Despite what you may think, the world of independent horror film is still very much alive. You may have never heard of films like Creature From the Hillbilly Lagoon or Splatter Disco, but writer/director Richard Griffin is making horror films on very small budgets, just like the movies you might have seen back in the era of drive-ins and backstreet movie theatres. Griffin worked for fifteen years paying his dues making car commercials for local Rhode Island television stations before he began his film company Scorpio Film Releasing with producer Ted Marr in 2004. Since then, the pair have made seven films and most have had decent distribution (most notably through Shock-O-Rama).
Scorpio Films will be unveiling their latest project, Beyond the Dunwich Horror next week in Providence. A modern update on the classic novel by H.P. Lovecraft and an homage to Italian horror cinema, it features cult favorite actress Lynn Lowry (The Crazies, I Drink Your Blood, Cat People) as well as an abundance of all the gore that you could want. Cinema Suicide writer Tim Fife talks with Griffin about his home town, his new movie, and plans for his next feature.
Why did you decide take on The Dunwich Horror?
I was writing a completely unrelated horror screenplay called “Graveyard Rot,” and as it went through drafts we started adding more and more Lovecraftian elements. More drafts and more Lovecraft stuff was added and finally I said “why don’t we just make this a more overt Lovecraft picture?” We started adding a lot more elements from the Dunwich Horror and did a massive rewrite of the script to incoroporate more chunks of that story and to make it an unnoficial sequel to the story itself. Basically its suppposed to be 80 years after the events of the original story had happened.
Were you inspired by the oringal movie adaptation as well?
No (laughs). It’s funny because there are some scenes that really work well and I think the music is fantastic. I love the Les Baxter score and I think the opening credit sequence is brilliant. It leaves a lot to be desired. I think it’s from a time period when no one knew what to do with Lovecraft.
Since you’re a native of Providence, how much influence did that have on you making a Lovecraft story?
It was denitely an incentive. I don’t think a Lovecraft feature has ever been done in Providence. I think most of the features based on his work were shot in Los Angeles or Canada.
It seems there is a resurgence of interest in Lovecraft lately.
I think this new wave is because of the internet with people talking about his stories and obviously the great inlfuence he’s had on modern horror. There’s a whole internet society of fans talking about his works.
Does he have a huge influence in Providence?
It’s definitely there. He’s buried 5 minutes away from me at Swan Point Cemetary. Theres defintely a point of pride here to have a writer of his stature. He’s also a uniquely Rhode Island writer because in his stories he talks about Rhode Island and Providence in particular and places that you can actually walk past. The great thing about Providence is that theres a real respect for history here, so a lot of the buidlings he’s talking about in his stories are still there.
Do you use any of those places in the movie?
Yeah, one of the first shots in the movies is Benefit street which is right around where he was born. There’s a few exterior locations of places that he directly talked about.
Is Providence supportive of horror film making?
I can’t generalize it to just horror, but its very supportive to film making and independent film making and typically always has been. We have two major univerties so its always been a very arts friendly community so its always been easy for us to find great locations and not pay a lot of money. We just finished a movie called Splatter Disco with Ken Foree from Dawn of the Dead. The film is predominately shot in a niteclub, and we actaully got a very nice one for eleven to twelve days out of our shooting schedule for nothing. You’re not gonna find that in Boston, New York or LA.
It seems like you’re maybe the most prolific director in Providence right now.
In terms of horror, I may be the only one. I’m not sure. There’s one other person, Tony Nunes, and he’s making a movie called Zombie Allegiance which is really cool. I’m the dirtector of photography on it.
How many movies have you made?
I’ve made a lot of them, but I reset the odomoter when I started Scorpio Film Releasing. We’ve made seven films since 2004, all features.
How do you get the financing for these films?
In Splatter Disco and Dysfuntional Book Club, I was hired to make those films. Pop Cinema distrubuted Feeing the Masses and Creature From the Hillbilly Lagoon (aka Seepage!) and we had a very good working realtionship with them, so they came out and asked us to direct a movie for them. It was my first time working with name actors. I got Ken Foree from Dawn of The Dead and Lynn Lowry from The Crazies and I Drink Your Blood. It was really cool becuase I grew up watching them in those films.
I can’t wait to see Lynn Lowry in Dunwich.
She’s really great in it. All the movies I’ve ever seen with Lynn Lowry she always plays a hippie waif, and then she plays a mommy dearest in Splatter Disco. She’s really evil. She’s terrific. We worked really well together on Splatter Disco, so when it came time to do (Dunwich) I wrote the role for her. She plays a librarian and knows where all the skeletons are buried in Dunwich, so she’s a harborer of the dark secrets. She shot her scenes in two days, very professional.
How long did it take to shoot Dunwich?
In the case of Splatter Disco it took basically in eighteen days. Dunwich was shot exclusively on weekends because it had such a huge screenplay with many locations. The main bulk of shooting was between July and December of 2007. Most of the actors were locals, so I would say “hey come up to my apartment on Saturday and we’ll shoot.” It was a nice relaxing experience because typically you’re racing.
Was there an effort in making the gore scenes seem realistic?
Visually, the movie owes a big debt to the Italian horror films of the late 70’s and early 80’s, especially Lucio Fulci. I basically wanted to make this film as if Fulci was still alive and wanted to make another horror movie. Theres a lot of intensive gore scenes, but I don’t want to give them away because a lot of them are really good surprises. There’s a lot of ocular damage. I think we’re going to set the world’s record for the amount of eyeballs destroyed in a movie. Instead of being really ridiculous and people being ripped in half or something, I wanted to have a very basic, disturbing quality so I didn’t have have to be over the top. I didn’t want it to be like an early Peter Jackson film like Dead Alive where you’re enjoying the bloodshed, I wanted to really leave a mark on the audience and get under their skin a little bit. One of the common fears we have is something happening to our eyeballs. I’ve shown people some rough cuts and they just cringe. Theres a lot of blood, theres a lot of gore, and theres a lot of maggots and worms. It’s a real Italian supper.
What is the score like? Is it like the Baxter score, or is it more inluenenced by the Italians?
I told Tony (Milano, composer) I wanted it to sound like a late 70’s, early 80’s Italian horror film; all synthesizers pretty much. I wanted to have a very Fabio Frizzi (Beyond, City of the Living Dead) kind of sound. Tony is scoring the film with synthesizers that were all made prior to 1985. If you know those kinds of movies, the minute you hear the main theme from the movie you’ve got a big smile on your face. Its not a carbon copy of those scores, it just has that flavor to it. And it’s very beautiful.
You say you’re influenced by Lucio Fulci. Is there anyone else you’re influenced by?
I was never a student of film, and I don’t try to watch movies and rip them apart and analyse them I just try to enjoy them. I love foriegn cinema; I love Italian and French movies, not just horror. But for some reason, Italian films excite me. I just love the craftsmanship of them, I love the artistry. So people like Fulci and Argento, as well as the great Italian western directors like Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Leoni I’m a huge fan of. And I love Italian post apocolyptic, Escape From New York ripoffs. I love Antonio Margheriti and Enzo Castellari. After Dunwich we’re working on a very spaghetti post apocalyptic called Fists of Karma 2009. That’s starting in the Fall. It’s going to be completely ridiculous. I really want it to be amazingly stupid and comic booky.
Beyond the Dunwich Horror premiers May 23rd at the Columbus Theatre in Providence, Rhode Island.