DAVID GREGORY is better known for his badass documentary The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth which was found on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Ultimate Edition DVD. Now the lad has jumped onto the feature length directing hell train with his "bad kids f*ck peeps up" opus PLAGUE TOWN (read our review here) which is now spooking the shelves on DVD. David recently took the time to talk chop-shop with our sorry asses and here's what went down.
PLAGUE TOWN was your first feature length directorial debut. How did you find the experience? Ready to jump back on that crazy train again for your next one?
The experience was like an exhilarating but intense boot camp. Particularly during production where there’s just a ton of people striving for the same goal under very difficult conditions. We had a limited budget, a tight schedule, predominantly night shoots, a ton of locations all over Connecticut, a load of kids, an impossible amount of practical make up FX and we were shooting film. An uphill battle every day but everyone there was up for the challenge.
It’s particularly satisfying when things turn out exactly as you imagined them at the script stage and there’s a handful of examples of that in the film: the car attack sequence/hubcab death springs to mind and pretty much everything with Rosemary, the waif-like, doll-eyed child with a penchant for delicate bloodshed. I’ve written the next script, Little Polly Does Bad Things, but now I have to embark on the slow process of trying to get finance for it.
Did your background in documentary filmmaking help at all in terms of tackling a feature?
I suppose the fact that I’d heard the war stores from several veterans about the process of creating a low budget horror film helped prepare me to some degree, having done docs on the likes of Last House On The Left, Henry, Texas Chain Saw, Manson Family etc. And to some extent on some of those documentary projects there was a vast amount of coordination and wrangling of people that goes into telling the story you want to tell. My goal was always to do a narrative film and having not done one since my thesis film Scathed (which is on the Plague Town Blu Ray) I was quite prepared to face a whole world of new challenges. My passion for unsettling cinema was as much an inspiration as anything.
The film has to do with murderous kids causing a ruckus; what was the initial creative spark that got PLAGUE TOWN going on the page?
I had a horrific babysitting experience while still living in Nottingham, England. I was left with a demon six year old who when I refused to give him a beer went on a rampage. He started tearing things off walls, kicking the TV, banging his head against windows, intermittently crying, screaming, giggling and generally being a child possessed. No amount of reasoning would calm him down. After a few hours he wore himself out and fell asleep but not before I was completely traumatized. That inspired a short film script called Come Out And Play. That short was never produced but with the help of Co-Writer John Cregan we developed it into a screenplay, then a few years later we got the green light.
When I read the synopsis, THE CHILDREN OF THE CORN somewhat came to mind; was the film an inspiration on any level?
I was never a fan of CHILDREN OF THE CORN as it surfaced in the 80s after the censorship bubble had burst and all that was being produced around the world (with a handful of exceptions) was this very blood free and, frankly, horror free generic fare. A far cry from the 70s and early 80s where horror cinema enjoyed a real blast of varied and confrontational material. Bigger influences on the film were THE BROOD and LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE, both of which were produced during this wonderful period in Canada and England respectively. Both had a grey, melancholic mood presiding over them well before the violence begins allowing you to already be out of sorts and kind of sad when the brutality does hit, making it hit that much harder or at least from a different perspective.
There are other examples of this kind of overcast mood horror from DEATHDREAM to PHENOMENA to MESSIAH OF EVIL. So while I wasn’t directly influenced in terms of the story or set pieces of any particular film, the presiding atmosphere was one that was linked to this style. But you’re not the first to bring up COTC. In fact as we were filming in CT in the fall there was quite a lot of corn fields around and I made it a rule that there was to be no corn anywhere near the set. I wanted that film as far away from everyone’s consciousness as possible. In terms of the violence, I’d grown up with a steady diet of video nasties in England, most of which were European where often plot logic was sacrificed in favor of creating really elaborate death scenes. I wanted the violence in this film to original, brutal and beautiful.
How arduous was it to get the film off the ground financing wise?
Dark Sky Films were one of the few companies that I approached with the script. Right after reading it they showed an interest in doing it. It took a while to decide what budget level we could do it at and where we could shoot it without compromising the script too much. Dark Sky seemed like an ideal fit because they’d being putting out some superb DVDs of films like TCM, HENRY, MAGIC etc. as well as newer movies like THE MANSON FAMILY, ANTIBODIES and THEM.
How would you describe the shoot, easy sailing (I know rare but it happens… sometimes…I hear) or a bumpy road?
There was certainly a vast array of problems that will always be associated with doing a project of this scale on this budget. But once you’re underway you have to figure out a way to get as much as you can in the time allotted. Dark Sky were pretty amazing about giving us what we needed and not interfering a great deal on a creative level during production. Post production and then exhibition came with a whole new set of soul destroying problems but again, you just have to get it done.
What would you say was the toughest obstacle you had to overcome during production?
