One of the most hotly anticipated films showing at this year’s London Fright Fest is Smash Cut. When a B-movie film director feels his films are lacking realism, he finds that the only way to make a convincing horror movie is to add real blood and flesh to his features. Things soon spiral out of control as he turns to murder and mutilation to find the props that he needs.
This Black comedy has already received rave reviews, so our man zombie 2 went to interview the star of the film, David Hess and Director Lee Demarbre.
You’re both in London for the premiere of Smash Cut at the Frightfest this weekend. Is this an important screening for you?
Lee Demarbre – This is the first English language screening. It played in Montreal once. This is the UK premiere and the first time we’ve ever shown it to people who speak English.
Lee you have described Smash Cut as your dream project. What does that mean exactly and how did the movie come into being?
LD – On two levels it is. You know first of all I’ve been making feature films since 2001, actually I started making my first feature in 1999 it just took 2 years to complete, and Smash Cut’s my fifth feature but it was something I’d been cooking up for a long time with writer Ian Driscoll.
When I first met Ian it was through watching the movies of Herschell Gordon Lewis. When I was very young I discovered Herschell and fell in love with his movies but I felt I was the only one.
I had a closeted love of Herschell’s movie’s but Ian and a few others that I met who worked on the movie we embraced each other because we all loved Herschell and we would have Herschell parties.
Did you dress up as his characters?
LD – No, no we didn’t go that far, we just loved putting on movies like the Wizard of Gore, the Gore Gore Girls, laughing our guts out and really enjoyed the gore effects and how intense and over the top they where.
When we started making movies and we watched them together we realised that Herschell was creeping into our films. I always felt I wanted to make a tribute to Herschell, a love letter to Herschell so my idea early on in probably 1999 was to do something like a remake of Colour Me Blood Red.
For me the only thing missing from Colour Me Blood Red was the police procedural so we needed to mix that in as that’s what I love about Blood Feast and the Gore Gore Girls. All these elements from all his movies started creeping in so it wasn’t a remake of Colour Me Blood Red anymore it was sort of something from everything. It’s a sort of homage to his whole pantheon. The idea we got it made was a dream because it was something we where thinking about for a long time, the fact that it got made was a dream. But then it was the people I ended up working with on the movie in front of the camera that when I woke up was the second dream because I never imagined ever having the budget to make it I thought I was going to make it on my own for about 50 thousand dollars but then I met producer Rob Menzies and he got a budget together.
And David how did you get involved in the project?
– I got a call from my agent, they had already made some kind of package deal with distribution which is the way it’s done these days. They called me and they said would you like to do this film because it’s terrible. (Laughter from all in the room) I said have you read it and he said ‘yeah we’ve read it and its so terrible we think you should do it. (More laughter) I said fine let me read it and it was one of the first drafts and I read it and fell in love with it right away I just loved the role, who could not love the role.
Did you have a lot of freedom in shaping the character of Able Whitman?
DH – Lee and I and Ian we went over it almost line for line because both Lee and Ian wanted to give me my reign so they wanted to formulate where we where going with it, where the ark was… I hate to use that fucking word I wish I had a better word than ark.
LD – Ark’s pretty good probably.
DH – In any case we pretty much knew what we where gonna do and then we scrapped the whole thing and winged it from there. Right from the get go it was always a very positive, upbeat project.
From the gag reel in the credits it looked like the twenty-day shoot was a lot of fun. What was the experience like for both of you?
LD – I’d say the most stressful time was when David took the day out to play tennis and twisted his knee. It was a really fun time, when we weren’t filming we where drinking.
DH – Essentially what we did was we partied for four weeks. You would have had to have partied because when you saw the sets and the locations I mean we where really cramped, people got hurt, they didn’t complain, one woman broke her arm I think?
I saw in the making of documentary two make up girls got hurt as well.
LD – Yeah it was weird the first make up girl went home and broke her arm and then the second girl, she was pregnant and didn’t know it and a light fell and hit her in the head. A light fell on Sasha (Grey) too on her first shot.
DH – We where shooting in confines about the size of this room maybe even smaller actually even smaller than this. (Note – the room we were in was pretty small)
LD – We where in real locations we never had the budget to build or work in a studio or anything.
You weren’t tempted to take any of those injuries and use them in the film in the same way Abel uses real dead bodies instead of fakes?
LD – No. David ended up bruising Sasha’s arm when he grabs her. She had this bruise under her arm, near her arm pit, which I thought was kind of sexy, and she shot The Girlfriend Experience the Steven Soderberg film straight after and every time I watch it I look for the bruise. So I don’t know if any of the injuries affected our film but they might have affected The Girlfriend Experience.
David you have directed as well as acting (To All A Good Night 1980). Did playing this character make you want to pick up a camera again and direct another movie?
DH – Absolutely, I am in the middle of developing one right now it really got the juices flowing. As a matter of fact Lee’s gonna be the cameraman on it, its true.
Is it another horror film?
DH – Psychological, yeah. Everybody on the set of Smash Cut kept asking me ‘why aren’t you directing it’s the one thing that you did but you haven’t done and you haven’t pursued it’ and that was the reason I really hadn’t pursued it. I’d pursed the music, I’d pursued the acting and the writing and where do you go first? There is a lot there’s more than you can handle at one particular time but now I really want to do it and the subject for me is really interesting its bipolarity.
So it’s your script and your directing it?
DH – Yeah and I play a role in it. It’s basically the only way I can get it off the ground.
Lee whilst you where directing did do you ever wish like Able sometimes you could just kill people for real as it would be a lot easier?
DH – He is Abel!
