From the Vault: Mark Pavia on His Stephen King Anthology Film

This is the second in a series where I try to do something constructive with the pages and pages of interview material that doesn’t make it into the book or magazine for which it was conducted.

This time out, it’s the complete correspondence I had with filmmaker Mark Pavia, who brought Stephen King’s weird vampire tale The Night Flier to the big screen back in 1997. Now he’s hard at work creating a film first: a Stephen King anthology film wherein one story will act as the wraparound for the entire anthology. [Check out the article in Rue Morgue #120, on newsstands now.]

Where are you in the process of creating your Stephen King anthology film?

I just started writing the script, actually, and am having an amazing time with it so far. It is incredibly creepy and atmospheric and FUN!  I have to say, writing a Stephen King movie again really does feel like coming home for me. As a lot of your readers probably know, Steve discovered me right out of film school. He saw my 16mm zombie short DRAG, then offered me the job of writing and directing THE NIGHT FLIER for him and producer Richard Rubinstein. So, I couldn’t be happier. Not only is he a great writer, but he’s also a great supporter and friend as well…

What horror anthology – either film or television series – would you say comes closest to what you would like to accomplish with your project?

Well, it’s funny, because even though I am writing a horror anthology, I’m not basing it — in feeling or structure — on one I have seen in the past.  And I have watched and loved many, just like everyone else!  To me, this is a Stephen King movie first and foremost, and the most important thing, I feel, is to capture the feeling, the atmosphere, the EMOTION, you get when you are totally immersed in one of his tales. This film, hopefully, will be the visual equivalent to Stephen King’s written word. At least that’s what I’m aiming for…

Considering that you cut your teeth on adapting Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter, I wonder what you think of Dahl’s ‘80s anthology Tales of the Unexpected.

Wow, I haven’t thought about that show in a long time! It was a lot of fun, of course, creepy and inventive — and having Roald Dahl introduce the stories each week, at least early on, was especially cool.  But I have to say, my take on LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER (a Super 8 short I made in high-school which ended up getting me a scholarship to study film at Columbia College, Chicago) was influenced more by Alfred Hitchcock’s version, which he directed for his TV show ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. 

Do you already have distribution lined up?

No, there is no distribution lined up right now for the anthology, but since news of the project broke at the beginning of the the year, many people have reached out to me wanting to get involved.  There should be news on this very soon, so stay tuned.  Same Bat time, same Bat channel…

Who else are you working with on this project?

From the start, Steve and I chose the individual stories together, and now I am currently writing the screenplay alone.  Artistically, at this point, there is no one else involved.  But as I mentioned, a producer should be announced soon.  I am being very selective in who I talk to about it.  They have to “get it,” what I am trying to accomplish with the film.

Are you able to name any of the stories you’re considering for the movie yet?

You know, I thought long and hard about this, but because I love Rue Morgue so much, I’m going to give it up for you guys!  So, here for the first time are the titles of the stories included in my new Stephen King horror anthology. They are: THE REAPER’S IMAGE,  MILE 81,  N., and THE MONKEY.  It’s going to be one hell of of a scary show, and I am beyond excited about it!

Do you think there’s a chance that at least one of the stories will be an unpublished one?

No, as just mentioned, all of the stories included are all very well known — a perfect mixture of classic and modern King.  There’s something for everyone, old and new fans alike…

What do you think is the key to making a good horror anthology film for today?

To me, it’s all about making a good FILM in general, be it an anthology or a normal, linear narrative.  So, with that in mind, it then all comes down to the stories and the way that they are brought to the screen.  The visuals, as well as the acting, have to be handled in such a way that the unbelievable is made believable, absolutely plausible.  You can never be pulled out of the film as it begins to unspool its bizarre reality.  You have to accept it as fact — that this insanity is happening to real people, folks just like us — no matter how incredible.  That is what creates the horror. That is what makes it real and relatable. Rest assured, this is a serious horror film, and it will be handled as such.  Not that it won’t be “fun,” because it will be, but this film will never make fun of itself or the genre. I love and respect horror films far too much for any of that nonsense…

Do you remember the first King book you read and how old you were?

