Robert Kurtzman knows a thing or two about special effects. If you don’t believe me, look at this man’s resume. He has been a part of so many genre (and even a few non-genre) films that it would be ridiculous to try and list them all. As a director, Mr. Kurtzman brought us the groovy WISHMASTER starring the great Andrew Divoff. And now, he is going back old-school with the gory and fun schlocker,
RAGE. It is a b-movie at its finest, with killer vultures, transvestite little people and an homage to the Ed Wood classic BRIDE OF THE MONSTER.
One thing I really appreciated about talking to Robert, was his love for horror. Let’s face it, if you know what a “boogen” is, you know a little about the genre. He is also just a really nice guy that wants to make good flicks. I had a blast talking about killer birds, working with Divoff and just how much fun it is to go in the woods with your friends and make a movie. I wish more directors had this mans enthusiasm. He is an incredibly cool guy and if you want to have a good time, make sure you pick up your copy of THE RAGE available now.
Now I told this to Andrew [Divoff], my reaction to the film was that it felt like the fun is back in horror. It kind of reminded me of a cross between RE-ANIMATOR and DAY OF THE ANIMALS.
[Laughing] Yeah, that’s kind of what me and John Bisson always say it is. And then mixed with a little bit of everything from, you know, Monogram Films, Bowery Boys. I mean we were talking about one time putting a gorilla in a cage somewhere in the movie and it never got in the movie, we ended up just putting Gor in the basement. It’s our Tor Johnson homage.
You know, I saw that, but I was afraid to say that it kind of reminded me of Ed Wood, I thought you might take that the wrong way. I’m actually a big fan of Mr. Wood and I really dug that aspect.
Nah, I don’t take that wrong. You know, this is a b-movie. Some people just don’t get it and a lot of people get it really well. But its really a b-movie that always intended to revel in its b-movie-ness. From how me made it to the fun that we picked for its subject matter. We just kind of… we wanted to throw a send up to all our mad doctor, crazy animals gone amuck movies. I mean, the idea is that it wasn’t so much the birds than it was the giant claw you know.
That’s the thing, it was a fun b-movie and you had a willing cast, who just throw themselves in their roles. I particularly liked how you had a lot of actors with very little experience like Ryan Hooks.
Well it was the same kind of [thing] if you went back and… me and John wanted to jump back twenty years and make our first film. And in doing that, we tried to find what we could afford. We were looking for just young talent. And we threw the movie together really quickly when it came to that, from casting to that… I was on the BURIED ALIVE film and that film I literally rolled into this two weeks later. The main portion of the shoot so… I mean we basically said we are making a movie and it’s going to be on a low budget, like well under what a Sci-Fi Channel movie would be even. And we said, these are the limitations, maybe we bit off more than we can chew having it be so full of effects. But at the same time it’s kind of like, the whole point of it was we wanted to do it like an Eighties film where there’s non-stop rubber and stuff. We do have CGI in it, but we kind of approached the birds like we were doing a Harryhausen film. But we couldn’t do stop-motion animation, because it takes too long and costs too much now. So we basically made it look like [stop-motion], as much as we could with our birds.
With all these styles that you used in the film, and the shift in story, I can honestly say I didn’t know how it was going to end up. And I liked that, I thought it was very unpredictable.
It could be partially the process that we did it in. Because we were unpredictable in our choices. One day we were talking and hanging out and, you know, putting the transvestite little person in the movie just came up out of the blue you know. [Laughing] ‘Wait a minute!’, you know, we just write it in. Because we didn’t have to go to anybody to get approval. And we would change things, like Divoff was in the opening segment and then he was supposed to get killed off because we only had the money for him for a few weeks. So what we did was, after we had so much fun working with him on that opening fight sequence, we wrote him back into the movie with the third act and rearranged the whole movie just so he could hang out with us longer. [Laughing]
He is such a genuinely charismatic, nice guy, which is opposite from pretty much every role he plays.
It’s a lot like that with a lot of… even Tobin [Bell] is like that you know. On camera, they are so evil and diabolical and in person, they are just nice, sweet guys.
That does seem to be the case with horror, I have had this discussion with others also…
Everybody thinks we’re all perverted deviants [Laughing].
That has always bothered me that horror gets this reputation as filling young minds with murder. I grew up watching them and I’ve never killed anyone.
I grew up watching movies, you know, sneaking a peek at the drive-in or sneaking into movies when I was young. Even watching late night horror host shows that your parents didn’t have a clue what you were watching [Laughing]. And then when video took over, you know, it was like you just got your videos and off you go to your room to watch Chainsaw or some movie that you hadn’t seen in the theatre you know.
It’s true, video was the greatest invention ever when it came to genre films and being able to have access to them.
Yeah, ‘cause you read about them forever and then you finally got to catch them once video hit. Otherwise it was just random, hoping it would show up in the TV Guide somewhere. It was pre-cable and half of us didn’t even have cable, we had that UHF rotary deal.
[Laughing] I remember setting the alarm at three in the morning to catch THE BOOGENS.
Exactly, in fact, I taped that on HBO when HBO had it first.
Yeah, back when HBO had three movies and it was like from seven to two in the morning or something like that. That was one of the films, I taped that and a bunch of other stuff.
I love THE BOOGENS. People don’t have the love for THE BOOGENS but those things were awesome. Back to you though, I was looking through your resume and I am so impressed with what you have done with special effects and now directorial. With that experience, why go and do something this low-budget, outside the studio system?
