If you listen to our podcast, follow us online, or know us personally, then you've heard us rave about an amazing short film called TERRIFIER, starring a truly terrifying and sadistic clown named 'Art'. And if you're anything like me, then the 20 min spent watching TERRIFIER was just not enough. "WE NEED MORE!" Luckily for us, Art The Clown will return in his first feature length film, ALL HALLOWS' EVE, that will drop right in time for Halloween on October 29th.
We here at Forever Midnight were lucky enough to be granted an interview with our favorite up-and-coming filmmaker and creator of TERRIFIER and ALL HALLOWS' EVE, the multi talented Damien Leone.
Here is our interview...
Since the release of All Hallows Eve is still a month away, what can you tell us about your feature length film debut?
It's really exciting. I think people who are already familiar with Art the Clown because of my short films are going to be satisfied. All Hallows' Eve is basically an anthology in the same vein as Creepshow. It centers around a babysitter and two children on Halloween who stumble upon an old vhs tape that was slipped into one of their candy bags. The tape features three short films, one is The 9th Circle with about 5 minutes of additional, never before seen footage, the other is Terrifier and the third is a completely new short. Although it's an anthology, the film is heavily centered around the babysitter and the kids, hopefully making it feel like one cohesive film as opposed to a collection of shorts. At the end of the day, I consider this film an introduction to Art the Clown and a precursor to an entirely new Art the Clown feature.
Can you tell us the evolution of having a 20 minute short horror movie on the internet blow up to be a full length movie with horror fans lined up to get a copy?
I'm a firm believer in youtube. I think it's the greatest platform for an aspiring artist. If you make something good, people will find it. It's only a matter of time. Basically, that's what happened to me. Jesse Baget, the producer of All Hallows' Eve, saw Terrifier and emailed me asking if I'd be interested in throwing it onto a horror anthology. Originally the film was supposed to be comprised of short films by many different directors but I selfishly talked him into letting me write and direct the entire film. Thankfully he agreed!
In the trailer for All Hallows' Eve, we see the babysitter talking on a corded phone and watching VHS tapes. What year does the film take place?
I wish it took place in the early 80s but since there is a cell phone in Terrifier we had to make it take place today. Aside from a few cell phones and a reference to the internet you would assume it did take place a few decades ago.
There's a resurgence in collecting old horror VHS tapes. Do you still own or watch VHS?
I actually have a killer vhs collection. That was one of my many hobbies growing up. I have hundreds of them. Unfortunately, I have not had a working vhs player in years so for now they're just collecting dust. I'm gonna have to buy one of those dual vhs/dvd players one day soon. Believe it or not I don't even own a bluray player yet!
What happened to your other feature length film The 9th Circle? Did the name change and become All Hallows' Eve? Or can we expect another film starring Art The Clown?No, it is not the same film at all. The 9th Circle is a completely different story. It's not an anthology and there's no supernatural vhs lol We're definitely going to get that off the ground in the near future because I have some great Art the Clown material left. My producer said if All Hallow's Eve does well, well get to work on a sequel. If that's the case, The 9th Circle may become All Hallows' Eve 2. It can easily be done. I'm toying with the idea.
Art has got to be the scariest clown I've ever seen. What are his origins? How did you come up with his look and design?
Thanks so much! I'm really glad he works. His evolution from concept to execution was pretty slow. I don't think it hit me all at once like a bolt of lightning. A lot of times when I'm writing, I'll come up with a creepy scene first then build a story around it. That's how Art the clown was born. I had this idea about a young woman coming home from a Halloween party late at night on a city bus. Little by little all of the passengers get off until it's just her and a creepy dude dressed as a clown who slowly begins toying with her. His antics become more and more severe and eventually, he's trying to stick a syringe in her hand. Ultimately, this scene became the opening scene in The 9th Circle short film which is now the opening segment in All Hallows' Eve. The only difference is we substituted the bus for a train station waiting room since it's very difficult to get permission to shoot on a moving city bus.
As far as Art's look, I knew I wanted him to be black and white, have gaunt facial features and be a mute. Basically, he had to be the exact opposite of Pennywise from Stephen King's It who I feel is unbeatable if you're going in that direction. I also got a lot of inspiration from the original Twilight Zone which is my favorite show of all time. There's an episode called Five Characters In Search Of An Exit which features a clown. I definitely borrowed a little from that as far as the costume is concerned. I also knew that Art had to be the sickest, most sadistic s.o.b imaginable. There's no line he won't cross.