I do, actually!  It was the paperback of NIGHT SHIFT and I was 14 years old.  I was sleeping over at a friend’s house and he so happened to have it lying around.  It was that cover with the hand and the multiple eyes, you know.  I was like — what is THIS?!  I grabbed it before going to sleep, opened it, and read the introduction by John MacDonald, then read the foreword by Stephen King.  And I felt as if he was talking directly to ME, about my innermost fears and love for all things that go bump in the night. I then flipped through the pages, found THE BOOGEYMAN and read it, and it scared the living shit out of me!  From that moment on, I was absolutely hooked, a huge Stephen King fan.  And I still am to this day.  See, that’s what makes this so incredible — the fact that I get to work on something that I truly love, created by an artist that has so influenced my art and my life. And the fact that he has since become a friend, well… that’s just icing on this devil’s food cake.  You know how you always hear those awful stories about how people meet their heroes and then they turn out to be complete assholes, destroying everything they believed in and hoped for from their childhood?  Well, that is NOT the case with Steve.  He is an amazingly kind and generous man, everything you thought and hoped he would be…

Any idea what the budget is going to be?

No, but after the script is finished and a producer is brought on, a budget will be prepared from the finished manuscript.  That’s the way it is usually done.

Is there any King short story that is tops on your list to develop if given a choice?

Ever since I read THE MONKEY back in 1985, I said to anyone that would listen, that THAT was the one Stephen King story I had to make in my lifetime.  And this was way before I met Steve and was hired for THE NIGHT FLIER.  So now to have the opportunity to finally bring it to the screen is a dream come true.  Without a doubt, I am honored to be bringing this and the rest of these classic stories to the screen for the first time for the millions of Stephen King fans around the world.  And I am more than ready for the task.  This film is for them…

Rue Morgue 110: Reviews of ‘TekeTeke’ and More

The April (#110) issue of Rue Morgue was a bit of a treat for me, as it’s the first time I’ve been given a movie to review, and a game, too, for that matter.

First up, a review of an odd little Japanese horror flick called Teketeke, which is distributed exclusively in the North America by JapanFlix.com.

“Poor Koji Shiraishi. ln 2009, the Japanese director released two flicks on opposite ends of the horror spectrum. While the Guinea Pig like Grotesque (RM#96) promptly got itself banned in the UK, his more traditional J-horror, Teketeke, languished in obscurity until it was recently picked up for digital distribution through JapanFlix.com. What hamstrings both movies, though, is a stunning lack of originality…”

Pick up Rue Morgue 110 for the complete review, a cover story on the beautifully named Hobo with a Shotgun, and a sumptuous look at Clive Barker’s new Hellraiser comic.

(Oh yeah, and my short review of Zombie Alley for the iPhone.)

From the Vault 1: ‘LA Zombie’ Interviews

Welcome to a little experiment I’m calling “From the Vault.” For years it’s kind of gnawed at the back of my mind that I spend a fair amount of time typing up interview transcripts for the books and magazine articles I write, and only a few bits and pieces ever end up seeing the light of day. Therefore, I thought I’d post some of these transcripts and see if anybody thought it worthwhile.

Here then, are the two interviews I did for the piece about the Australian crackdown on Bruce LaBruce’s LA Zombie for Rue Morgue issue 108.

Update: MUFF director Wolstencroft was ordered by the court to $750 to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital in February, which suggests, purposefully or otherwise, a line of reasoning that turns the stomach.

Bruce LaBruce, director, LA Zombie

When and how did you discover that Australia’s classification board had banned LA Zombie from playing at MIFF?
I found out from Google Alerts. I was forwarded an article that was printed in the Sydney Morning Herald about the decision of the Australian Film Classification Board to refuse to extend an exemption to L.A. Zombie for a  screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Have you spoken with the MIFF director since the news? If so, what did he tell you?
I was informed by MIFF by email that the festival regretted the decision of the Classification Board, and their press release indicated that they were disappointed by the decision. They also told me that it would cost them ten thousand Australian dollars to appeal the decision and that they couldn’t afford to do so.

Has the movie met with any backlash elsewhere?
Not yet, but we live in hope.

LA Zombie’s been promoted as a sequel to Otto, or Up with Dead People, but is it more of a thematic sequel? Do any of the characters actually carry over to the new movie?
L.A. Zombie isn’t so much a sequel to Otto as a companion piece or bookend. Like Otto, it can be interpreted as being a movie about a homeless schizophrenic who has the delusion that he’s a member of the undead, but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends. L.A. Zombie is much more pornographic in tone, and it’s also more about Los Angeles and the situation of increasing homelessness. there. Actually it has much more in common with my movie Hustler White, which I also shot in L.A. in the mid nineties. Both films deal with street people in L.A., and I also worked with some of the same crew and shot in some of the same locations.

