Someone's in the house. He's watching. He's creeping round, only you can't see him. He's watching you from the walls. He's right behind you now. Looking over your shoulder. He wants the remote control. He's a bad boy. He wants to watch bad movies. Bad bad Ronald...

Monday, December 19, 2011

PopCereal Remembers a Holiday Trick or Treat: Home for the Holidays (1972)

I've got your present for you. It's a pitchfork!! In your back!!!
The four Morgan sisters reunite, after nine years, as they visit their ailing father.  There is the youngest, Christine (played by a young Sally Fields, fresh off her run as The Flying Nun), an naive innocent college girl, who still depends on her big sisters; Jo (Jill Haworth) the feisty socialite, Fred (Jessica Walter, who was killer in Play Misty for Me, just a year earlier) along with her bottles of vodka, and Alex (Eleanor Parker) the older, mother-hen spinster.
Don't look at him, whatever you do

They've been summoned to their childhood ranch estate by their father (the ever enjoyable Walter Brennan), who is convinced that his new wife (the creepy Julie Harris) is trying to poison him.  Her first husband died under mysterious circumstances, and now the sisters are worried that she is targeting their father's money.  To make matters more difficult, there is a terrible December thunderstorm a-brewing.  Trapped in their secluded childhood home, the sisters keep an eye open for their suspicious stepmother, and open some scabbed over wounds from their own dysfunctional past.
Killer Graphic Tee

Oh... and let's not forget the maniacal killer, dressed in a yellow rain slicker and boots, and red rubber gloves, carrying a pitchfork!

Produced by the dream team of Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, this TV Movie is already a must see. But then you throw in John Llewellyn Moxey -- the best TV Movie of the Week director ever(!), well, then you just have a hit on your hands.

Oh yeah, Michael Myers.  I got your number.

I can still remember the first time I watched this Yuletide creeper.  It's probably the first slasher flick I ever watched.  Sadly, though, in the pantheon on modern horror, there is no mention of this small screen gem.  Halloween has already been established as the original slasher flick, and has been widely credited for setting the standards and motifs.  Horror buffs will also look back a couple years previous to Black Christmas, and credit that film for establishing the guidelines for all others.  But, no one ever talks about Home for the Holidays.  Clearly, HFTH is well set in the Made for Television vein, with the old fashioned "ladies in distress" theme, and Gothic thriller overtones.  It doesn't compare to the youthful. angsty and lusty predecessors, with their shocks and sex.  But, check out the killer donned in the slasher style garb!

If we all know one thing about slasher flicks, it's that the killer is always masked, his/her identity hidden from the viewer.  HFTH has that motif down pat, and it predates Halloween by a half dozen years (Black Christmas by two years).

Actually, this argument is somewhat of a moot point, seeing that the Italian Giallo pictures had killers running around in rain slickers and gloves long before Spelling and Goldberg decided to make this film

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peephole Review: Chillerama!

A good B-movie spoof is real hard to find these days, with all the wink-wink, rib-elbowing irony infused into every scene, by filmmakers who want to make sure the audience knows that they know that they're referencing a bunch of other films that everybody and their Aunt Tillie has seen and cribbed from a thousands times before.  The forgotten ingredient that these filmmakers have all overlooked in the B-movies of yesteryear is sincerity. These old films that so often get spoofed, mainly for their overacting and under-producing, weren't made to make us laugh, but rather were an earnest effort at serious filmmaking. They all thought they were making a real good movie!  The fact that their earnest efforts fail at every turn is what gives us the laughs.  You see, we're laughing at them, not with them.  So, to just mimic their mistakes is tantamount to laughing at the guy who you just tripped on purpose.

But, sometimes a spoof works, because the filmmaker(s) aren't just enamourd with their subject, but willing to create a story worth seeing... even the same old story for the umpteenth time. 

Chillerama is a B-movie spoof anthology that does work for the most part.  The film cleverly taken place in an old school drive-in, called the Chillerama, where Richard Riehle (Office Space) plays Cecil Kaufman (get it!!) the washed up owner, who plans one last night of B-movie thrills before closing up the box-office for good.  This is the wraparound segment that encases the three other films in the anthology: Wadzilla, I Was a Teenage Werebear, and The Diary of Anne Frankenstein.

Where's the "B"?
As Cecil Kaufman gears up for the opening of his final night, his key employee is off at the cemetery, digging up his deceased wife's grave, so he could get from her what she wouldn't give to him when they were married.  When his wife reanimates, just as he unzips his fly, she gives him more than he bargained for. Meanwhile, back at the Chillerama, the place is filling up with moviegoers ready for some on-screen action, as well as some backseat delights.  What the kids don't know is that the necrophiliac husband has turned into a zombie, as a result of his dead wife's, um... oral castration, and the glowing blood from his wounds has dripped into the buttery sauce on the popcorn.

As directed by Joe Lynch, these wraparound segments are some of the most effective in the film, reflecting nicely, those 80s horndog films of the 80s.  The themes are universal (teenage love and lust, and the desire to preserve our old ways), and the gags are familiar (but freshened up for the contemporary audience).

Momma's gotta a lot of stains to wash out
And now, on to the first featurette!! Wadzilla is about... well, I think the title speaks for itself -- it's about a guy whose radioactive sperm grows to ginormous proportions and threatens to topple the city.  Directed and starring Adam Rifkin (The Dark Backward), and featuring a great, straightforward performance by Ray Wise, Wadzilla is a throwback to those fear inducing sci-fi horrors that warn of the dangers of dabbling in science.
"Like this?  This look right?"

Next is I Was a Teenage Werebear, a giddy mix of Rebel Without a Cause and Twilight, with some Frankie & Annette thrown in.  Only Annette doesn't sing so well, and Frankie doesn't get all hot and bothered from her.  Instead, Frankie (actually his name is Ricky) is hot for Talon, the new biker in town. Director Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs) turns the beach blanket set on its head, with this analogy of budding teen sexuality.  Morphing into a bloodthirsty wolf beast has been a clever twist to represent the trials and tribulations of puberty in many movies -- I was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Michael Landon got all hairy (and not just his palms) when he got near the female student bodies, and Ginger Snaps Katharine Isabelle shags out once a month, not on a full moon, but with her period.  In Werebear, a nibble on the backside of Ricky, from werebear Talon, unleashes Ricky's hairy and gay self straight out of the closet.

The last of the drive-in features is Adam Green's near perfect The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, the bombastic story of when Hitler tried to create the perfect killing monstrosity out of spare body parts, but winds up creating a "super-Jew."  I am not an Adam Green fan -- I wasn't impressed with his slasher spoof  Hatchet (what was hailed as a new franchise for the slasher spoof genre was just another retread of a retread) or thrilled by Frozen (the forced sentimentality was eye-rolling) -- but, I was tickled with this spot on spoof of the Frankenstein legend.  As Green talks about in the DVD extras, with a lead character as controversial as  Adolph Hitler, his script really needed to heavily lampoon the world's most notorious villain.
"Ve vill ask ze qvestions!"

And he succeeded with some real comic genius. Joel David Moore (Art School Confidential), who is hit or miss in so many other films, puts on a ribald, riotous portrayal of Mein Furor which could easily be lifted and placed inside a Mel Brooks film. Moore gives Green's caricature of Hitler the perfect frenzied pitch.  But Green's idea to have the entire film spoken in German (with subtitles) and cast with German speaking actors, while not providing Moore any written lines in German, is pure comic brilliance.  Having been coached in the early scenes, Moore's Hitler sounds convincing. His dialogue sounds in place with the other's.  But, slowly we begin to detect a dash of gibberish thrown in, until Moore is careening through his dialogue with a cache of made up words and finagled pop references.
Me dance... no goooood.  Annnhhhhhh!

The one miss in this segment was the casting of Kane Hodder as the monster. I don't easily bash on the icons of horror, but I don't much go for the hey look who we've got style of stunt casting, either.  And this is where the entire film seems to falter -- in its commitment to the overall production values.  Had Anne Frankenstein cast someone with some real comic chops as the monster,  it could've pushed this segment into the comedy stratosphere.  Instead of a comic performance generating good laughs, the hey, look who it is gag comes from the mere idea of seeing Jason Vorhees doing a Yiddish dance  Oy!  The filmmakers were clearly aiming for the fanboys in the audience.  Had they aimed higher, and got someone to keep up to Joel David Moore, this segment would be accessible to all comedy fans.  Not just horror fanboys.

In fact, the entire movie could've been vaulted into an accessible comedy, sitting nicely on the Netflix queue next to Kentucky Fried Movie or The Groove Tube.  All the segments generated some fairly sharp laughs (as well as gross out groans) in their scripts and in the performances.  But unfortunately, the entire project suffered from some poorly chosen production choices. Besides Kane working outside his usual elements (with chainsaws and machetes as props), other casting miscues threatened to derail other segments.  I understand the comic idea of "bad songs," but I Was a Teenage Werebear was nearly put down like a rabid dog with the lethal combination of silly lyrics and bad singing.  I don't mean the intentional bad singing for comic effect, but rather the kind of singing we all cringe at during the American Idol try-outs. It's easy to laugh at real people who think they can sing, but can't, because, again, we're laughing at them.  However, that's not the kind of laughs you want to generate in your film. 

