If you’ve yet to check it out, The Funhouse Massacre is basically mandatory for any genre fan, so don’t spend your time wondering, and don’t pirate the film on a whim – go rent, or better yet, purchase the picture. It’s the kind of film that calls for repeated viewings. You won’t be tossing your money down the drain in this instance, that’s a certainty.
As a big fan of refined B-films, it’s easy to call The Funhouse Massacre a masterful piece of work. It looks great, it thoroughly entertains, it also features a few faces you’ve come to know and respect. But behind all those great qualities lie great questions. Strong films don’t put themselves together, after all. That’s up to sharp and inspired minds. Minds like that of Andy Palmer, director of The Funhouse Massacre.
After two trips through the funhouse, I knew I had to talk to Andy. I had to pick the man’s brain – learn what kept him driven and determined; learn about his experience shooting the film. And, let’s be honest, we all love to hear stories related to Robert Englund, who stars in the flick. You know I had to ask about Englund – that was non-optional.
It turns out Andy is a hell of a guy who loves what he does and loves to talk about his projects. That makes the work of people like me – obsessed fans so devoted they’ve dedicated their lives to the genre – a whole lot easier when it comes time to get down to brass tacks.
It turns out there weren’t many brass tacks to avoid, Andy’s just an easy-going dude who loves good movies as much as you and I. He was a blast to probe (yep, I tossed that one in there intentionally), and I’ve got to believe you’ll find the man’s thoughts quite enlightening!
Addicted to Horror Movies: First, talk to me a little bit about the shoot. What kind of locations were utilized? Any noteworthy hurdles encountered along the way?
Andy Palmer: Oh I think this films middle name is “hurdles along the way,” but Petri, we do it to ourselves. We fell in love with this project and we knew it was hugely ambitious with the budget we were able to secure, but we gathered a crazy group of people together to make it happen and we did. And I feel like every penny went up on the screen to try and tell a funny and gory story. We shot in Ohio, which is where the script had the film set in and it just was this great group of freezing Californians’ and tough as nails crew from Ohio, setting out every night to make a fun flick. For us the biggest hurdle was time. We shot the film in 20 nights and we just flew through setups for 20 straight nights. The birds were chirping at 4:30am and we knew that we were going to race the sun to get through the shots. The whole crew was fantastic but a huge chunk of credit goes to my first AD Elliott Barker, my DP Filip Vandewal and the Beki Ingram and David Greathouse who ran the Creature Corps crew for a majority of the shoot. Without their talent and expertise, this movie would never had gotten finished in 20 days. We shot at this amazing Haunted Theme Park called Land of Illusion in Middletown Ohio. 100 acres 5 different haunted houses. It became like a mini studio. We shot all but the diner scenes, and the motel scenes in the film there.
ATHM: Give me one Funhouse Massacre production story you’ll hold onto forever.
AP: There are so many great days on set. But the one that really sticks out was the tornado warning night. We had stopped down production because of lightning nearby, and then our set medic calmly announces that we were under a tornado advisory and that if it hits, 50 cast and crew members were instructed to go to the women’s restroom as it was built into the hillside. Luckily as you saw in the film the women’s restroom was flipping huge, so I think we all would have fit. Doubly lucky, the storm blew over and we got to go back and film. But it was a bit scary for an hour or so.
ATHM: What was it like working with Robert Englund?
AP: I think for any genre director, the chance to work with him would be a dream come true, but it’s 10 fold beyond that, because of what a tremendous person and actor he is. He’s just amazing to watch on set. So professional, so giving of his time and energy. It was everything as a director you could want from an actor.
ATHM: He doesn’t exactly have the longest role in the film, how many days did he spend shooting with you?
AP: You are right about that, he is only in the film for about 11 minutes, but I don’t feel like the movie is cheated by that, because he fricking owns those 11 minutes. He sets our baddies and the story up perfectly and then you have another amazing group of actors to take it away. We had Robert for 2 days on set, but they were a heck of a fun 2 days.
ATHM: What are the chances we see you turn to Englund for other future works?
AP: Oh absolutely. I have this dream to do a really dark police thriller with him. I would just love to see him play a role similar to Morgan Freeman’s character in Se7en, or William Peterson’s character in Manhunter. A veteran cop, showing a rookie the ropes on a sick and twisted case. That maybe too much like Se7en, but something in that vein would be so much fun to do with Robert.
ATHM: I really enjoyed the fact that the comedic tones of the film are so pronounced. When you’re watching a genre film, simply as a fan, do you prefer to see a little bit of comedic relief, or are you more invested in straight forward, dramatic horror?
AP: I’m a huge fan of comedy in general, I feel really comfortable with comedy, and I am truthfully really scared of horror movies. I still hide my eyes when I see a horror movie in theaters, so the blending of the two helps me both challenge myself with something that scares me, but also feel more comfortable in those scenes that have brevity. I think everything has its place. I felt for this film that funny and gory was the combination I really wanted to go for. I felt like trying to bounce between very scary and then very funny with these crazy kills mixed in, was never going to tonally feel good. So I opted for 2 out of the 3. I think the gore pairs with the humor nicely, in a way that if we were really trying to ratchet up the tension for in a bunch of scenes might have fallen flat.
ATHM: Give me the scoop on the special effects (for the record, I applaud you for working for a more tangible look as opposed to the rarely impressive visual effects-heavy approach). There are some really awesome, graphic shots in the flick, and from what I understand Bob Kurtzman handled the special effects. Give me your thoughts on Bob and his Creature Corps crew.