Why did you choose to set it in LA? Are you currently based there or did the location simply serve the story well?
L.A. is my spiritual homeland. I was always enamored with the city from its representation in Hollywood movies, and when I first visited it in the early nineties I immediately fell in love with it. I particularly like its seedy underbelly, and the idea that a lot of people go there to seek fame and fortune and end up having to deal with the harsh reality of this huge, almost apocalyptic metropolis. Many people with huge aspirations end up living on the street or being ground up in the meat grinder of the entertainment industry. Just look at poor Lana Clarkson, the B-movie actress who was murdered by Phil Spector. It can be a very dark place, but it’s also very beautiful somehow in its corruption. L.A. Zombie is about an alien zombie who finds dead people in the city and fucks them back to life. I thought it was the perfect allegory for the Hollywood experience.

Any word on a release date for the softcore version of the film?
It was the softcore version that got banned in Australia, so it’s unlikely that the movie will be widely released. The movie has no dialogue and little plot, so it’s not going to be released in your local multi-plex. I’m really into making movies that are obscure and unmarketable. However, it’s already been programmed at a number of international film festivals, including Locarno, where it’s in competition. Not bad for a hardcore gay zombie gore porn movie!

Do you think there is more value in the publicity generated by the ban than there is if it had simply screened at MIFF?
No doubt. The news of the banning of the film was featured on mainstream websites such as Reuters, the Drudge Report, and the Huffington Post. You can’t buy publicity like that. Censorship always brings much more attention to a movie than it would have normally received on its own. I can only extend my heartfelt thanks.

What was Francois Sagat’s reaction to news of the ban?
Francois is very media savvy, so he realized immediately the benefits of the ban. He’s also in the new movie by French director Christophe Honore, co-starring with Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve, which is also in competition at Locarno, so it’s really a big moment for him as an actor. He’s currently featured on the cover of Les Incorruptibles, the famous intellectual French rock’n’roll magazine, so it’s really a coup for him.

Is LA Zombie still set to premiere Aug. 5 at Locarno and to screen later at the Toronto festival?
Yes, L.A. Zombie has its official premier at the Locarno International Film Festival August 5th, followed by the premier in France a the L’Etrange Film Festival. I can’t officially comment on its premier at TIFF and the Vancouver International Film Festival, but let’s just say there’s a strong probability.

Do you think that LA Zombie is the most extreme work you’ve done to date, or is it more likely that the “zombie” name has brought the movie to the attention of more mainstream audiences who are not used to the gay porn elements it uses to tell its story?
I think the thing that freaked out the Australian censors was a combination of the gay porn and necrophiliacal aspects of the movie. Even though the alien zombie in the movie fucks dead bodies back to life – not as zombies, but as a true resurrection – he is still initially fucking the dead. This is a major taboo in most cultures, and one that is specifically cited as being illegal, particularly when it is represented in a porn context. I have a writer friend, Glenn Belverio, who drew the attention of the controversy to Camille Paglia, and she advised me that necrophilia has been dealt with in romantic and sexual terms in a literary tradition extending back to the late 18th Century with writers such as Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe. It’s not a new taboo, and it’s been addressed in art and literary contexts for a long time, but it never seems to lose its transgressive power.

Will LA Zombie Hardcore premiere theatrically, or be a DVD only release? Is that still set for Halloween?
The hardcore version will be premiered in San Francisco on September 24th during the Folsom Street Fair and then at Halloween in New York. That will be the launch of the hardcore version.

Does the movie actually answer the question of whether the main character is truly an alien or a delusional homeless man?
No, not at all. I’ve deliberately left it open to interpretation. In fact, some people have interpreted it in another way: that the alien zombie has disguised himself as a homeless person in order to fit into human society. There’s lots of room for interpretation.

Can you explain what events inspired the idea of the story of LA Zombie, and when you began writing it?
I had been looking for an excuse to work with Francois Sagat, and I’d been inspired by his YouTube videos, which he made himself and which were very personal and transgressive. He made one, for example, in which he showed himself shooting up steroids, which was subsequently removed by YouTube. He also had a Halloween video in which he made himself up as a vampire, and that gave me the idea to make him into some monstrous creature with fangs. When we started shooting in L.A., I was struck by how many more homeless people there were than I’d ever seen before, so I incorporated more of that theme into the movie. It really ended up being a kind of modern document of Los Angeles.