Outside of some miscues in casting, the overall appearance -- that intentionally effected cheapness of it all -- was done, well... poor.  Making a well shot film appear cheap is somewhat of a pet peeve of mine. The film crew goes through all the effort to make a film look good, then, in the edit room, with expensive technology, the filmmakers go to great lengths and effort to make the film look like shitty film.  They add on some CG generated dirt and scratches, pop on a digital "old film look" filter, futz with the coloring, and -- viola! -- a pseudo piece of shit film.  But, it never fools anyone, because it simply looks like fabricated shit film.  If the desire is to have, say, bad looking green screen effects -- why not hire some first year film students to do the job?  The results would be guaranteed to give that amateurish feel.

Overall, Chillerama is still an enjoyable treat. It would've been a real gem, had the producers put in a solid effort, and made the horror crowd.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

BadRonald Talk to Nick Hagen -- Creator of The Haunting of Sunshine Girl

One of the great finds on the Internets, for me, has been the YouTube web series The Haunting of Sunshine Girl.  If you haven't watched it, hurry on over and take a look.  Trust me, you'll thank me when you do.

I had the great fortune to speak with Sunshine and her mother, Mercedes Rose, a few weeks back -- what a team!  They are so much like the TV mother/daughter duo they idolize -- The Gilmore Girls.  Sunshine (her real name is a secret) is truly a discovery.  Witty, smart, hip and cute, she's a natural in front of the camera.  And her mom "Kat," as well, is witty and purty, and quite the presences on camera, heself.

But, "mom" is also one of the creative forces behind the success of Sunshine Girl. Alongside her is the unseen show creator Nick Hagen.  It was Nick who approached Mercedes with his idea of a girl who vlogs about the ghosts that haunt he.  And together, they created Sunshine, starring Mercedes real life daughter. The rest is web history.

I got to run some questions by Nick, recently.

BadRonald: You did an amazing job with the pacing -- it was like the first batch of episodes was the 1st act, sucking everyone in. What was your thought process as you developed the show?

Nick Hagen: Well the original concept was a video blog so it had to feel natural and in real life things take time to develop, including an audience. But being that I had a clear concept from the beginning I think the first videos didn't seem random, like some projects similar to this have. The point of the vlog was stated in the very first video so people clearly understood what they were watching. Something I felt like Lonleygirl did an awful job at and why I never watched more than a couple episodes of that one. It's also what I feel like projects like Marblehornets do wrong as well. They're very successful and many people are intrigued by their videos but I bet they lose a lot of viewers who just don't have the patience of trying to figure out what the videos are all about. As far as structure going forward, I look at each batch almost like a season so the first 80 or so videos was like season 1, where we had to build up to some sort of climax and resolution but still leave the window open for more to happen down the road.

BR: You already knew Mercedes and Sunshine, correct?

NH: I knew Mercedes, not Sunshine. But I had a feeling and luckily she was even more of a talent than I hoped. She's got that "it" quality that people love and in something like this, where you have to build an audience from scratch, that's priceless. And it's extremely rare to find someone at the age of 16 willing to commit so much time and effort into a project they have no idea whether it will be a success or not so I was happy about that as well. But I did know Mercedes and her drive and it (almost :-) matches mine so I knew she could keep up with me.

BR: Did you plan for things to get as wild as they did, from the start? Or did you get inspiration as the fanbase grew?

NH: I planned for things to get big, much bigger if we can getting the funding but I think the tone of the show has been dictated by the fanbase. I always knew I wanted it to be fairly family friendly, appeal to teens, but I think the tone got a little more over the top as we went along. Honestly it was in an effort to allow people to just have fun with the videos and not worry about Sunshine so much. I want that emotional connection from the fanbase but I don't want them losing sleep over the well being of Sunshine so I started making it a little less realistic. But yes, it will hopefully get much bigger and crazier. I've got plans...

BR: How about those fans? What's the wildest accusation you've heard from an irate fan?

NH: Well we get the accusation that we're purposely trying to lie to people to upset them and take advantage of them. That's a pretty common accusation. I'm always surprised by that since I firmly believe we're attempting to do a good thing and bring entertainment and joy into people's lives. I can't imagine putting all this effort into something just to try and upset people. But definitely the wildest thing I heard from a fan was that we were sending them secret messages in our videos and they were going to sell their house to get enough money to travel and see Sunshine.

BR: Those fans who get upset and cry "fake" still stick around anyway (I would guess that they do)?

NH: Yes, we have people calling us fake all the time but there's very few die hard people out there who consistently stick with it. Most of our fake comments come from people who have only watched one or two videos and don't really get what the show is all about. They're often shouted down by our other fans, letting them know that this isn't a secret. At the beginning we had lots of people with what could only be described as a personal vendetta against us. They were bound and determined to prove to the world we were fake, but as time has gone by, the show has gotten more fictional, and Sunshine is so likable, most of these people have let it go.

BR: Did you conceptualize the show as being fairly family friendly? As I was saying to Sunshine and Mercedes, I admired how "clean cut" the show is. No language or violence, and Sunshine is a "normal" kid, not spazzing about fashion and boys and material stuff. It's just a show about a good kid, with a healthy curiosity. How much of that was planned, and how much of that is Sunshine and Mercedes?

NH: Yes I did. I very much knew I wanted to go after that market and that tone. I've got three kids, Mercedes has three kids, we obviously want to teach our kids what is important in life and the typical teen girl character created by Hollywood has it all wrong in my opinion. In our series there's an underlying value of family and following what you think is right and what your passion is. Sunshine listened to the ghosts in her house and found out who she was. The metaphor is clear enough I think. As for actually achieving the family friendly, strong female tone, that's very much Mercedes and Sunshine in real life. They make it a reality.

BR: Are you working from a better budget now? And if so, will Sunshine Girl get into more freaky stuff?

NH: Better would be one way to put it since we started out with very little it doesn't take much to make the budget better. We haven't sought out outside investors for various reasons but it's mostly about control. Our budget is strictly based off YouTube revenue and every penny (and some of our own) goes back into production. So as our audience grows our budget will grow. We will definitely be taking Sunshine on some crazy adventures!

BR: Congratulations on the expansion of your YouTube channel! Do you have any thoughts about expanding Sunshine outside of YouTube?

NH: Thanks! Yes, I think it would work well on TV. A fictionalized reality show like what The Office does with comedy. I really like the freedom that style of filmmaking allows and the ability to break the fourth wall and freak people out. Imagine Sunshine with a documentary crew! Oh, and we're working on a film related to Sunshine as well. It might actually shoot this winter so that's fun.

BR: How about, any other show ideas, for YouTube or otherwise?

NH: YES! I've got two really killer concepts that I think would be a huge hit on YouTube. One requires a decent budget, makeup and effects, and one just requires the time. Oh, I'd also like to do another YouTube channel like Sunshine only gear it toward a little older, male audience, work to keep it as real as possible, and really try to freak people out. And TV, I've got a couple fun concepts I've been trying to get a network to notice for a while now. Here's a pilot for one

BR: Check it out folks! Thanks Nick. Good luck on the further adventures of Sunshine.

NH: Thanks a lot. Good luck on the blog!

Sunshine's Black Eye Kids movie... they need your support!

Go to Kickstarter

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bad Ronald Interviews: The Soska Sisters

For my birthday -- and also for fact that I'm a twin -- I'm celebrating by spending my special day with another set of kick ass twins... The Soska Sisters.  

Yeah, yeah, check your filthy minds.  This meeting is all on the up and up.  Being a twin, myself, and being a horror fan to boot, I was instantly fascinated when I first heard of the Soska twins, Jen and Sylvia, and their Twisted Twins Production of Dead Hooker in a Trunk. I contacted them for a look at the film, and was truly surprised at what I saw.  Not only did they pull off an impressive debut, but this pair of freshman filmmakers crafted a nicely solid film.  It was obvious to me that the Soska twins weren't just avid film fans.  They clearly had studied the films they watch, as well, and developed their own eye for cinematic mayhem.
Don't even
The ladies have been busy busy busy, getting their debut film Dead Hooker in a Trunk out there on the VOD market, and also in a wider distribution for the DVD market with IFC Midnight.  And right now, they are casting their hotly anticipated follow up, American Mary. They've already snagged a major star for their newest flick, and she's red hot... But, I'll let the twins tell you all about that. 

First and most importantly -- twins!!  Who was first, and by how many minutes? (I was second, by 5 minutes!)

Sylvia Soska: 
Me! But I sort of cheated, I guess. I am nineteen minutes older, and came out at seven pounds. Jen was only about three. Apparently, I tried to eat her in the womb. Womb combat - point Sylv.

Jen Soska: 
She's 19 minutes older than me and STILL calls me her baby sister to this day. She crossed the finish line at 4:58am April 29th, 1983 (on a Thursday, I believe) and I followed at 5:17am. On our 18th birthday, she woke me up at 4:58am on the dot with the Beatles' Birthday and jumped on my bed. The lyrics "they say it's your birthday, it's my birthday, too, yeah" are something we've always loved. When we were littler we kind of assumed it was written just for us twins. I still haven't paid her back for it. When it hit 5:17am, she just calmly stopped jumping and went back to bed. 

And what cool Twin Powers do you possess? 

We actually have matching skull rings so we can do the twin powers activate jazz. We sort of speak without words through looks and butchered English. If you talk to one of us - since we share the same brain - the other will come up to you and say the exact same thing. That one isn't really a power as much as it is confusing. 