LD – I think sometimes the writer too felt like that. No, I’ve never felt that way but a lot of my favourite filmmakers, the story of my favourite filmmakers, they seem to go down that path, the self-destructive path like Sam Peckinpah. So I just think it’s a sort of nice fantasy that a filmmaker dies a little bit for his art.
That leads me on perfectly to my next question about that great scene where Able uses his own blood to replace fake blood. Both of you, what’s the biggest sacrifice you have ever made for your art?
LD – I have never bled. I’ve dangled off of cliffs and bridges to get a certain shot. You do it for the love of it I mean you put the camera between your eye and what your filming and your surroundings all of a sudden disappear. Its like Jackie Chan is one of my favourite entertainers and he does it not because he’s gonna get a big paycheck but because he wants to entertain. Its all sort of worth it. Especially if you get the chance to look through the frame while your doing it.
DH – When do you stop doing your own stunts? I mean people say your sixty and your doing your own stunts your fucking out of your mind. It never played a role with me I just do them because that’s what the role is all about when you sign on for it. I’ve been talking risks my whole life.
Lee what’s have you done since finishing Smash Cut?
LD – I did a film called Summer’s Blood and I got very ill from making that movie I was actually directing that movie while hooked up to an IV. When I was walking around the set it looked like a hospital. So maybe I became a bit more like Able Whitman.
DH – (Laughing riotously) That’s the first time you’ve told me that. Lee is a big Santa Clause on the set he really is, he’s a jolly old Santa Clause you know its Christmas every day.
LD – So I’ve got Summer’s Blood coming out and I think that comes out when the new Twilight comes out as it stars Ashley Greene from Twilight. And then I have this other film called Stripped Naked about strippers and gangsters but I am developing a film right now with Sasha Gray, something she’s been writing with her fiancé, and with David.
So there is a lot more in the pipeline?
LD – Yes a lot more up the pipe. (Laughs)
DH – I think the industry has really taken a turn in one respect in that its followed the theatre in so far as repertoire. I mean if you don’t have a repertory company that your working with and you don’t work ensemble you’re really out of the loop. And I’m not speaking now for studio films I’m speaking more for the independent. I don’t particularly like studio films, I’ll do them, when I’m offered, which is seldom. And you know, and then they have to pay me a lot of money just because of that because I’m not doing any fucking thing except doing you know.
You’re both very familiar with the world of b-movies and exploitation flicks and Herschell Gordon Lewis was one of the kings of exploitation pictures inventing the gore genre etc. Do you think its odd that a lot of things that where once on the outskirts of cinema are now become more and more mainstream, like horror?
LD – It’s not completely crossed over because we can’t release our movie at Wal-Mart.
Yes I heard that Wal-Mart wont have anything to do with anything associated with an adult film star which includes your movie due to Sasha Grey’s previous porn films.
DH – There’s no other place to go, it’s inevitable that this happens. I think your best talent is in this part of the industry. I think perhaps your best faces maybe in the other part of the industry but what is a good face?
LD – But it’s true like Sam Raimi making those small independent horror movies like Evil Dead and Peter Jackson making the small horror movies in New Zealand and now they are the biggest names in the Hollywood film industry so the crossover has happened.
DH – Full circle I probably shouldn’t be talking about this but Guillermo Del Toro is doing The Hobbit right and he wants me to be in it.
Who are you going to be?
DH – I don’t know.
LD – (Laughing) Bilbo Baggins.
DH – I wouldn’t think I would play Bilbo, who knows. Its next year, it’s a 9 month shoot. When I hear from him I hear from him.
LD – I was talking to Herschell about this too. Herschell just directed a new film called the Grim Fairy Tale. He invented the gore genre and he invented many different genres and he’s trying to do something new and he said he wants to bring gore to the mainstream and do it with this movie with a lot of comedy and stuff like that. I think people want to laugh now at scary movies.
Was it a direct result of Smash Cut that Herschell decided to go back to film making?
DH – Maybe?
LD – Smash Cut was the first time he worked with the Red. We shot it on the Red camera and he shot the Grim Fairy Tales on the Red too. When I first met him years ago he was talking about this film so he’s been trying to make it for a long long time.
But there is a kind of lovely poetry to you being inspired to make films by Herschell Gordon Lewis and then making Smash Cut with him in as a tribute to him which in turn inspires him to go back into directing.
LD – It’s funny in 1972 he stopped making movies for a decade and then he made the sequel to Blood Feast, Blood Feast 2 which I don’t think he was very happy with because I think that it got taken away from him and re-cut so hopefully Grim Fairy Tales is hopefully more up his alley in that regard. I think it’s something he wanted to get done for a long time. Herschell’s back in a big way now, right.
DH – I think he was inspired by Smash Cut I think that did get the juices flowing again.
LD – If that’s true then that would be great. He’s going to be at the Stiges Film Festival and they are going to give him a lifetime achievement award.
DH – One of the things that’s strikes me is that there is something over the last 25 years that has been missing from films that’s all of a sudden come back and that’s the innocence. There’s a certain innocence in film that you have, a certain believability, innocence, just an acceptance that you need to have for those 2 hours or so when your in the theatre otherwise it kind of leaves you with a sour stomach, you know? It’s jaded or something like that so you say ‘oh that was a wonderful film but I don’t feel so good.’ So I think that that’s one of the things that Lee absolutely has help to bring back is that innocence, because he is innocent when it comes to making films. I mean he doesn’t know what the next shot’s gonna be.
LD – And you’re guilty.
DH – I’m totally guilty.
And on that note thank you both for your time.