There was one night where we shot on a historic bridge called Bull’s Bridge far from any kind of civilization and we had 18 or 20 kids in prosthetic ghoul make up on a school night and we shot quite an elaborate set piece with them all night long. That seemed like a night we’d never get all we needed, but we got it.
Then for some reason we seemed to always be fighting the sun coming up whenever we were shooting one of our gore shots. It actually became a sick joke that we’d call one of our actors who’d had half of his face blown off to set right around dawn. He’d been sitting in holding with a nasty, bloody, fleshy appendage hanging from his face for what seemed like hours then once he got to set we’d have minutes to pull off what he needed to do.
How involved were you during the editing process?
I co-edited the film with co-writer John Cregan at my apartment. What sucked was that we didn’t get all our rushes for what seemed like months after shooting wrapped because of the deal we did with the lab. We had to deliver a first rough cut before we even had all the footage. Not ideal. And it’s very nerve wracking to not know for all that time if you got what you needed or if there was some problem with the footage. A couple of reels during one particularly brutal sequence where the kids attack two women in a car were unusable due to there being some camera problem.
But as with the writing process John and I worked off each other pretty well. We also spent an enormous amount of time on the sound design, with Erick Jolley, and music by Mark Raskin. The music for the film is one of its strongest assets and really helps to create that atmosphere of doom. It’s not your typical horror score with an overriding theme, but more a long, gloomy descent into madness. A lot of it might not even be classifiable as music, more atmospheric tone. Mark and I have talked about doing a CD which I think would only appeal to a minority of people and those chosen few would likely be found months later rocking back and forth in a corner of their apartment with a blank stare in their eyes. Good shit.
The film has been doing the Festival rounds now of late; are you happy with the reaction from the audiences on a whole?
For the most part the response has been great and in some cases overwhelmingly positive. There has been a fair few negative responses too based I think on expectations of what a horror movie should be these days. But those audiences who understand that this isn’t the next SAW or even HATCHET and more about atmosphere and dread generally have been getting into it. The dividing line seems to be those who have the patience to stick with it as it builds and concentrates on not necessarily likable but recognizable characters. There’s often criticism not just of this film but of other horror films that the characters aren’t likable enough so therefore you don’t care what happens to them. And I find this criticism bizarrely ill-informed.
Even horror classics like PSYCHO, TEXAS CHAIN SAW, and THE SHINING are populated with unsympathetic characters while low budget horror is often peopled with dislikable or even annoying characters. But as long as they’re recognizable you can still identify with them. In PLAGUE TOWN’s case it’s a bickering family which to anyone I know who’s been on a long vacation with their nearest and dearest is immediately familiar. Now that’s not to try and pretend that PLAGUE TOWN is in the same league as the classics but generally those who are amused by or empathize with the characters are those who get the most out of the film. Some people don’t connect with this at all and switch off before the nastiness begins.
Also very cool is that some audiences have been quite vocal in the theatrical setting, with gasps, laughs at appropriate moments (there is a very intentional thread of black humor in the film) and even screams on occasion. One particular scene which involves a decapitation via cheese wire often prompts a three stage response, first gasp, then groan, then on some occasions applause. That always made me smile a wicked smile.
Do you have any children? Do you find children scary in general? I know I do!
I do not have children but I have to say that for all the nastiness we wrote for the children to inflict on the outsiders, the kids that played our sadistic brood were nothing but a delight on set. Granted most of them were early teens but some were as young as 6 or 7. They were fantastic and willing to go the extra mile for their gruesome roles in the film. Some of the parents got a little impatient as their kids were running around the woods at all hours of the night getting bloody, but the kids treated it like an extended Halloween. So kids? Not as bad as we made them out to be in the movie!
A PLAGUE TOWN sequel. Feasible?
The ending of PLAGUE TOWN is a bit ambiguous and not your average the killer is dead but he’s not dead ending. A treatment is written but it really depends how enthusiastic the response to the film is on DVD and around the world. Not likely anytime soon but you never know.
Any other projects lined up? What can we expect from you next?
I abandoned my post at my DVD label Severin Films for a while to go off and make PLAGUE TOWN so have been catching up with that and documentary work since we delivered. I was lucky enough that my label could keep me in food and water during this time so now I’m concentrating on getting the likes of NIGHTMARE CASTLE and EAGLES OVER LONDON to DVD and INGLORIOUS BASTARDS to Blu Ray so we can keep the lights on. In the meantime I’ve written the script I mentioned above and have a couple of other things I’d like to pursue. I enjoyed the production of the film so much that I’d like to get back and do it again as soon as possible.
What was the first drink you guzzled at the PLAGUE TOWN wrap party?
I had a beer. Then several more.
Nice! As you should! Thanks for dropping by the site man!
My pleasure. Dig the site very much and thanks for your support of PT.