We totally have twin ESP or something. We can sense where the other is in a crowded place if we get separated. If we're apart, we can feel if the other is upset or scared or happy. I've had awful feelings in the pit of my stomach without Sylv being with me and I just have to call her and find out what's up. It's pretty accurate. No one knows me better. We're very similar, but very different. We really compliment one another. I honestly feel sorry for you "normies" out there that have to go through life without a twin. I'm incredibly grateful to have her. Twins are very lucky to have that special bond. 

Did your folks do the ol' let's dress them up the same gimmick?  Or did they let you be yo' self?

They did the same outfit thing when we were little. Since I almost killed Jen and she was the miracle baby, she got the adorable pink outfits and I was left with 'the other color' - yellows, blues, whatever the fuck.

When we were older, my parents actually supported my strange wardrobe choices. They developed over time, but I had phases before settling on a mainly black, posh wardrobe. In highschool, we were very adventurous with our clothing. I had snake skin pants, mesh shirts, and lots of high heels. They are my favorite. 

Yeah, as kids we were very clone-y. Same but different colored duds. Highschool was where we changed. When we were little we even kept our hair the same. Uncolored, long, and straight. In highschool, we experimented with different looks. Changing your appearance as a teenager felt very liberating to us, especially when you're at the age where you're just trying to figure out who the hell you are or what that even means.
Got my eye on you

Sylvie would have a platinum bob do and I'd have jet black with bright red highlights underneath. She'd have Mary Jane fire engine red locks and I'd have permed dirty blond hair. We changed ourselves like we were Cher at a concert, ha ha

How did a couple girls like you get to become the horror icons and fans that you are today?

That's incredibly kind of you to say. I hope to actually become that one day, but I'm going to work hard to make it happen. Ever since we were little girls, we were always drawn to the strange and unusual. I have two very clear memories involving spiders - one, I loved to play with bugs, but when I handled spiders, people would react in fear and that really fascinated me. The animals were harmless, yet adults would run from them. The second, I had a cupboard open and I just saw the legs of this huge spider slowly grasp the edge which caused me to run out of the house screaming. I ran to my dad and my grandfather to tell them - and they didn't even react. It got me thinking about fear and its power over people. 

Jen and I would hang out at a very young age at the local video store in their dressed up horror section. We would creep the movie cases, looking for the most graphic and scary images, then we would make up amongst ourselves with the description what happens in the film. After much begging, at the age of ten, our mom let us watch our first horror movie - POLTERGEIST. We made it through the film, but bed time was when the terror sank in. My mom did something that would change my life. She sat us down and told us what we saw - the efforts of talented artists who wrote the words, played the characters, and even made the monsters with the intention of scaring me. It was like being on the inside of a huge secret. I never looked at horror the same again.
High five

What a compliment. I'm far too humble to think of ourselves that way. I'm truly a fan of horror. I know many people see it as a sub genre and I couldn't take that as more insulting. There are many many piss poor horror flicks out there, but there are just as many unwatchable comedies, dramas, and romantic comedies. Horror has a bad reputation. It's our choice to do horror because we love it so much. I feel that it has been out of the hands of the fans for too long. That's why there are constant remakes being pumped out or poorly written and equally poorly executed pictures out there. It's a tough time out there financially, too. No one wants to take a risk on something new. I feel we are the voice of the fans, being fans ourselves, and it's our duty to deliver what has been missing for far too long. Something new and original.

I don't exactly recall a time where we didn't like horror. As children, we spent hours and hours outside hunting bugs and then tossing them in wolf spider webs making note of each resident's size and looking for the legendary "big one". We loved Halloween always. We had to make our own costumes to ensure every last details was pitch perfect. We would sneak into the horror section of this wicked video store which is sadly long gone called Flickers. They beautifully decorated the section with card board movie beasts and cob webs year round. We'd peak behind the covers to see the images on the back looking for the scariest images and then beg our mom to rent them. Horror just came naturally to us. It's like how some girls dream of their weddings. I dreamed of things that would scare the shit out of most people and more so I dreamed OF scaring the shit out of people. It was a real laugh for us and always in good fun.

I would thank the outstanding horror community for embracing us and our DEAD HOOKER the way that they did. I feel almost like an ambassador of horror. If people didn't stand behind us, tell their friends about us, and spread the word via blogs and reviews and posts and tweets, we wouldn't be where we are today. We appreciate the hell out of the people who believe in us and our work. We make everything we do with them in mind.

BadRonald:  My twin is the sports buff -- knows everything about every team, plays a lot, and keeps in shape.  Me, I'm the film buff, the literary type, the consummate knowledge seeker.  But we both love horror to death.  Compare and contrast your twin selves.

We're extremely similar except - Jen has this beautiful optimistic outlook on the world, and I tend to be more dark and brooding. We joke that she's Joss Whedon and I'm Lars Von Trier and somehow we can make films together. 

ha ha, it's true. I turned to her today and said, "Sylv, you're the Erik." She just stared blankly back, so I explained. "You're Magneto and I'm Xavier. You have seen so much real life horror that you have no faith left in humanity. I have seen the same, but in spite of it all and in spite of knowing better, I still have hope and want to make the world a better place." It's true. I am so the Charles in the relationship. Sylvia is so Plath. She's a dark and tortured artist. Not to say she isn't a wonderful and kind person, she has an incredible heart and so much strength, but you'd be a damn fool to try to bullshit her. She sees right through it and takes none of it. You fuck up with her and that's it. No second chances. I'm a hopeless optimist and idealist. I'm headed for a lot more heart break, I imagine, ha ha. We beautifully compliment one another.

I tell her all the time, "thank GOD you don't have Magneto powers."

Dead Hooker in a Trunk -- unbelievably great title.  How'd you come up with it, as well as the movie?

Jen is really funny. She gets these random bits of genius out of nowhere. The title was all her.

We were in film school - and it was only called that to rip off students as there was nothing that even resembled a school there - and were disappointed with what we had been conned into. We had decided to quit acting as the roles we were being offered were only super-sexualized twin fetish inspired roles. Nothing wrong with sexuality, but there's a different from playing Roller Girl in BOOGIE NIGHTS and being a piece of ass whose tits are in focus, but face isn't. We had extensively trained in marital arts and wanted to transition to stuntwork. We might still be in bikinis, but at least we would be kicking ass while we did. The school had outsourced a stunt portion and that was excellent, but the rest was a waste of time and money.

We were ready to end film work entirely, but thank God GRINDHOUSE was in the theaters at the time. We would go to the theater almost everyday and take real film school. We grew up watching Rodriguez and the massively collaborative flick was incredible. There was even a Canadian director named Jason Eisener with a fake trailer for a film called HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. It made us stoked about filmmaking again. After we got the funding for our final project pulled, we went to the theater to cheer ourselves up. After walking out, Jen turns to me and says, 'Dead Hooker in a Trunk.' I ask what is that. She replies, that's the name of the film we're going to make a fake trailer for. We would make in on our own with our industry friends, we would put all the material deemed 'too inappropriate' for the school in it and add the ones they missed like bestiality and necrophilia, and we would present it at graduation at the very end.
Didn't see that coming

When the trailer played, half the audience walked out and the other half was laughing and cheering so loud that you could barely hear our intentionally offensive dialogue. People started asking about the feature. We wrote it in two weeks based around the wild fake trailer scenes and were shooting shortly after that.

I'm very proud of the title. There's so much competition out there and when you're a couple nobodies from Canada who have never made a film before, you've got to have a strong marketing plan as you develop your film. Your title is your first impression. You only get to do it once. I hate how many film makers have weak, bland titles. You're really fucking yourself when you do that. You have to pick something that will stand out, be unforgettable, will get an emotional reaction out of whoever hears it, and makes people say, "I gotta see that." DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK does just that. Also, if you don't get a giggle out of the title, you likely know that there won't be much in the film that'll win you over. It divides our audience as much as it excites them. Pick something smart, indie artists. You owe it to yourselves and your work to give it the best fighting chance out there that you can.

You've had some people bellyaching about the title.  What happened? (Saskatoon, right?)

It still really shocks me. The Roxy Theater in Saskatoon got an anonymous phone call complaining about our film which was using their venue as a part of the Dark Bridges Film Festival. That night, those same cowards went and ripped down all the posters that the promoter had bought to market the event around town. Tom Hutchinson decided to ban the film from their theater on the title alone without ever bothering to watch the film. Had they watched it, maybe they would have realized it was satirically and the only character that the anti-heroes do treat with an dignity is the deceased Hooker. 

I sent an open letter to Tom Hutchinson, but no one from the theater ever bothered to even respond. They tried to blame it on real life prostitute slayings which, sadly, are not only a regular occurrence in that city. We didn't create the term 'dead hooker in a trunk' but rather tried to take something shocking and put a story there where you are forced to see this woman as a human being despite how 'loathsome' some people find her occupation to be. In Vancouver we had the Pickton killer kill dozens of girls at his pig farm. The open season on these women is disgusting.

After that, they tried to blame a church group for the banning because of the subject matter which is ridiculous. We shot parts of HOOKER in our Roman Catholic Church and many members of the congregation happily attended our screening of the film. It was such an act of prejudice. It's amazing what the misinformed and uneducated can do if given any authority. Then, they banned HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN for good measure.

