This extreme and unsettling sub-genre continues to chew (sorry!) through the ages, making its feverish mark and inspiring a slew of new filmmakers to create their own deranged excursions into the green inferno of cannibal cinema.
Isle of the Damned is one such title – a movie that shamelessly wears it influences on its badly dubbed, deliberately amateurish and bloodily soiled sleeve, lovingly parodying the entrails-saturated genre that inspired it. I recently had the pleasure of catching up with its director, the elusive Antonello Giallo aka Mark Colegrove to have a chat about his tongue-in-flayed-cheek movie, Italian gore cinema, the challenges of low-budget filmmaking and The Simpsons…
How did the idea for Isle of the Damned come about? Had you always conceived it as a parody? What inspired it?
It was definitely a parody from the get-go, inspired by all the old Italian cannibal films. We knew that if we were to try to do a serious Italian cannibal film on our budget it would have ended up unintentionally hilarious. A serious film really wouldn’t be our style anyhow. The script was written by Mark Leake, and we had done one previous film together called Pleasures of the Damned, which is the prequel to Isle… Jack Steele is the main character of that one as well, and it’s more of a zombie film, with devil worshipping bikers. Immediately after we finished Pleasures, we decided to do a follow up, since the whole bad dubbing/bad wig shtick worked a bit better that we expected, and we wanted to do more with the Jack Steele character.
How was the production, given the low budget of the film?
Nobody was getting paid, so scheduling was a complete nightmare. Everybody was essentially giving up their Sundays to act and help out on the crew, and since we were only shooting one day a week, sometimes for just a few hours per day, production stretched on over a period of three summers, and I would spend the winters editing.
This was your feature directorial debut. How was the experience for you? Was it a difficult shoot? What were the most challenging aspects?
I had a good amount of experience editing, as well as behind the camera before this, so I felt like I had a good grasp on how to put sequences together. Also we had a great crew, and generally the more good people you surround yourself with, the smoother things will go. It’s important to put trust in the folks you’re working with. If you’re unable to delegate responsibility, you’ll end up wearing too many hats, and ultimately the film will suffer. As I mentioned before, the most difficult thing was scheduling; if we were all getting paid to do this, and it was our only job, we probably could have done this in a couple months as opposed to three years.
Much of the comedy evident in the film stems from the horrific situations and predicaments – all parodying older Italian cannibal movies of course. How do you go about getting the right balance of comedy and horror? Do you think you lean slightly towards one more than the other?
I lean towards comedy in anything I work on, it’s what I watch the most of, and my favorite horror flicks are the horror comedies like Braindead, Evil Dead 2, Toxic Avenger, etc. The concept for the comedy in Isle was just the simple audacity of recreating an Italian cannibal film. By being serious and deadpan in the execution, on our budget, we knew it would be funny as an intentionally bad film for the MST3K (Mystery Science Theater 3000) crowd. Had we tried to put a bunch of cornball jokes in there in the vein of Scary Movie, the film never would have worked. Obviously there’s a lot of cornball in there, but there’s no actual direct jokes. The joke is how stupid the film is. For me, the gore had to be good though, the over-the-top gore and kick-ass authentic sounding soundtrack from Paul Joyce (as Kobold) help accentuate the stupidity of everything else that’s happening.
Where you ever concerned about going ‘too far’ in terms of the gory, graphic and at times rather shocking imagery you created?
Not really. There were a couple things we debated not showing, but we set out to make a “shock” film, so in the end everything made the final cut. To a lot of the folks that only love serious horror, and are simply looking for the sickest film they can find, they’ll definitely find the gross-out stuff here, but they may be disappointed by the moronic plotting of Isle. I’ve heard a number of times, from people who passionately hate the film, “Well, at least there’s some good gore.” Also, I think had we not “gone all the way” it would have been an injustice to the original films.
What do you think ensures comedy and horror are so often good bed-fellows, if approached properly?
