The Arrow interviews Dante Tomaselli
Fans of this site will most likely know who Dante Tomaselli is since we've been following his career very closely since the beginning. He first kicked my ass with "Desecreation", then buried me with the all-out trip fest "Horror" and now the man is back to assault our senses with his recently wrapped flick, "Satan's Playground" which stars Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Edwin Neal (TCM) and Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead). I had the good "joo joo" of talking with Dante about his new film and here's the dealio!
ARROW: Can you give us a short synopsis about what "Satan's Playground" is about?
DANTE: It's about a vacationing family lost in the woods and something horrifying lurking in the shadows. Felissa Rose from Sleepaway Camp and Ellen Sandweiss from The Evil Dead play sisters. Their car breaks down and they stumble upon an ancient, seemingly abandoned house. Someone lives there. At first you think the old woman who answers the door is very helpful. But you discover there's something more. She has thirteen children...and she warns of a violent, unseen force lurking in the Pine Barrens. The Old Woman talks about the Jersey Devil...a centuries old legend. Soon, the lost family comes face to face with a supernatural evil...something that lives in the woods. There are many surprises and you won't know what will happen next. Edwin Neal from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre plays a demented backwoods character. Satan's Playground is a monster movie with a strong emphasis on terror and suspense.
ARROW: What was the budget on the picture and what was it shot on?
ARROW: How will "Satan's Playground" differ when compared to your two previous films "Desecration" and "Horror"?
DANTE: Satan's Playground is definitely much scarier...much more suspenseful and entertaining...it doesn't skip around in time, it doesn't feel scattered. Desecration and Horror were purposely told through a series of dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations. This is my earthbound horror movie. It's less fantasy driven. Also, a big difference is that I think I finally have a cast of really solid actors and characters you can care about. There's a level of polish in this film that was maybe lacking in my other works. This film feels more focused -- less all-over-the-place.
ARROW: With the "Texas Chainsaw" remake, "Wrong Turn" and "House of 1000 Corpses" not far behind us, what in your opinion will make "Satan's Playground" stand out? It does seem to play within the same formula as those films.
DANTE: I never saw any of those films. Not a single one of them. I never even saw Cabin Fever or House of the Dead. I've been planning Satan's Playground since 2001, right after I shot Horror and before any of those movies came out anyway. So, I'm definitely not trying to fit into any formula. I've always had an idea for a stripped-down, lost-in-the-woods shocker...and it came straight from my imagination, my fear of dark forests and the unknown. Satan's Playground is heavily influenced by films I saw growing up in the 70's and early 80's like THE ORIGINAL Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, The Evil Dead and others. I don't watch new horror movies. I don't like them.
ARROW: Let's talk gore and nudity. What's the graphic quotient within the film? Will exploitation fans be happy?
DANTE: It'll have its moments of gore...definitely. But mostly, this film is very suggestive. It's about what you don't see, what you can't see. There is an erotic undercurrent between Felissa Rose's character, Donna, and Edwin Neal in one scene...very sadomasochistic. There's also a satanic orgy sequence that will feature a lot of nudity. That's about it as far as overtly sexual content. I always have felt that less is more. A good stripper doesn't reveal too much too soon. Since, in my universe, I'm probably coming from a place of repression, I have a feeling each of my films will get progressively sexually explicit. In any case, I think exploitation fans should be pleased here. So will fans of arty horror films because the look of this movie is designed and packed with detail and lots of texture. Mostly though, fans of simple, back-to-basics scary flicks should enjoy this. More than any of my films, this one aims to provoke...AND entertain. Satan's Playground is an atmospheric shock machine.
ARROW: How did the casting of Edwin Neal come about? I heard Michael Berryman was once slated to star? What happened there?