It was disappointing for so many reasons. It was our first Canadian screening outside of Vancouver that we hadn't organized ourselves. We were so excited! I mean, we're fucking Canadian and when I heard they banned our film I was taken back big time. We had been welcomed in the UK, loved throughout the USA, and won awards in Brazil, but our own country wouldn't even show our film. More so, they wouldn't even WATCH it. It was because of the title alone. It's intentionally satirical. It would be plain stupid to name the film something so blatant and then be disrespectful. In fact, had they taken the 92 minutes to watch the film, they would have found that despite having a total disregard for human life and the bodies they leave in their wake, our four heroes go out of their way to put the Hooker's body to rest. And there's a definite tone shift when her death scene happens. Much of the violence is tongue in cheek and over the top, but her death is very real and ugly. It should be upsetting to watch.

I must say that Saskatoon is a cool city and I don't hold it against them. The Broadway Theater welcomed HOOKER and HOBO in with open arms. And local businesses, that were made aware of the controversy, happily accepted our posters. And when the films screened? It went off without incident to full theaters of happy people. Thank you, Saskatoon. Can't wait to bring AMERICAN MARY to the Broadway Theater. I think we'll skip the closed minded, judgmental Roxy, not that I imagine they'd ever bother speaking to us or apologizing. Clearly, an open and intelligent discussion is too much to ask for from them.

Now, you're working on American Mary.  Can you spill some guts on the project?
The news is, you've got a name lead.

I am fucking thrilled to be working with Canadian Horror Icon, Katharine Isabelle. We have been huge fans of hers for a long time. I tried not to write the script with any particular actors in mind, but I would be lying if I didn't admit talking about how cool it would be to have Katie as our Mary. You sometimes meet people that you dig the work of and they totally ruin themselves for you. I was nervous about meeting her and I'm very obsessed with the story and the title character, so the person taking on the role had to be perfect. 
Ginger Snapped

Katie blew away all expectations. She's a phenomenal actress and it's really weird that you don't see her in more roles like this. She very much is the only person I could ever see bringing Mary Mason to life. It's going to be a lot of fun watching her create this character - I'm a fan and I get the privilege of working with her. I honestly have no idea how I got so lucky. 

Oh, it's killing me to not talk more about our girl. We're incredibly proud of our second film. It's the polar opposite of DHIAT in so many ways. We have plenty of Grindhouse style films in us, but it was important for us to do something different with this one so we wouldn't get pigeon holed as only being able to make one kind of film. Quite the opposite, actually. You'd be quite surprised with what we have in the works. AMERICAN MARY has very unique characters and our title character has this beautiful and tragic arc. I know there are a lot of girls out there that will really relate to her. We hope that when they have a shitty day, they can put on AM and feel strong, like they can go out there and take on the world. There are some awful role models for women and especially young girls right now. Don't even get me started on Bella from the TWILIGHT series. It's like they're saying in big neon lights, "don't worry! Some guy will come along and save you. And if he doesn't? Another shirtless guy will show up and then save you, too." Mary is one touch bitch and Katie is going to blow people away as her.

We are working with the geniuses at MastersFX on the film. You may know Todd Masters and his team from TRUE BLOOD, SIX FEET UNDER, and everything ever worth watching. Their effects are breath taking works of art. I have so much respect for what they do and it a dream come true to be working with them.

For me, I've seen just about everything there is in the horror filmscape.  And I'm pretty darn guilty of having watched my share of "bad" horror movies for the pure fun of it.  But the movies I find myself gravitating to, these days, are ones that rise above the standard issue.  The ones that speak to the intellect as well as the guts.  Films like Martyrs, The Woman, The Inside, stuff like that.  Really, anything that draws the terror and suspense from the characters, rather than the gimmickry.  In DHIAT, I saw that you guys really love to play with character, too.  How did you approach the script, and the production of it?

The creation of the film was all in the vein of Rodriguez's film school. We followed his film schools, we had his making of EL MARIACHI book - Rebel Without A Crew - on set at all times. We nicknamed it 'the Bible'. In it, he mentioned how he wrote each sequence on a cue card then moved them around to figure out a good order. Since the script came after the fake trailer, we had all these cool scenes but now we had to link them together and flesh out the story.

We grew up on crazy films that were fun to watch, so it was really important to create the same feelings with HOOKER. We put as much insanity in it as we could pull off - word spread through the city and the indie film scene about what we were attempting - to follow in Rodriguez's shoes. Lots of people wrote us and the project off - that it was too ambitious, the material was too crude, and the no budget a death sentence. But word spread all the way to the El Mariachi himself, Carlos Gallardo, who ended up giving us some wonderful advice as we continued and even makes an appropriate guest came as God.

In addition to being lovers of film, we are very influenced by comic books and video games. Wait, I think I'm supposed to call them "graphic novels" now, right? If you watch DHIAT knowing that, you'll see some very blatant comic and gaming references. We wanted to make our heroes larger than life. We intentionally gave them each a single outfit so it would be the equivalent of a super hero and their costume. When you see Spidey, you KNOW it's Spidey because of the duds. When they tried on the Black/Symbiote costume, people freaked because they didn't have their hero it what they came to know him as. We wanted people to know Badass is in a low cut tank top FASTER PUSSY CAT KILL KILL style with acid washed jeans and shit kicking boots. Anyone that sees the film has those very clear images burned into their minds. It was a definite super hero and costume tribute.
They shoot guns, too

In the sketchy building where Junkie picks up drugs and all hell breaks loose, there's a SILENT HILL reference. Anyone who's played the games knows that when you hear those sirens, shit is about to go down. On the wall we referenced graffiti in SH2. "There was a hole here, it's gone now." Geek loses the same eye as Big Boss from the METAL GEAR SOLID series. Also in a torture sequence. In FINAL FANTASY games and many RPGs, the final baddie goes through three transformations. That's why we had three villains. So no one would be able to predict when the film would end or where the hell it was going. I hate watching a film and guessing the ending. SPOILER ALERT. I saw SHUTTER ISLAND and thought, "oh, fuck, I hope the missing patient Leo's looking for isn't himself." Yup, I bet you can guess where that went.

There are tons more references, shout outs, and tributes. I bet if you watch now knowing what total nerds we are, you'll see way more than you would have ever expected.

Can you each rifle through your greatest influences?  Your fave films?

Robert Rodriguez has had a huge influence on me. All the directors involved in the GRINDHOUSE project changed my life with that film. Eli Roth is one of the most kind, supportive, and down to earth gentlemen I have ever had the pleasure of calling a friend. His advice helped us a lot with DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK and it was because of his request to read one of our more 'straight forward' horror scripts that we wrote AMERICAN MARY. It's really cool to be going through this process and have a guy whose been through it all there to support you and make sure you don't fuck up your film.

I love Mary Harron and Lars Von Trier for their provocative films and the class, intelligence, and eloquence that they defend those films. I think that's partly why I really wanted to push the envelope with AMERICAN MARY, because they inspired me to. Clive Barker is a huge influence. His work changed the way that I look at horror.

Favorite films - AMERICAN PSYCHO, SUICIDE CLUB, MARTYRS, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, ANTICHRIST, HELLRAISER, HOSTEL 2, THE MARIACHI TRILOGY, anything with Spider-man in it - I'm a hopeless fangirl.

Robert Rodriguez is the reason why we made DHIAT. He told us we could do it and you know what? He was right. He's a genius and a self made man. He's smart as hell and can do just about every job on set. We carried his book, REBEL WITHOUT A CREW, with us at all times on set. We called it the bible. Honestly, if you don't own it, go grab a copy. It's an inspiring piece of literature. Even if you aren't a film maker and have no desire to be one, it'll inspire you to go out and chase down whatever your dream is. I love how Robert has his Ten Minute Film Schools. Most people would keep their tricks to themselves. Robert loves fill enough to try to show others how to make their stuff better.

I have to say Quentin Tarantino. He's a master of his craft. He has this beautifully defined style that shines through in his work. The way we marries music to imagery is breath taking and no one does it better. He loves film and it shows. He's seen everything and makes it his job to know everything about filmmaking. You have to respect that. It really pisses me off when someone says something ignorant like, "he's overrated." To that I say, "go fuck your pretentious self." It's like when I hear people bitch that the Beatles are overrated. Where would we be without the Beatles and Tarantino? Their contributions to their craft have influenced all of us, even if we're too arrogant to admit it.

We began reading Stephen King in elementary school, much to the dismay of our teachers and principal. His dark and twisted sense of humor took hold of us at an impressionable young age and we came to feel that horror was meant to have humor in it. I still love a laugh snuck in with my grotesque moments. Even if it's an uncomfortable one.

I love Joss Whedon. His story arcs that are gorgeously planned out over a whole series where you'll see something that seemed unimportant happen in season one pay off big time in season seven. He's wonderful and playful with language. And he showed me I can be strong. I was always a little thing and got bullied and teased quite mercilessly when I was younger. Seeing Buffy had a profound effect on me. Coupled with my love of super heroes, I made a decision to be strong and threw myself into martial arts. They wouldn't teach me how to use weapons, though I had started up quite a collection, so I did the reasonable thing and trained myself. I've practiced introducing myself to Joss and telling him how much he and his work means to me, but I still don't have anything perfect and witty yet. If I can form words in his presence, it'll be a win.