Well, I had done stuff out here but they were Indie films but they weren’t necessarily “Indie” films. Like WISHMASTER was done at Artisan, which was Live and then Artisan then Lionsgate. So it was always a studio kind of process with that, as well as the other films. The thing about this that attracted us was that, well me and John were always talking about how much fun was it for those guys on PHANTASM or EVIL DEAD when they went out with all their buddies in the woods and made a movie. They didn’t have to answer to anybody and they just had fun, you know. And we never got that experience. So we decided that, if we are going to go back and make a movie which is what we always talked about, like raising our own money and doing a movie right. And we finally just said we’d do it. And when I moved back and started the company back there, it allowed me to do that, it allowed me to… I had the space to do it, I had the location to do it, so it was just a matter of putting a team of filmmakers together. We basically assembled this team of veterans and then a team of newbies from Ohio and the surrounding areas, that were film students or people that were just into it and wanting to learn. Everybody had multiple positions on the movie, so it was that kind of movie and that kind of experience we wanted to experience. We kept reading about it, you know Sam [Raimi] did it, and hearing all the stories from those guys about how much fun it was. And we did the same thing, we just wanted to have a good time and learn every process of the film, every filmmaking process. On the other, bigger Hollywood films, you are kind of isolated from learning all that. You don’t really learn anything which is either the effects or whatever your position, directing or whatever. In this scenario, we got to learn it all. We were all painting the sets, building the sets, rigging effects, putting the feathers on birds. Whatever needed done, I would pull somebody from the office and throw them back seaming fake heads and then throw them back in the office when we had to get a script breakdown done or something.
That is kind of how James Cameron worked for PIRAHNA 2: THE SPAWNING, he was making the fish.
Yeah, that’s because you always run into a lot of guys that know what it takes so you can get that done. And a lot of times you run into a situation where people go, ‘oh we can’t get that done.’ so you find yourself just doing it ‘cause you’ve done it before. I mean, you just go, ‘oh, I’m gonna throw latex on that thing ‘cause I need one shot, an over the shoulder of a mutated ear’ and you just do it that night. You just throw it up, and I mean, what’re you gonna do? Cameron knew how to do it so he’s out there throwing it together.
I’m assuming with this company you will continue to work with these types of movies?
Well we just did THE RAGE, which was our first one. And then we facilitated production for Ed Douglas on his movie, DEAD MATTER. So we produced that with Ed and basically put the crew together and line-produced the movie. Greg Jones is the producer on it for P13. Basically it depends on the projects. I mean, sometimes if they come to us, as a low budget feature to be financed in Ohio, we shot it on 16mm and we just put it together and shot a little film unit there. That was a fun movie as well.
When I was watching the commentary, which is a whole lot of fun to listen to, but I thought it was interesting that it was your intention to make a movie just for fun, with no message. But Divoff’s speech, which sort of felt like Bela Lugosi’s speech in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, seemed to ring true with the drug companies not really wanting to cure anything because there is no money in healthy people.
Maybe it’s just me and John’s… we weren’t trying to make a statement or anything other than, that is something that we are always frustrated with, the bullshit with insurance crap. So we were just getting that gripe out but we weren’t making a big point of it other than making it kind of funny, you know. Its a little over the top, the whole thing.
Yeah, I dug that BRIDE OF THE MONSTER moments, it was that film right? The whole, ‘home… I have no home…’ moment right?
[Laughing] Yeah, and it was funny because he came in that day and me and John were talking to him and he goes, ‘I understand, I understand. I brushed up on all my Lugosi stuff over the weekend.’ And me and John looked at each other and we went, ‘That’s it! He’s got it. We don’t even need to coax him through anymore.’ [Laughing]
Now let’s talk a little bit about Erin Brown. I really dug her in the MASTERS OF HORROR episode of “Sick Girl” and I had liked her work here. How did you approach her for the role?
Well, originally there was someone else who was going to do the picture. And for various reasons, it didn’t work out. And Erin had come up through a friend of John Bisson, Carl Morano, and when we put the word out that we were looking for someone else, he suggested Erin after working with her on, I think DEAD RIOT, THE SHADOW: DEAD RIOT movie. And so we ran into her at a convention. And I think, at the convention she thought me and John were just like two dudes that said they were going to make a movie, you know, she probably gets approached a hundred times at every convention with guys going, ‘I’ve gotta script!’ you know [Laughing]. So it was kind of like, ‘okay, yeah, whatever.’ Call me when it happens, you know, that type of thing. So we called her in like a couple of months later, once we had locked in when we were gonna shoot. And she was, at that time, busy on some other project that was starting at that same time. So she kind of turned us down and then that other project really didn’t happen, or got pushed. So then she called back and said, ‘I’m available!’ and we’re like ‘Good, we start in two weeks!’ [Laughing]. It was like that. And you know, it’s that kind of movie too in that we didn’t have a prep at all with the crew. We had so much money to put everybody in a hotels and everything, we just put… they came in a day or two before shooting. One day was getting all their wardrobe fitted, and the next day was just doing one read through of the script, and then BAM, we’re just rolling, shooting.
That must have been terrifying, especially for the less experienced actors like Ryan Hooks.
I gotta tell you, he never had a problem. He memorized and did everything and hit every mark and did everything that was asked of him, you know. And in that sense, he was terrific, but he had never done anything before, aside from some local high school plays and stuff.
Again, there is an Eighties feel having a cast with so many newcomers, which is nice.
Well we did the film and basically threw a casting net out for like two weeks, and got maybe a hundred tapes of young actors, you know, that we could afford. And these are the best people we put together. The big thing is, we had such a short shoot, and so many things could screwed that up and these guys came in and they were all there to play, you know. I mean, they were there to do work, but everybody was there to work professionally but they were having a good time.
Let me know what you think. Send questions and/or comments to JimmyO@joblo.com