G.Castellari bio - click here], Antonio Margheriti [Antonio
Margheriti bio - click here]... Hell, even guys like Joe
D'Amato [Joe D'Amato bio -
click here], Jess
Franco, Amando De Ossorio, and Bruno Mattei [Bruno
Mattei bio - click here], to a lesser extent. The
Spanish and Italians are masters at creating mood, no matter how
nonsensical the scripts. I love how they fill up the screen with faces in
close-up and really wring maximum emotion from every scene. I just wish
more of their films had a better balance of style AND
substance. It's rarely enough to paint a pretty picture if you can't tell
a decent story to go with it.
As for writers, my early influences were mostly what you'd expect,
Stephen King, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, but I also
really loved the early work of James Herbert (The
Fog) and Shaun Hutson (Slugs)
as well as William W. Johnstone's trashy Devil's
Kiss trilogy. Beyond horror, though, my other great loves are
fantasy, historical fiction and hardboiled/noir, as exemplified by Joe
Abercrombie (The Blade Itself),
Bernard Cornwell (The Archer's Tale),
James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential)
and Mickey Spillane (I, The Jury).
My favorite novel, however, is Ask the
Dust by Joe Fante (just don't watch the horrible movie version).
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
It's a real mix of mainstream and oddball stuff spread across many
different genres, with the original Star
Wars trilogy and Romero's original Dead
trilogy at the top of the list, but I'll just stick to the more obscure
cult classics that the people visiting your website will probably be the
most interested in:
Freaks, Burial Ground,
Cannibal Apocalypse, Captain Kronos: Vampire
Hunter, Class of
Creeping Flesh, Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals (aka
Trap Them And Kill
Them), End of the Line, Faster, Pussycat! Kill!
Kill!, Fight For Your Life!, Four of the
Express, Infra-Man, Keoma,
Kiss Me Deadly, Lady In A Cage, Lady of
Burlesque, Mannaja: A Man Called Blade,
The Night Stalker, The Night
Strangler, The Night Walker, Pieces, The Pit,
Psychomania, Rabid Dogs, Savage Streets, See No Evil (aka
Sleepaway Camp, Slugs, Street Law, Star
Crash, Strip Nude For Your
Troll 2, and Werewolf In
A Girl's Dormitory.
... and of course, movies you really
I deplore anything that seems more motivated by
money than art; you know, the kind of soulless, paint-by-numbers hack-jobs
that pad out theater screens and video store shelves regardless of how
high or low the budget. And they keep pumping out this brain-dead garbage
simply because some company needs more product to sell, not because they
have new stories to tell. I understand the need for crap filler product, but that doesn't make me like it any better.
Your website, Facebook, blogspot, whatever
You can find my blog and links to my other sites at www.toddtjersland.com
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
This is an exciting time for new
filmmakers. The technology has gotten so cheap and so prevalent, and new
avenues of distribution are opening up all the time. So if you've got a
dream and a cool story to tell, there's very little to stop you from
getting your film made. Go for it. Believe in yourself and your vision and
who knows? Maybe you'll make the next cult classic!
Thanks for the interview!