One topic that has become a great interest of mine is the depiction of women in film, particularly violence towards women, coupled with the societal image of females.  Since women have had short shrift in the horror genre for decades, I've enjoyed the fact that filmmakers are using the very genre to speak to us about our perception of women.  And I've really enjoyed it that, more and more often, it's a woman behind the camera who is making the statement.  What are your thoughts on this trend, and where do you guys fit in?

I was horrified to learn that the very first director of non-fiction filmmaking and the person who revolutionized cinema was actually a woman named Alice Guy. She would go on to work on over seven hundred films, she loved horror - especially vampires, and her studio on the East Coast would rival the West until the Hollywood movement tragically ended her career. There have been some incredible women working in film for a very long time, but there hasn't been a focus on the recognition of these women.

Gaffers and crew were given Alice's film credits because they were men. She worked very hard within the stereotypical roles for women at the time, but insisted that women made better filmmakers because of their capacity for emotion. She was a really cool chick. 

I found out about her when I was researching women in the industry that made an impact on the horror scene during Women In Horror Recognition Month, an event every February brainchild of Ax Wound's Hannah Neurotica. It's a brilliant event that focuses on celebrating the ladies that paved the road for us and the women working today with hopes of making the notion of women not only liking horror but being a part of creating it. I know when I was getting teased in school as a little girl, I would have loved an event like this to make me realize that I'm not alone and loving this genre is nothing to be made to feel ashamed of.

I hope that our films and our story will inspire people - men and women - to follow their dreams and create their own films. There is an onslaught of soulless studio crap being forced on us right now and the best place to counter-balance that is with unique, interesting, and original indies.

I find horror is a place where you can really see the evolution of where women stand. It's almost a reflection of their current places in society. When Ridley Scott cast Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in a role that was written in a way that either a man or woman could have played it, something epic happened. A heroine was born and we got hungry for it. Look at my personal favorite, Buffy. "...just the idea of some woman who seems to be completely insignificant who turns out to be extraordinary" ~Joss Whedon. Buffy was his answer to the helpless, little blond that always ends up dying in classic horror films. He took the stereotype and turned it on it's head. That's what we like to do, too. We wanted to shake things up and get people excited. Times are changing and the work has to reflect that. Right now there are so many women that are kicking ass in front of and behind the camera. Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar win was an epic moment in history. Sure, we've been here for a while, but women are producing some strong work and demanding to be paid attention to. I don't feel that women deserve any easy breaks. Actually, quite the opposite. I'll be the first to serve up a hard slice of truth when I see a woman's work that needs some improvement.

I want to challenge the stereotype. I want to encourage others, girls and guys, to step up and go after their dreams. Everyone told us we were idiots to make DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK and maybe that's so, but not too many people say that to our face these days, ha ha.

So often, the image of "girl power" has come with a big sexuality sticker attached.  Not that you ladies aren't [blush] sexy, but you don't seem to parade your sexy selves around and then say "Oh, but I'm smart, too!"  Actually, you guys put your smarts right out there, up front. And the sexy... well, that just comes naturally [blush, giggle]. It's refreshing that, in the popscape of "girl power," where girls glean more about fashion and body image over the "power" message, that you guys can show the true feminine strength with pure and honest work.  How'd you get to be cool like dat?

We've been acting since childhood. As we got older, the roles went from cutesy and without substance to super-sexualized and without substance. I have no problem with sexuality, but I like some sort of thought put into why there is that sexuality rather than fuel for a quick wank. It's all about the intention behind it. 

I think there is a misconception that to be a smart business woman that you cannot recognize that sexuality or sexiness in yourself. I think being a comic book nerd is sexy. I think loving horror movies is sexy. I like dressing and looking a certain way. To me, it's empowering. There is a certain amount of attractive appeal to my appearance, but it would be rather pathetic if how I look was all there was to me.

When I was about fourteen, people started acting strangely around Jen and me. I bet you know about the twin fetish. Some people get so freaked out, like a threesome is about to happen and they don't want to screw it up. I wanted to have a reason more than being pretty twins for people to find me interesting and I think I have. Like Judge Judy says - Pretty fades, stupid is forever.

There's a fine line between sexy and slutty and we try not to cross it. You have to keep your integrity. Never let anyone push you to do something that is out of your comfort zone. Look at Drew Barrymore. She's sexy and peels it off, but it's on her own terms and there's strength in that. I'd say a fear of undressing and being comfortable in your own skin is just as bad as slutting it up just to make someone else happy. Believe you me, being an identical twin, we've found ourselves in some terrible positions where based on our youth people have tried to get something out of us we weren't willing to give up. We were smart enough to get the fuck out of those situations, but you should take care not to get yourself in them in the first place. This industry is filled with predators and they'd just love to chew up and spit out pretty young things. I have no problem with sex and nudity. Both have their time and place.

A brilliant friend of mine has a saying. NJAPF. It's Not Just Another Pretty Face. I hate to say it, but if you look a certain way, some people will assume you're a total moron. When Sylv and I meet some people, it's like we have to prove to them we're not drooling idiots. They see us and assume we've gotten to where we are based on our looks. We've worked our collective asses off. If there was a way we could've just stood there, batted our eyes, and flicked our hair, we never discovered it and honestly wouldn't have taken the easy route. I think a little suffering goes a long way to build character and we've had more than our fair share. You have to be smart in this business and that goes for men and women.

I never throw the fact that I'm a decent looking girl around nor do I even bother saying that you should watch our films because we're women and we have it harder than the boys. That's just ridiculous. We put the focus where it should always be placed. On creating good, strong work. We want our work to speak for itself. When I hear someone say, "hey, a couple Canadian girls wrote and directed DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK? That's cool, I had no idea", I love it.

The Addams Family!  You two had lobbied for a little while to try and get some notice that you would love to do your own version of the classic TV show and comic strip.  I absolutely loved the idea, and was so glad to find that you had reflected my own desire that any redeux of the Addams Family be done with the morbid and satirical humor from the original Charles Addams panels.  I now hear that that friggin' Tim Burton is going to take it on.  You think maybe he saw you two coming and he snatched it up? hehe

Yeah, I heard about that, but I think it might be cancelled. I'm not greedy - I love the Addams Family. They gave me and Jen something to relate to that made us feel like we weren't all that weird. We were mercilessly teased growing up and even got spat on in private school for being 'witches'. I think there really should be a film on the original Charles Addams' New Yorker comic strip. It was a strong satire on how people perceive one another and treat different people. It would be an honor to bring it to life, but I think it just should get made. Just please, whoever, stick as closely to the strip as possible. Make Thing a decapitated head that rolls through the halls, make Pugsly a sadistic Dennis the Menace, don't go camp, please go class.

I love Tim Burton. Admittedly, I'm a bigger fan of his earlier work, but I would love to see what he would do with an Addams Family film. I mean this in a completely non-arrogant way, but I am not intimidated or put off by him making an Addams Family film in the least. I've heard he's doing it and I've heard it's a rumor. Who knows, right? Sylvie and I have this outstanding and unique vision for the Addams Family. It's a throw back to Charles Addams' classic comic strips and unlike anything. I know that the way we would do it would be very different from his version. I would be honored to just have the opportunity to make an Addams Family film. I want those characters and their message to live on for future generations. I know it's early in our careers and we'll have to prove ourselves with AMERICAN MARY and likely a film or two more before a studio would give us such an important franchise. And that doesn't scare me. I look forward to the challenge.
Just imagine!

Oh, and what up with the Munsters TV makeover, where they're going to explore the origins of the family, and get all dark drama?  Is this insanity or what?

The entertainment industry is very interesting. The artistic creative types usually have to depend on the non-creative financing establishments to get made. Creative types want to change the world, create new material, or hold source material sacred. Non-creative types don't want risk in their investments, so they look at things that have worked in the past/have already been made/seem popular at the time and make soulless shit. Someone might have said let's make it like DEXTER or TRUE BLOOD in the vein of the popular darker series and that's where the insanity started. Next year, one third of every film will be a remake, prequel, or sequel. We truly need new ideas not stories rehashed then raped.

You have to have a respect for the original because to do anything else is disrespectful to the fans. People hated Kirsten Dunst's blond-ish hair as Mary Jane and you know what? They had every right to. I was one of them. It's so basic. It's not true to the character. Many of these characters have been around for decades and there's a reason they've been able to survive so long. There's no need to fuck with that. People think a reboot of an old classic is a safe way to make some easy cash off their fans, but it's got to be done right. I shudder at the thought of remakes. I would "re-imagine" or pay tribute to the original, but I'd always pay the proper respect to the original and the fans.

Are you guys Dark Shadows fans, at all?  I was one of those kids who ran home to watch it, and I'm not sure if I like Tim Burton messing with it.  But maybe, being Canadian, you were Strange Paradise fans instead?

I'm ashamed to admit that I am unfamiliar with both. I do miss the old Tim Burton films. I went to the Tim Burton exhibit in LA this past week and his drawings and creativity blew me away. I wish he would go back to creating his own material because I think he can be brilliant. 

I'm so embarrassed. I never saw it, but I'll have to make up for it. We watched almost everything together. It's rare that I'll have seen something without Sylv.

Thanks sisters, for being twins, and for being cool filmmakers... and thank you for answering my silly questions.  In parting, could you each give me a title of any movie that I must absolutely find and watch?

Thank you for talking to us! This was a really fun interview, so we appreciate it. Ok, I gotta give you some goodies. A really fun one is PIECES. As is NEW YORK RIPPER. Eli Roth introduced me to them and they are fantastic flicks that you might have not seen yet.