Let’s face it, most horror films are cheesy, ridiculous, filled with stupid dialogue, and constantly insult the viewer’s intelligence at any given opportunity. Compared to the sheer volume of crappy horror films that come out, there really are only a handful of good, legitimately scary ones. The fact that audiences are VERY familiar with the conventions of the horror genre makes it an easy target for parody. I think ultimately the audience wants something that’s somewhat familiar, but approaches the execution in a new form. When you see a film that approaches the comedy in a fresh way and not a Scream or Scary Movie knock-off, it can be very exciting. The success of Shawn of the Dead is a good example and now people are producing knock-offs of that formula.
How difficult was it to create the special effects and make-up in the film on such a low budget?
It was a pain in the ass, that’s for sure! We wanted the FX to be good, of course, and that’s where most of the film’s budget went. We had a couple amazing FX gurus, Shane Vannest and Ian Potter, who were able to come up with some innovative ways of doing things cheaply yet still looking great. We’d get together three or four nights a week after our day jobs to work on severed limbs and FX for the coming Sunday, and it was an exhausting but fun process!
Why do you think these sorts of films – overtly gory, comedic, and deliberately shocking – remain so popular today?
Well every horror fan loves some splatter I think. It never really gets old! As long as filmmakers can keep thinking of new ways to kill zombies, horror will be popular!
How difficult is it being an indie filmmaker in the industry today?
It’s still tough, but there are several new outlets for distribution that help level the playing field between us and the big guys. We self-distributed Isle for the US, and then went on to secure or own deals with several companies for international distribution without the aid of a sales agent. Before the dawn of the digital revolution we probably wouldn’t have been able to do this on our own. It has its downside though; obviously piracy will cut into your sales, especially when you’re not a big budget Hollywood remake raking in millions of dollars.
What are the challenges of making low budget genre pictures? What are the subsequent rewards?
Well the obvious constraints are recruiting cast and crew, access to locations, good equipment, etc. Mark Leake and I were talking about that recently, and he made brought up a good point: anybody who makes a film and overcomes those boundaries, has essentially accomplished the impossible. It’s an epic task taking on a project that large simply out of your own love for it. So subsequently the rewards are much greater. A no budget film is an extremely personal project, so at the end of the day you can feel more proud of your achievements. Assuming we did this with someone else’s money we would have never had this much control over the final product and artistic vision.
Who or what has inspired you most as a filmmaker?
I grew up watching Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and all the 80s classics, with a good mix of Evil Dead, early Peter Jackson and Troma, all thrown in the mix. But it occurred to me recently that maybe The Simpsons has been one of my biggest influences. It came out when I was 10, and I watched it religiously ever since. Most of the stuff I’ve done has been somewhat subversive satire in that vein, even Isle of the Damned could be one of the bad movies that Troy McClure has starred in.
What stories and ideas appeal to you most as a filmmaker?
I love comedy, particularly social satire or a good underdog story. I also love bizarre cult films, cinema of the 70s. Any story can be appealing depending on how it’s told. I don’t actually watch a lot of new horror, I feel like I’ve seen the same garbage over and over again, especially with all the remakes that are coming out now. Occasionally you get a gem like House of the Devil. Obviously the story wasn’t what was appealing about it, but rather the way it was told.
What does the future hold for you? Any projects you can tell me about?
Well we’re in the midst of filming Mutantis, a monster flick in the vein of Blood Freak or Nightbeast. It’ll have a lot of the same humor as Isle and it’s written by Mark Leake and being directed by Kelly Fitzgerald. I’m taking a backseat as the “exec producer.” Hopefully later in the year I’ll go back to directing, with a sitcom pilot called Satanish, we’ll also soon be posting more comedy shorts on our site, and getting a re-release of Pleasures of the Damned out there on DVD by August or September. So things are pretty busy!
Lastly – I just have to ask. Who the hell IS Antonella Giallo?!!
Antonello Giallo is our excuse to make an intentionally bad film with crappy dubbing, and our scapegoat for the overall sleaziness of the film.
Isle of the Damned is available in the UK later this year courtesy of Yellow Fever Films.