Richard Wolstencroft,
director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival

What agency visited you at your home, and what day was that? Did they tell you specifically that they were looking for a copy of LA Zombie?
Victorian (State) Police arrived at my house at around 8.30am on Thursday 11th of November to search for a copy of LA Zombie. As I had committed a free speech action at The 11th Melbourne Underground Film Festival a few months before I made sure I did not have a copy of said film. Our copy had been destroyed. The fact that a festival director has to take these precautions in a free and democratic country like Australia is sad and absurd.

Can you give me a brief sense of how events of that day transpired? Did this visit come completely unexpectedly, or did you suspect that something like this might happen? And just to be clear, you got rid of the copy of the movie you had, correct?
MUFF and myself have a long history of fighting for Free Speech in Australia. We have supported unpopular speech like that of David Irving (attempting to play a controversial speech of his “The Search for Truth In History”) at MUFF 4 in 2003 and playing Pasolini’s Salo when it was banned in 2001 at MUFF 2. We have screened banned films at MUFF before and always gotten away with it. Except one time the Police turned up to a screening of a film by a New York filmmaker Tony Comstock. When the Police arrived we decided after discussions with them not to screen the film. I respect the Police, they did not want to be there and you could tell that. We thought if LA Zombie were such a problem they would have been at the screening to stop it. Or at least called or emailed me to warn us or share their concerns, etc. We heard on the grape vine that LA Zombie was being reconsidered to get an R Rating for a video release in Australia and we thought the screening would be fine because of this. I did not expect to have my House raided two months after the event.

In your experience running the festival, is this the first time a movie has inspired this kind of attention from law enforcement?
Yes, to be perfectly honest. It is a surprise and the outrage from the arts, culture and cinema circles both here and overseas has been most universal and vocal. We have received letters of support from the Toronto International Film Festival who played the film recently, Jack Sargeant created a petition signed by many that is on my blog and Bruce LaBruce himself chimed in, in consultation with Camille Paglia no less, and many others continue to write. The New York Times covered it. The story went global.

You’ve suggested that there are some political overtones to this event, coming as it did on the eve of Australian elections. Has the subject of controversial literature or film come up during political campaigning this year?
No. But, I wonder why two weeks before a State election this happened? I hear on the grape vine that the Head Censor Donald McDonald is behind it. He was an appointment by former Prime Minister John Howard. McDonald is a colorful figure to say the least who used to run the ABC and built a bunker (!) for the ABC heads of staff when the Y2K bug threatened to hit. That’s a bit of a laugh really. Where do these public servants come from?! I am also a fairly controversial filmmaker, provocateur and writer in Australia. I wonder if some of the animus comes from this, also?

Did Pearls Before Swine or your other movies ever inspire such interest from law enforcement circles?
Jon Hewitt and my own first feature Bloodlust was “Banned In Queensland”. Queensland had or still has their own censorship office. That was a badge of honour for us. Jon and myself have always been (or wanted to be!) Australia’s answer to Tarantino and Rodriguez. We have both made many genre pics and championed a return to Ozploitaion filmmaking in Australia since Bloodlust in 1991. I have had no trouble with any of my other films , so far! My film Pearls Before Swine with Boyd Rice, though, was rejected from MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival) due to its violent and political content and that is how MUFF began. I have made some underground S&M spanking films in the 90’s during my time running the Hellfire Club here. I have only released these in the US and UK as S&M material is considered Violent Erotica here and is refused classification. So, yes, I suppose some of my work is banned here! This is another absurdity. In Australia all porn is technically illegal for sale except in Canberra, where perversely all the politicians can buy it! Our censorship laws date back to the Edwardian era and the1950’s. It’s a terrible situation in need of a major overhaul. There is even talk from our supposedly Leftist government of introducing a universal net filter ala China and North Korea. This is, again, deeply shocking if it comes about.