It was a real pleasure chatting with you. You know your shit and I respect the hell out of it. Go see PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. Thank me later ;)

Thanks ladies!! 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

BadRonald Gets a Big Fan

I believe the quote was "... imBadRonald... love him, by the way..."

Yes!  I've made the big time -- a fan!!  Not jut any fan, either, but a fan who has, well... real fans!!  Loads of them.  Now, if I could get all my interview subjects to heap on the accolades...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

BadRonald Reviews: Zombie Girl: The Movie (2009)

I Was a 12 Year-Old Zombie Filmmaker!

Wow!  What a surprise this was.  Not only is this documentary -- about a twelve year old filmmaker who makes her very own feature length film -- good, but the actual film that the 12 year-old "Zombie Girl" made (Pathogen a zombie epic -- included on the DVD), is really quite fantastic.

You may have heard the name Emily Hagin lately.  She's the 18 year-old who just recently signed a distribution deal with MPI for her film My Sucky Teen Romance -- which had just premiered at the SXSW Festival.  This is remarkable, seeing that Hagin may very well be the first teenager to get a film released on the major market, but even more remarkable is that MSTR is Hagin's third feature length film.  She's a veteran filmmaker, and she hasn't even hit college! 

Emily first hit the national pop culture scene as the subject of Zombie Girl: The Movie, a 2009 documentary that chronicled Emily's first foray into feature length filmmaking, from the first day of shooting, to the premiere screening of her completed movie at the Alamo Drafthouse.  While so many star-crossed preteens dream of being the next Miley or Taylor or Mrs. Beiber, Emily Hagin finds her influences and inspiration somewhere outside the standard pop realm. She got the movie bug when she was very young, making her own short movies by the age of ten. 

Then, in 2003, inspiration struck at Harry Knowles Butt-Numb-a-Thon 5.  Emily and her mom, Megan (her constant movie-going companion), attended the annual 24 hour movie marathon, with great anticipation for the Q&A with Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. But, it wasn't the iconic director's pearls of wisdom that kick-started Emily to make her big leap into the features.  Instead, the brainstorming sprang from some good ol' fashioned brain-eating.  One of the other flicks at the marathon was the Aussie comic zombie flick Undead, and it was there and then when Emily came up with her story idea. So, by the following year, she had a completed script, and at age twelve, she began shooting her first feature length film Pathogen.

Having been a part of the motion picture and video industry for numerous years, I've grown fond of the documentaries featuring filmmakers, especially the offbeat kind that feature the non-Hollywood folk or even the next door neighbor, like American Movie, Monster Road, Burden of Dreams...  I enjoy them because the featured filmmaker is someone who is fulfilling their own passion, and struggles to achieve their dreams or their vision.  Emily Hagin is certainly full of passion.  She lives and breathes cinema, and through most of her life, has endeavored to become the filmmaker she has dreamt of being.

You could easily argue that the young filmmakers of today have it fairly easy, with affordable video cameras, highly accessible editing software, and loads of inspiration.  But, the big roadblock here is -- vision.  There are piles of homemade backyard masterpieces, written/directed/edited by every Tom, Dakota and Hunter, made in a fevered pitch of Red Bull fueled hysteria.  And, believe it or not, they're mostly heaping loads of crap, copying, mimicking, or plain ripping-off the same movies, over and over.  I don't mean to say that these home movie mavericks aren't sincere in their passion.  They are!  They clearly love the movies so much, they wanna make every cult classic over again... with their own camera.
Focus focus focus

However, once you see Hagin in action, though fairly meek and mild, you see her passion, and her vision.  For a kid of twelve, she demonstrates an incredible amount of discipline in her work, visiting the sets of professional filmmakers, to study the process, and then, awkwardly maybe, applying them to her film.  She's like a real life Big -- a grown-up caught in a kid's body.  She converses with adults with ease, while struggling to connect to the rest of the kids her age.  Thank goodness for the adults in her life -- especially her Mom -- who guided her, and influenced her to explore and grow creatively.

Bloody Momma
Like I said, Hagin's actual film Pathogen is a fairly fantastic film.  Compared to so many other backyard films, it outshines them with competent direction and finely crafted characters and dialogue.  No, it's not the best of the year quality, but for the first time out, it's very well done.

I'm now looking forward to seeing Hagin's latest My Sucky Teen Romance -- her satire on the vampire craze, lead off by the Twilight series.  I hope it bites!

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl -- Why Are You Not Watching This!!

A Girl.  Her Bedroom.  Her Camera. A Ghost.


There are some things in our pop culture lives that we come across, quite by accident, which just make you wonder -- how could I not have known about this before?  Sorta like the original The Office.  Never watched it on BBC America.  Then I heard about it and had to hunt down the DVDs.  Loved it.  And now Ricky Gervais is the best thing that's happened to comedy since Tim Conway!!

So... when I discovered The Haunting of Sunshine Girl -- again, quite by accident (don't ask), I figured I'd better latch on to this one, 'cause it's gonna blow up!  Really... it's good stuff.

There's a crud load of pretty young things all over the Internets, vlogging their miseries and joys, and occasional guitar strummings -- thanks lonelygirl15!  And some of them have become quite famous -- no thanks Biebs!  As usual, much of the stuff is pure nose goblins.  So many people looking for stardom, and none of them with near enough talent to get on the local carpeting store's cable TV commercial.  But then, sometimes you run across something that sticks out.

Sunshine Girl (no real name given) is a 16 year old girl (now 17), who has decided to start a YouTube video blog, to try and convince her Mom, and everyone else who will listen, that she has ghosts in her house.  What follows is a list of video entries, totaling near 300 in a 10 month time frame, where Sunshine encounters a strange neighbor, Creepy Lady, who shows up unexpectedly with foreboding, eerie warnings; strange messages and photos of people with pillow cases over their heads; a Creepy Man who attacks her, while she investigates her estranged father's house; haunted house busting; and a cult-like sacrifice on a rainy, stormy night.
Who dat!

But, let's not jump the gun here!  This is no Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity.  This ain't no creepy, scare the skinnies off you type of ghost story.  It's really all quite unique.  And that can be attributed to two factors.  First, is show creator Nick Hagen (along with Sunshine's Mom) who has crafted an idea about a Gilmore Girls like mother and daughter, who are just so having some paranormal activity around their home unit. The show is primarily spun from the POV of Sunshine and her Flip-style phone.  And what is genius about it isn't all the ghostly activity, but rather the relaxed pacing.  It takes several episodes (all about 2.5 minutes in length, with some a bit longer) before we ever encounter anything remotely strange. And when Sunshine finally does share some of the activity with the viewers, it's all pretty much -- whatevs!  It's like, hey there, I'm Sunshine, blah blah blah... This is my life, and stuff, and oh yeah -- I have ghosts.

This is the second -- and key factor -- that Sunshine isn't your average TV show material.  Yes, she's wonderfully adorable and very cute -- but she's not the latte chugging fashion slave (or a booze guzzling teen mom in the making), who is boy bait for the all the floppy-haired high school Casanovas (or rather, Troy Boltons) who we find on every other teenage show.  No, Sunshine is holding to no one, but herself... and her Mom, who she adores.  She's an individual.  Strong, but flawed.  And with a mind of her own.  When she speaks to the camera (usually held at her own arm's length), she has a geeky, bubbly confidence, and a quick wit, that is endearing not just to the boys, but as well to the girls.  She's like the protagonist in a Judy Blume novel, or that friend of the kid in those 70s After School Specials, who the boy has a secret crush on, but will never tell her, because she has no real interest in anything but having a good time with her friends.  It's terribly refreshing to find a girl on a show that is just fine with who she is, with no need or desire to be defined by anyone else but herself (now, that's "girl power" for you Spice Girls!).

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl is a gem of a show... and yeah -- it's a show.  Part of the experience of watching and enjoying Sunshine Girl is the wild response it gets from some viewers.  Like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, and the many caught-on-tape shockers, it doesn't announce itself as a fictional piece of work.  It also doesn't announce that it's real, either.  And this, of course, is by design.  Part of the fun of these mockumentaries is the acceptance that they are not real, along with the giddy hidden desire that maybe, just maybe, they are!!  Hell, no one went and saw Avatar and came out all steaming mad, because it looked so damn real, but was all animated.  But, really, for a few good yucks, you should check out some of the, umm... non-fans of Sunshine Girl who work so diligently -- with blogs and other YouTube channels -- to "debunk" the fictional world of Sunshine.

I had the brilliant opportunity to sit and chat with Sunshine and her Mom, to have a behind-the-scenes look at their little show (that I predict will blow up soon enough!!)  We talk about ghosts, h8rs, Cheetos, and how to be a good role model...
Let the Sunshine in

BadRonald – I know there are still a few people out there who have not seen your show.  So, can you give them a tantalizing summery?

Mom – The way we usually explain it is Paranormal Activity meets Gilmore Girls, with a little Easy A thrown in.  It’s a girl who sets out to prove her house is haunted. And decides to record the videos and throw them up on YouTube, and low and behold, people are interested.

