The name Douglas Rath may not tote the same allure as say, Eli Roth, but that’s going to change over the next few years. Rath is still a young filmmaker hitting his stride, and Shock Value (read our review here), the man’s latest, is a perfect example of a stellar film by an unheralded prospect. It’s an amazing piece of work, and Rath shows an amazing understanding of the filmmaking process.
To be honest, Shock Value is one of the best genre films of 2014. When compared to other stand out indie films exclusively, it might be the very best. And that’s not simple hyperbole. That’s an honest opinion from a guy who has spent decades studying film, and knows true talent when he sees it. Douglas Rath is a truly talented individual, and the horror community is going to understand that very soon.
Douglas was cool enough to share some thoughts on his latest project as well as his future endeavors, which, for the record, sound every bit as awesome as Shock Value.
Addicted to Horror Movies: First off, explain what this film is about for those that aren’t familiar with the story.
Douglas Rath: ʻShock Valueʼ is a black comedy set against the backdrop of a no-budget horror film production. Itʼs about ego, narcissism, social isolation and the madness involved with creativity. The plot follows Miles Fowler, a low-rent but highly creative, Cormanesque director. He takes money from his grandmother and anyone else he can con to back his schlocky horror movies and buys awards from tacky film festivals. He is sexually frustrated and not adverse to masturbating in public. Hollywood doesnʼt know he exists and although he wears his fringe status as a badge of honor, heʼs desperate for recognition…this desperation drives him toward an ill-conceived scheme, whereby he blackmails a real-life serial killer into starring in his next production. The film-within-the film is called “The Whorehouse That Screamed” and the production doesnʼt go quite as planned…
ATHM: How exactly would you categorize the film? It’s a bit drama, comedy and outright horror.
DR: Ha, thatʼs a tricky one as ʻShock Valueʼ sort of defies being neatly categorized. I hope that that is one of itʼs strengths. We made it for Horror fans but it also turns the genre on its head and is very dark, quite surreal and quite comic. Itʼs been interesting seeing how people have reacted to it – some people take it as pure entertainment and others implicity understand that they are in for an unconventional ride, and go with it. You can take it on face value, or you can perceive the themes of ego, narcissism, voyeurism etc with a more critical eye. However people want to interpret it, itʼs theirs now.
ATHM: When you’ve got a story so wide open in terms of atmosphere and vibe, do you fear that the film may not have a comfortable place in the industry?
DR: We always knew it would be tough to define and that can confuse people but I hope the uniqueness of the film can overcome its obliqueness. During production I really enjoyed the creative freedom of not being bound by convention or religious adherence to genre – it keeps the audience on their toes.
ATHM: I loved the idea of a film, within a film, with outlandish violence all mixed in. It’s really a pretty creative approach.
DR: I wanted to make a serious film that wasnʼt too self-conscious. Itʼs confrontational and surreal; itʼs not frivolous and it has real heart – but I still found myself saying things like: “Put more blood on the dildo before you throw it at his face.” Setting a serious film in the middle of a lowbrow blood-fest gave me the opportunity to put real people into ridiculous situations. Itʼs fascinating to watch normal people try and cope with insanity.
ATHM: Just how did you get involved with Anthony Bravo?
DR: I ask myself that every day. Anthony and I have been friends since high school. We actually made our first film together when we were teenagers. We both moved to LA from Chicago after we graduated and have been collaborating ever since.
ATHM: This guy puts in a terrifying performance, and he seems so far ahead of the young, hungry pack of performers. Is that something you could immediately see from him?
DR: I knew he was brilliant immediately. I met him when I was 13. I came to visit a school called the Chicago Academy for the Arts. I saw him in an improv class and the general vibe was that he was it. I later attended that school and we became friends after I helped him with his Halloween costume. He wanted to be a guy with a fork stuck in his head. I, having been obsessed with special effects, had a rudimentary knowledge of make-up so I told him I could help. It was our first collaboration and weʼre still trying to best it. Tony is one of the most extraordinary writers Iʼve ever met. And in terms of acting I can say you havenʼt seen anything yet. He is fantastic in this film but the character of Nick doesnʼt even play to his greatest strengths.
ATHM: I think that underneath all the extreme violence, there are a few detectable messages in the film: First a young filmmaker should never allow a film to swallow, and alter who he or she is. Second, this one kind of hammers home that there may be hope for the seemingly hopeless. Are those messages you’d hoped to consciously express?
DR: Yes actually, it is a bit about not giving up and giving all youʼve got to your work. I think there is real nobility to sacrificing for your art (especially if your art is crap) no matter how bad it is. Like a terrible singer that never gives up because they cannot live without the stage. I have great affection for people who commit fully, without concern about how they are perceived.
ATHM: Tell me briefly, what it was like assembling this film. The smooth days, the hardships. I imagine something of a rollercoaster.
DR: Indeed…thereʼs always chaos in film production, both good and bad. However, we were really lucky having a producer like Gregory Goodman on board. Because of his experience many problems were squashed before they arose. It was low-budget but we got a tremendous amount done in a short space of time, we were an efficient and welloiled machine. We shot a lot of sequences in my house, so I basically lived in the production. I had a Dario Argento inspired whore house in my living room, which was set within what looked like a pale pink, elderly ladyʼs house which we had specifically painted. It was also base camp for the production so grip trucks and crew would turn up at 5.30am every day – I didnʼt even have keys to my own house. That did not endear me to the neighbors! I found blood in my floor boards and rafters for months after we wrapped.
ATHM: And, I know a lot of filmmakers do not prefer to answer a question of this nature, but I like to ask it so that aspiring filmmakers might be able to see the true challenges, fiscally foremost, that await determined filmmakers: What kind of budget did you have to work with.
DR: We had a production budget of 150k. ʻShock Valueʼ was deceptively complex. The schedule was tight and we had to shoot very quickly. If we got to a third take then we were probably running behind. If you are trying to make a low or no budget film keep your cast and locations to an absolute minimum. Oh…and donʼt cover your actors in blood…
ATHM: I won’t take up too much of your time, but I will say this: You’ve got one amazing picture under your belt, and I cannot wait to see what’s next!
DR: Thank you, itʼs been a pleasure talking with you. Right now Iʼm developing a number of projects but at the forefront is ʻMonster Butler.ʼ Itʼs a true story about the serial killer Roy Fontaine. Malcolm McDowell plays the lead. We did a short version of it as a proof of concept and are now focusing on the feature film. Itʼs still in development but we hope to have it together within a year. Iʼll keep you posted!