When you have an entire festival geared toward showing truly challenging films, an outsider would expect that MUFF would attract a certain level of scrutiny from the Powers That Be. Yet when it comes to getting that “knock at the door,” do you welcome it for bringing publicity to works you’re trying to promote, and to the festival itself, or is it truly not worth it?
“Freedom is a double edge sword” Jack Parsons the Crowley following occultist and Rocket Scientist once famously said. I agree with that. I welcome the debate, publicity and discussion of the issue. I hope it will lead to change in Australia’s absurd censorship laws. But, I do not welcome the possibility of a charge. The fact a film festival director should be harassed in this way in a Western nation does Australia’s reputation and our local film culture no favors.

Do you have any sense of what happens now? Do you believe this is all over?
No Idea. I am waiting to be charged. As it may alter my ability to travel to the US I am concerned about it. It is a depressing thing to think about. But, if charged I will fight it and attempt to raise public attention and awareness on the serious and repressive issue of censorship in my country.

Have you heard from Bruce at all about this event?
Bruce has sent a letter of support and emailed me privately assuring me I have his full solidarity. Bruce is an authentic and stand up guy. We hung out, got drunk, had dinner, etc., while he was a guest at MUFF a few years back. He is a person who stands by his comrades and his convictions, as am I.

Rue Morgue: ‘Pin’ Remake in the Works

The March (#109) issue of Rue Morgue magazine includes my story about the forthcoming remake of the creepy ’80s  horror classic Pin (which you can actually catch on Netflix’s Watch Instantly service).

“While many view the movie remake as an idea lifted from the Devil’s own cookbook, some see remakes as an opportunity to rescue deserving films from cult movie exile. Consider director Sandor Stern, who’s taking a second swat at the pinata with a forthcoming remake of his own 1988 film Pin (aka Pin: A Plastic Nightmare), a creepy Canadian masterpiece that was driven into cinematic obscurity by the failing fortunes of its distributor…”

Pick up this issue of Rue Morgue for a candid interview with Stern and Jack Reher, the screenwriter for the Pin remake.

The New, New Horror: ‘Winter’s Bone’

I promised myself that I wouldn’t neglect this blog after The New Horror Handbook came out, and then I promptly did just that. While I’ve had one book come out since then, and have been working on another, that’s still no excuse. In my defense, I have to say that there hasn’t been all that much going on in the world of horror.

Yet, that’s not entirely true. A couple of days ago I finally saw Winter’s Bone, and realized that there are indeed some interesting things going on in the world of horror; you simply have to know where to look.

To be fair, none of the marketing or published reviews of this independent film would ever lead you to believe that it is full-throttle horror flick. The setup: a teenage girl in the Ozarks must locate her bail-jumping father before the law takes the family homestead, sounds like the plot of a 1950s western. However, what we get is the spiritual successor to movies like The Hills Have Eyes and Wolf Creek.

The reason so much of horror is so disposable is that we’re constantly served a legion of poorly-developed, unsympathetic characters that are dispatched employing a formula so overused as to render the whole exercise meaningless. Even movies like Frozen that seek to mix up that formula a little promptly disappear from memory immediately after watching them.

In Winter’s Bone, we’re presented with sympathetic characters plunged into a horrific mystery that actually feels threatening because, unlike the Saws and slashers of this world, we don’t know the rules ahead of time. And there are images in that movie that will stay with you for days.

Though the movie won’t do anything to rehabilitate the mountain-people stereotype any time soon, it also withholds judgment on these people, too, which is a remarkable achievement considering the horrors chronicled here. With its rich cinematography (shot on a RED camera, no less, though you’d never know it), it simultaneously shows you a world you might not have seen before, and explains why the events to follow were as inevitable as they are horrific.

And yes, Winter’s Bone meets all of the criteria laid out in The New Horror Handbook: aesthetic appeal, an underlying message, and hidden depths.

If you’ve been itching to see something new in horror, you owe it to yourself to check out this movie. If nothing else, you’ll never look at nighttime rowing the same way again.

Emily Hagins Film to Premiere at SXSW!

In 2008, then-16-year-old director Emily Hagins volunteered her time at that year’s South by Southwest to earn a badge to check out the prestigious film and media festival. This year, Hagins will attend as the director of My Sucky Teen Romance, which will have its premiere at that festival.

In a sense, this is the moment she’s been working toward since she first started shooting her first feature, Pathogen, at 11. Congratulations, Emily. You’ve earned this moment with years of hard work. I dare say some of us may end up volunteering at this year’s SXSW just to get in to see your premiere.

An in-depth book on fright cinema of the last 15 years.