BR – You know, I admire how you guys paced the show.  You didn’t jump in, with the early episodes, with ghosts jumping out all over.  It’s like a regular teen girl blog, and “Oh, yeah… I have ghosts…”

Mom – Yeah, we rally wanted it to seem authentic, and very much like people would be watching a friend.  We didn’t want to complicate it.  We just wanted to keep it really simple, and that’s what are formula was.  Nothing about it has been accidental.  It’s all been very specific and on purpose.  We like to call it “unscripted fictional reality.”  It’s not scripted.  It’s all ad-libed.  There’s a story and plot lines, but Sunshine does not have (written) lines.

Sunshine – Nope… I make everything up.

BR – No dialogue is scripted?  It’s all you?

Sunshine – Yes.

Mom – Yup. (to Sunshine) You’re a genius!

She gives her a high-five. Then air-fives me.

Mom -- A Skype high-five!

BR—Ah!  Skype five.  Our timing is off so, I’m swatting at thin air.

Mom – It’s all good.

BR – So, the idea behind this all comes from the show’s creator, Nick Hagen.

Mom—Yes, Nick Hagen. The genius behind the curtain.

Sunshine – He’s Oz.

Mom – He is Oz.  And we were talking about this earlier, that he is totally cool with staying behind the scenes on this.  You know, doesn’t feel like he needs credit for everything.  Although, anyone who knows anything about the show, knows that… you now – it’s a show.  So, he likes to let it be that.

BR—Speaking of that it’s just a show (and not reality), some people have really gotten testy when they figure it out.

Mom—Little bit.

BR—Does that bother you – people who get mad when they discover that it’s fiction – but still need to debunk it?  Or do you see it as part of the whole thing?

Suddenly, Mom moves to the computer on another desk, and lets Sunshine take center stage. She taps away quickly on the keyboard, with Sunshine trying to peek over her shoulder.

Mom—I’m gonna let Sunshine handle that.  I actually have to delete something off the wall that somebody just said that’s… been posted (coincidentally) as we’re talking about this.
The Ghoulmore Girls

Sunshine— Yeah, it’s just part of it.  For me, it’s kinda like, I don’t get too invested in what people say about me, because they don’t know me as well – They think they do, but they don’t.

BR—It’s very easy to be brave and write nasty things – like call you fake – while safely under the anonymity of the Interwebs.

Sunshine— Exactly.

Mom—We actually filter the comments, so Sunshine doesn’t see the really nasty stuff.  She knows it’s out there, but you know – she’s seventeen.  Let’s let her be seventeen a little longer. And honesty, we were shocked that anybody really believed it was real. We understand that very early, like maybe in the first five or so videos… But, since unicorn levitated…?  Really?  Really?

They both have a chuckle at this.

Mom—We never set out for people to think that it was anything other than Paranormal Activity.  It’s the Blair Witch Project.  So, when people started getting really angry about it… You know, we didn’t put it out there that we were actors or any of that.  Nobody would have heard about Blair Witch if they had come out and said “This is just a story…”  So, when it came down to people saying “This is fake,” and “You suck,” “You’re all liars,” -- we say -- hey we’re actorsWe’re playing a part.

BR—So, as actors, what then is next for Sunshine Girl?

Mom—We have a ton of plans.  Halloween is going to be busy for us.  We have more channels. We just launched more channels.  We’ve got Uncle Tommy’s YouTube Confessions.

BR—I saw that.  Good stuff.

[Uncle Tommy is a recurring character from Haunting of Sunshine Girl, and friend of Mom and Sunshine]

Mom—Yeah, it turned out that people really loved Tommy.

Sunshine – I love Tommy!

Mom—We were like – yes! We were thrilled!  So we’ve got lots of big plans.  Maybe, taking Sunshine to new mediums.  Maybe see Sunshine in other forms… that’s all we’ll say about that.

BR—Oh, no secrets revealed to me?

Mom—Just a tease, there.
I hear something...

BR—How about you, Sunshine.  Would you, or are you, thinking of moving outside of Sunshine and maybe taking a try at other projects or possibilities?

Sunshine—College is next year, so that’s exciting.  But, with Sunshine, as far as that goes, we’re gonna keep going with that until people get tired of it.

Mom—“Til their sick of Sunshine.

Sunshine—Yeah, until they’re tired of me – which doesn’t seem to be anytime too soon, thankfully.

BR—And you’ve been at this for nearly a year?

Sunshine—This December it’ll be a year.

BR—So, you’ve got another whole year to do this, and then it’s off to College?


BR—A haunted college?  Are there any?

Sunshine—Yeah!  I’ll have to look into that.

Mom—The plan is to keep right on going.  If the audience is liking it, then we’re having a great time.  We love it.  We’re having so much fun.  We love working together.  We’re best friends.  We’re having a blast!

BR --What’s the schedule like on your show – shooting wise.  Do you come up with an idea, and shoot?  Or do you block off a bunch?

Mom – We usually go a couple times a month, and shoot somewhere between 15 to 30 episodes at a time.  It depends on how complicated the scenes are.  Like the sacrifice scene was all in one night.  Kind of a big production – we actually brought in rain towers.  We hired a special FX artist to come in – who was also the stunt guy -- that Sunshine hits with the car [In another episode].  We had a special FX makeup artist who came is, as well, to turn me into the demon.  That was not a mask, but makeup.

BR – Nice!  Real production value!

Sunshine – Yes.

Mom—And that’s where all the money goes to.  The money we get goes right back in, to pay for these people who are willing to come in and use their skills to make it all work.  You know, it’s not easy to get a guy to let your 17 year old daughter hit him with a car.

Sunshine – Yeah… Hadn’t even had my permit for a year.

Mom – Hey Jerry!  How’d you like to have my daughter, who hasn’t been driving yet for a year, hit you with a car?  You cool with that?  He’s like “yeah!”  And we’ll pay you for it!  “Yeah, wohoo!!”

BR – How many times did he get run over?

Mom -- Yeah. Exactly!  We’re really proud that we’ve been able to pay all of our actors and our crew.  That’s a big deal.  That’s where all of our money goes.  You know, people say it’s really cheesy, and over the top.  But, whatever it is – we’re trying to make a good webseries that breaks out and entertains people, and gets people to watch.  We’re not out to say, you know… ghosts are going to hurt you.  Or, that cults are “good.”  We’re not trying to lead any children astray. 

Sunshine – Well… maybe.

Mom – Yeah!  Sunshine was!

BR – That’s one of the qualities I like about Sunshine – that it’s generally good clean fun.

Mom – Yeah BadRonald!  High five!!  Yeah, we really try.  We try at making this as family-friendly as it can be, while still keeping it creepy.  You know… Sunshine here – she won’t even wear a tank top.  I’ve tried.

Sunshine – She does try…

Mom – You know, if I could get her in a bikini – I would!

Sunshine – She does… try…

BR – There was even a time, on one of the trip episodes, where an OMG slipped out.  And you called her on it.

Mom – Mhmm!  There’s a lot of people who watch the show, together, as a family.  And we love that!  We love that moms and daughters are sitting down to watch it together. 

BR – Do you, Sunshine, see yourself as a role model, at all?  I don’t mean that you set out to, or that you have established yourself as one.  But, do you accept the idea that you could be a role model?

Sunshine – Me!  I didn’t expect to be a role model.  But, then, this happens and I’m like “Yeah!  I’m okay with being a role model.”  I’ll be like Lady Ga-Ga.  I’ll be cool like that.  Yeah.

BR – Good.  It’s good to see that, in this market that’s saturated with all the Disney stuff, or Nickelodeon stuff, that you’re doing some good straight forward… you know… girl power stuff.

They both get a nice chuckle at that.

Mom – It’s been a happy accident.  And she’s become a good role model.  She’s brave, and she’s out-going, and she’s… different.  You know, what you see is this girl – Sunshine.  And it’s not fake.  The ghost?  Okay… okay, there’s no ghost in her house – you don’t have to print that if you don’t want to!  Actually – who knows!  There may be a ghost in our house.  There have been a couple EVPs that we did not put in.

Sunshine – It’s been weird, yeah…

Mom – Not gonna lie to ya.  Yeah!  So, it is actually very possible that house is haunted… But, the real people seem so drawn to (The Haunting of Sunshine Girl) is because Sunshine is so genuine.  The relationship that you see on the show is really the relationship that we have.  [Looking to Sunshine and joking]  You know, we’d look at each other and wonder why a camera crew isn’t always following us around!

Sunshine – All the time.

Mom – We’re hilarious!  We should have out own reality show.

Sunshine – We’re so funny, it’s ridiculous.

Mom – And modest.

Sunshine – Yes.  So humble.

Mom – Yeah, humble.  And you can see, we’re both so much alike.

BR – I’m seeing the Gilmore Girls.  You guys are fans?

They both nod their heads delightedly, and pump fists.

Mom – We love Gilmore Girls.  And Veronica Mars.

Sunshine – [sing songy] Veronica Maaaars!  For three. Short. Seasons!

Mom – Our two favorite comments we get a lot is that no mother and daughter has that relationship.  And we’re like, yeah, none.

Sunshine – Yeah… none.

Smile... Oh, uh nevermind
Mom – And the other is that – couldn’t you find actors that look more a like?

To this, they put their heads together to demonstrate the point.

Sunshine – Really.  My mother. 

Mom – I am.

Sunshine – She gave birth to me.

Mom – Yeah… painful, too!

Sunshine – Oh my god.  I wasn’t even that big.  I was 6 pounds.

Mom – But I didn’t have drugs, though.

Sunshine – Well, that’s not my fault you didn’t get there fast enough.  Jeez.