DANTE: Yeah, Michael Berryman was all set to have a role. He read the script, watched my other films and we talked on the phone. We both were excited. Everything was fine until we had some scheduling conflicts that couldn't be resolved. Basically on the dates I needed him, he was shooting something else. And it would have been impossible to move the schedule around to fit his, so I had to look for someone else. It's not like we left off on bad terms or anything; it's just one of those things. I'd still love to work with him on a future film. Felissa Rose and Chris (Are You Going? Magazine) Garetano always spoke highly of Edwin Neal. I was a big fan of his work in Texas Chainsaw Massacre but I didn't know how to reach him. Both Chris and Felissa had his personal home phone number. I called. We hit it off instantly. He's very funny and smart, very bizarre. I explained to him the situation, told him what the character was about, what I was going for. He sounded enthusiastic and interested. About a week later, my producers flew him from Texas to the New Jersey Pine Barrens and wow...he really delivered! Edwin is frightening in Satan's Playground, you'll see.
ARROW: Would you say that "Satan's Playground" contains more straightforward action set pieces than your two previous films?
DANTE: Definitely. There's no doubt about it. This film has an energy that my other films didn't have.
ARROW: What was the more difficult, "stunt" oriented sequence to shoot?
DANTE: Well, Felissa Rose and Ellen Sandweiss really do go through hell in this film. So does Danny Lopes, who has starred in all my movies so far. Danny's character, Sean, and Ellen's character, Paula, go through a very intense torment...but it's more psychological. I'd say Felissa's character gets it worse. Much worse. I don't want to give away too much but there's a scene where a truck is barreling into her full speed and she gets out of its way just in the nick of time. When we shot that, I cringed because it really looked like she was going to be completely run over every time. There's also a violent sequence where Edwin Neal's character ties Felissa up and nearly beheads her with a long butcher knife. She was so battered and traumatized after that scene, especially since we did so many takes, I'm sure she'll tell you about it when she talks to you.
It was a rough shoot. Felissa and Ellen had to cry most of the film's duration and let me tell you those tears were real. You never heard so much crying on one set. The crew members were all respectful and professional. It was like group therapy. Before each of the emotional takes, and there were many of them, Felissa and Ellen would completely go into the worlds of the characters and channel pure anguish. They did this by tapping into painful and disturbing memories and emotions. As strange as it sounds, it was my job to make them cry. Of course I never hit them physically but sometimes it felt like some kind of elaborate S&M session. Luckily, both actresses felt that the tears were cathartic so I don't feel too guilty. They wanted to go to that place and let go.
ARROW: Any weird occurrences (like a wandering goat) happen on set? Care to share any of them with us?
DANTE: Well, it was a very creepy area
where we shot. A town called Whitesbog...an eerie, densely wooded
environment deep in the heart of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. It is
the most boggy area I've ever seen in my life. This is a place where
the legend of the Jersey Devil still thrives. Some of the locals
believe in the creature. I remember this little girl who lives around
there would come to the set and tell me all sorts of strange stories.
She was like 11-years-old, something out of a Fulci movie, very
doll-like and innocent. She kept warning me of the danger in the
woods. I wonder if we have any behind-the- scenes footage of that? It
was very scary to shoot there at night...in those woods. Plus we shot
Satan's Playground in December and January, during an arctic blast.
The coldest winter we've had in 50 years! Let me tell you it was
bone-chilling being out there in the middle of the woods in
below-freezing conditions from 4 pm to 5 am. Horrifyingly cold!
ARROW: Where is the film now in terms of distribution and when we'll get to see it?
DANTE: The production company behind Satan's Playground is Em & Me Productions. My executive producer is Millie Stanisic and the producer is her sister, Milka Stanisic. They plan to launch an interactive website with the Satan's Playground trailer very soon. As far as distribution, we are absolutely seeking a theatrical release. Of course, I'd love a Halloween release.
Felissa Rose / Dante Tomaselli / Ellen Sandweiss
I'd like to thank Dante for dropping by and giving us all this info on what looks like might be another Tomaselli keeper. I personally can't wait to see Ellen Sandweiss hit the genre again. It's been too damn long! Bring it, Dante! We're up for it!