AP: I knew from the minute I put down the script I wanted to have as little CGI as possible and as many practical gags as we could afford. What makes Robert and his crew so outstanding, is they can break it down and say for what you have, we can do this, this and this, and maybe not this…But we could do that instead. There is never a hint of “you don’t have the budget for that so no!” It was always, “we might not have the budget for that, but here are 10 other great ideas that we can do.” It’s very freeing to work with them. We do have about 16 CGI shots, but they were all just fixes to stuff here and there. Mike Wilkinson who did our digital stuff, did a great job of blending it into the practical effects.
ATHM: Before CGI became such a major player in the cinematic world, Hollywood often found a way of birthing these horror stories about the troubles of practical special effects and how they frequently generate problems on set, often delaying schedules or leading to a lot of additional footage left on the cutting room floor. Did you run into any major hiccups when it came to the special effects aspect of the movie?
AP: Robert, Beki and House, were really up against it on this film. Because of exactly what you mentioned, we always saved the big blood gags for the end of the night and they had probably a maximum of two takes per gag. We shot them all two camera, with one in slo-mo to hedge our bets as much as possible, but almost every time we got it on the first take. They are just amazing at what they do. The nice thing too is that I’m and editor as well, so I know that I just need pieces of really cool stuff. If you give me pieces, I’ll cut something cool together with it.
ATHM: I notice that you tend to edit the films you direct. What’s the reasoning behind that? Do you feel as though you’re most in control when you’re the one staring at the monitors and dissecting and assembling the footage, or is it more of a passion thing for you?
AP: The reasoning is really budgetary more than anything else. I started as a television editor 11-12 years ago and still pay the bills that way. So to hire an editor that has my experience in the bay is usually out of our price range. I’m getting much better at leaving the director in me at the door, and then just trying tell the best story possible in the edit, but it is very hard. On my first film ‘Find Me’, I didn’t sleep for the first 6 or 7 nights of post, because I felt like the cut was terrible. But that was the director in me feeling insecure about all the things I screwed up. I wasn’t letting the editor step in and go yep, you fucked this all up, now I’m going to go in and fix it for you. I am getting better, but I always bring Warner Davis my producing partner and my editor friends in early and often to screen, to help really suss out what is working and what isn’t, and what new ideas might be brought to the table.
ATHM: I haven’t had the chance to see Badlands of Kain. Has the film been made available on disc, or is it still a VOD exclusive at this point?
AP: It’s out everywhere on VOD now, but we are looking to do a DVD run this fall. It was a smaller movie than Funhouse, so we’re doing a smaller roll out for it. But so far the reception has been really good, and I would love to have a DVD run of it, I love the physical media.
ATHM: What can I expect from Badlands?
AP: Badlands was written by the very talented actress Rachelle DiMaria who has been in almost all of my films, and produced by Warner and my longtime friend and collaborator Levi Ellsworth. It is a really fun thriller about two girls, who on a cross country road trip get stranded in this very strange little town in Arizona called Kain. It’s a love letter to Hitchcock and The Twilight Zone.
ATHM: I see that Paul Soter is in the film. I’m a ridiculous Broken Lizard fan, so I’ve got a soft spot for Soter and just about anything he does. How did you guys connect, and was he an easier performer to work with given the fact that he’s got some experience directing as well as acting?
AP: Paul is an awesome guy. A lot of people don’t know this, but he is a huge horror fan, and he had directed an After Dark film called Dark Circles. Warner is really close to a lot of the After Dark crew, so we were able to contact him about Kain. I’m a big fan of comedic actors in dramatic roles and the moment we sat down with him, I knew he was going to knock Terry out of the park, and he does. He is super creepy in this film. Paul’s a lot like Robert, very prepared, very professional and yes, the fact that he is a director was huge help. Not in any kind of way where he would try and take the scene over, but in a way that because he’s a director we had an instant shorthand. Much like ‘Funhouse’, ‘Kain’ was also a tight shoot, so that shorthand really helped us get stuff shot quickly.
ATHM: Let me switch gears a bit here to get your opinion on POV, or found footage films. Are you into them? Is that a tactic you might consider employing for one of your own films?
AP: Found footage is a really deceiving technique of filmmaking, because on the surface it seems like it’s an easier way to tell a story, but it’s not, it’s harder. Unfortunately it gets a bad rap, because so many people try to do it and they don’t pull it off. But man when it is done right, it can be flipping awesome. The best I’ve seen it done was in “The Taking of Deborah Logan” I loved that film, the editing was seamless, and the found footage suited the story so well. That’s the trick is figuring out why the found footage is the best way to tell the story, not the best economical way to tell the story. If you’re doing it strictly for budget reasons, it rarely works.
ATHM: And finally, what in the world can you tell us about Fatal? There isn’t a wealth of information about the film floating around the web, but it’s certainly a film I’m curious about.
AP: Fatal is in very early stages right now, so I can’t say too much about it. But I can tell you it was written by a young writer named Andrew Saxma, and the kid is super talented. I think people are going to be hearing a lot from him in the next few years.
Addicted to Horror Movies would really like to thank Andy for sharing some awesome stories and honest answers with us. As you know, if you read the review, we’re big fans of The Funhouse Massacre. Learning and truly understanding that you’re also a big fan of the man who made it is just icing on an already delectable cake! Thanks, Andy – and best of luck to you in the future; we’ll talk again soon!