Mom – We tried.

BR – Yeah, see… you guys are so faking it.


BR – What shows do you like now?

Mom – [To Sunshine] Go!

Sunshine – Oh!  NCIS. Nikita. Project Runway.

Mom – That’s just her, because I don’t watch NCIS or  Nikita.

Sunshine – Nikita’s so good!

Mom – We like the new Pan Am.

Sunshine – Pan Am!!

BR – I agree!

Mom – We’re loving Pan Am. We’re still trying to catch up on Friday Night Lights.

Sunshine – We’re so behind.

Mom – We’re busy.  She’s busy.

BR – Chasing ghosts.

Sunshine – Yup.
Howdy Neighbor

BR – So… Cheetos or Cheez-its?

Sunshine – I’m gluten free.  So – Cheetos.  They’re made of corn.  So, Cheez-its, I can’t.  Made with gluten, so… and Cheese Nips – the off brand.  Same thing.  Can’t eat them.

BR – Forget Cheese Nips.  Cheez-its are the way to go.  How about Cheese Doodles?

Sunshine – I’ve never heard of those.  What are those?

Mom – That must be a NY thing.

Sunshine – Oh, NY… I want me some Cheese Doodles!

BR – So, you guys are not Horror fans, I understand?

Mom – No!!  Not the scary stuff!

Sunshine – I’ve watched one horror movie, and it scared the heck out of me.

BR – Just one!

Sunshine – Haunting in Connecticut. “There’s bodies in the wall!  There’s bodies in the wall!”

Mom – No, we don’t watch that stuff -- that scary stuff.

Sunshine – She didn’t even see it.

Mom – I didn’t even see it.  I saw Sixth Sense.  That was scary.

Sunshine – No it wasn’t.

Mom – Yes, it was!

Sunshine – Like, three seconds of it was scary.

Mom – No, it was scary.

Sunshine – I didn’t even finish it.

BR – Because you were scared.

Sunshine – Because I got bored.

Mom – You should’ve finished it. Yeah – really, we wouldn’t have watched our own show!

Sunshine – No!  No no.

BR – Okay -- one thing we don’t know abut you?

Sunshine – One thing you don’t know about me…?  Hmmm… [time killing sing song] I got nuthin’

BR – How about school – what’s you favorite class?

Sunshine – In school, now?  Or favorite class I’ve ever taken?

BR – Ever taken.

Sunshine – Human Biology.

Mom --  Isn’t she weird?

Sunshine – It was so good!  It was amazing. I loved that class.

BR – Did you have to do frogs or anything like that?

Sunshine – We did a sheep’s heart… A cow’s eye…

BR – Wha!

Sunshine – Yeah, it was really gross.  We had to take apart all these animal parts.  We did a cat…

BR – Cat brain?

Sunshine – Yes, I think that might’ve been what it was.  I don’t remember, but  loved that class.
Such a nice lad...

BR – How about Literature.  You like reading?

Sunshine – Love reading.  Reading is super fun.

BR – What books?

Sunshine – Hmm… you see this is where – I like scary books!  I like mysteries, and stories that twist and turn.  Not necessarily like death and gore, but… yeah, I have a huge bookcase full of all my books.

BR – You’re a Jane Austin fan, right?  Is she your favorite?

Sunshine – The movie Pride and Prejudice is my favorite.  But, I love Neil Gaiman.  He’s my favorite author.  He’s amazing.  Probably, Neverwhere is my favorite book.

BR – So, how many viewers does the Haunting of Sunshine Girl have now?

Mom – Over 11,000 subscribers.  And, we also have a lot of viewers who don’t subscribe, but watch.  It’s funny with that, because we think there may be sort of a secret shame for watching the show.  We kinda think there’s a bunch a people who watch, but don’t tell, you know, their friends.  Especially boys.

Sunshine – Yeah…

Mom – Oh, and speaking of boys… we’ve had a lot of trouble with boys hating Nolan [One of the newer teen characters, who helps Sunshine and Mom with some of the mystery and intrigue]. Boys of all age.

Sunshine – Adult men!

Mom – Yeah, so many will say “He sucks…”  When the word they’re really looking for is jealous!  The girls love him, though.

BR – Safe to say, there’ll be more of Nolan.

Mom – Yes, more Nolan.  Also, more Uncle Tommy.  We also have some great stuff coming up for Halloween.  On the 29th (of October), we’ll have a special live event.

Sunshine – I’m wearing a costume!!

BR – You gonna tell me what it is?

Sunshine – No!  You don’t get to see until you tune in.  Gotta tune in.

Mom --  October 29.  Noon PST to see Sunshine’s Halloween costume.  And…

Sunshine – And live Fan Appreciation Daaaay!

Mom – Sunshine will answer your questions – live.  And!  At the end, when she’s all tired and we log off, there will be a special... very creepy… scary video.

Sunshine – [Ghostly voice] Yup!

Mom – People will be able to write in their questions, whether it be via FaceBook, YouTube or Twitter.  And Sunshine will take the questions and record her answers… Like, Barny asks…

Sunshine – Barny asks, from Jimmiestown, NY – what’s your favorite cereal?  And I say --  whatever it is!

BR – What is it?

Sunshine – Oh!  Corn Chex.  I’m so lame…

BR – Chex Party Mix at Christmas?

Sunshine – Except you can’t eat Chex Mix, ‘cause half of it’s not even gluten free.  Pretzels.  Full of gluten.

BR – How about substituting with something, like bagel bits.  But no –

Sunshine – Yeah, bagel bits.  Gluten, too.  So hard being me.

Mom – I think you have the title of your blog post –

Sunshine – “Can’t Eat That Chex Mix.”

BR – Will there be any cross-over action with your other shows?

Sunshine – Well, two of the three are me, so the other is Uncle Tommy’s.

Mom – I’ve been on Uncle Tommy,  But, we have some stuff planned that we can’t talk about yet, with some other channels.  We’re starting to expand to outside of Sunshine’s universe, too.

BR – Now, Coat Tale Productions – was that previously established, or did that spring from Sunshine Girl?

Mom – When we decided that we were going to do more that Haunting of Sunshine Girl, Nick and I formed Coat Tale Productions.  The idea behind it was that we wanted to do this and bring along all our friends along with us.  Oregon film is a very tight knit group, and we have people who we love to work with.  The reason we have Creepy Lady in our videos is because we love the actress Adrianne, who plays her.

Sunshine – I love Adrianne!

Mom – Originally Nick wrote Creepy Lady as an old woman.  And I was like, “No  You know who’s creepy?  Adrianne.  Adrianne’s creepy.  Let’s put her in!”  Uncle Tommy is a great friend in our lives, so we waited until we could bring him in, in a way that would work and we could keep him around.  So, we saw Coat Tail Productions as more of a family thing.  We formed an LLC and we’re looking to produce in new media.

Sunshine – And… what about your seventeen year old?

Mom – My seventeen year old?

Sunshine – Your seventeen year old producer.  You forgot.

Mom – My seventeen year old is a producer, yes.  She’s the third part of out little production group.  She’s a producer – which is gonna come in handy when she’s applying for colleges.  It’s gonna be like, “Yeah… producer.  What’ve you done?”

BR – “World’s youngest producer – what’up?  What’ve you done?”

Mom – “Four million views on YouTube – ba-da-doosh!

Sunshine – [soto] “Ba-da-doosh?”

Mom – Yeah, this has been good for her.  She’s learning a ton.  She’s taken to it like a duck on water.  She’s incredibly, incredibly professional. When we were at the creepy house location, with the Creepy Man –

Sunshine – Not be confused with Creepy Lady.

Mom –  (At that location) it was the first time we had a crew, instead of just her and I and Nick. At one point, we were all sorta like goofing off, and we Sunshine here was like “C’mon, let’s get this shot!”  She’s totally in this, making creative decisions.  She helps with the casting.  She’s definitely the one who had final call on casting Maxwell as Nolan – which wasn’t easy, to try and cast a boy who was cute and could keep up with Sunshine –

Sunshine – It’s very hard keeping up with me.  I’m very riveting.

Mom – And could do the ad lib.  Which, is not that easy.  Oh!  And to hold the camera!!

Sunshine – Not easy… Sometimes you get half the face, and other times you can’t even hear them.  They forget that they had the camera, and suddenly [gesturing holding the camera at arm’s length] the hold it out and nobody's there.  No one’s in the shot.

Mom – It’s interesting bringing in other actors, because we’ve been doing this on our own for 8 months.

BR – Pros.

Sunshine – Yeah!

Mom – …At this style.

Sunshine – But, nothing else.  We can’t do anything else.

Mom – I’ve been acting since I was a year old.

Sunshine – I’ve been since I was six.

Mom – So… we’ve been doing this for a while.  She’s done a lot of modeling.

Sunshine – Foot model.

Mom – I’ve done a ton of voice over.  Stuff for Nintendo – I’m the voice of Princess Rosalina, for Mario Cart and Super Mario Galaxy 1&2.  Lot of film – What the Bleep Do We Know. Lots of local stuff – Oregon.

BR – Famous last words?

Mom – Thank you!  You’ve touched on stuff that a lot of other people don’t get to.  So… Please, everyone stick around for October 29th!! We’ve got some really cool surprises.

Sunshine – Thanks!  Tune in!!

So... go tune into the show at the YouTubes

And... as, Sunshine would sign off with -- blah!