How has the character evolved from his initial on screen debut in The 9th Circle, through Terrifier, now up to his first full length movie All Hallows' Eve?
In 9th Circle, he's only on screen for about 4 minutes. He's like an appetizer. In Terrifier, he's the main course. You get a a solid 20 mins of non-stop mayhem from him which is what people wanted after seeing The 9th Circle. As far as his character is concerned, he's remained the same demented psychopath throughout all three films but physically I've altered his appearance over time. In The 9th Circle I made a much more subtle facial prosthetic for the actor, Mike Giannelli, who plays Art. In Terrifier, I re-sculpted him, making his bone structure much more zombie-like. In All Hallow's Eve he's he has a few new tricks up his sleeve. As always he signs off in typical Art the Clown fashion.
Mike Giannelli is amazing and terribly creepy as "Art The Clown". How did he get picked for the role?
Mike is one of my closest friends. He did not set out to be an actor but he'd always assist me with make-up tests. I could always count on him to be the test subject of countless special effect experiments. When I was casting The 9th Circle I knew I needed someone who would be comfortable sitting in the make-up chair for at least 3 hrs a day then sitting in the make-up itself for another 10 hours. I already had a mold of Mike's face and the role didn't require much acting....or so I thought lol It was a no brainer. He signed on and it was obviously a role he was born to play. What Mike does with the role is extraordinary. Even though he doesn't mutter a sound, he brings so many layers and nuances to the part that only he can. I give him very little direction. The rest he takes and runs with.
All great horror villains are defined by their weapons, and Art The Clown seems no different. In Terrifier he pulls out a rope to beat his victim with that has all kinds of terrible things attached to it: knives, scalpels, and I think I might have even seen a syringe on there, too. What a fucked up and great idea that is!
So my question is... What do you think about Art possibly becoming a horror icon? His image seems to have already gone viral, and now with a feature length film coming out that will only propel him further into icon status.
Yes, I totally agree. A classic killer needs either a signature weapon, or a signature look. For the most part, Art uses classic maniac weapons but he does so in a unique manner. Even if he pulls out a kitchen knife, you'll never see him simply stab someone in the stomach and walk away. He's gonna use that knife in the most hideous manner. It's important to give audiences a fresh spin even if on the surface it feels like something they've seen a million time. The rope for instance... It's hard to tell but it's actually not a rope. They are braids from the hair of women he's killed. You'd never know that unless I told you but that's his mind set.
It would be a dream come true if Art became a horror icon! I'm all for it lol Unfortunately, it's not up to me. I'll do my best to keep him on the horror community's radar and hopefully one day he'll make a big splash. Honestly, I'm beyond thrilled that even a handful of people like yourself appreciate him. That makes me feel really great. My goal for the next Art the Clown film is to satisfy the supporters. I have a scene with him in mind that is gonna be so sick and awesome...I don't think the kill has ever been done before. It's definitely something to look forward to.
Lets talk Terrifier for a minute. The first time a saw it I was so blown away. I could not believe a low budget short film could be so good. What can you tell me about the making of that film?
Thanks man! Looking back, I'm amazed we accomplished so much in so little time with such a small crew. We have car cashes, heavy duty special fx, lots of location changes, etc. We shot that film in like 5 days plus a pick up day with probably a 6 - 7 man crew for under 5 grand. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into it. As far as I can recall, it went super smooth. The actress Marie Maser was awesome and such a pleasure to work with. A dedicated actor for a role like that is very important. As you can tell by the last scene in the film where she is a mutilated torso, she was very dedicated. That scene was uncomfortable for her, both emotionally and physically. I'd taken a mold of her body and made a silicone replica of it that I proceeded to dismember and carve horrible words into. On set she had to hide her real body under a table and stick her head and neck through a tiny hole so we could attach her to the fake body. It was painful for her neck and it was awkward having 6 people, mainly guys, standing around her hideously deformed, naked body. That takes massive dedication and she was willing to sacrifice her vanity which for an actor is asking a lot. Trust me, most actresses would reach that point of the film and say "I'm not doing this" even if they signed on at the beginning of the film having read the script.
The "Halloween Jingle" in the opening scene of Terrifier reminded me of the Silver Shamrock jingle from Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Was that an intentional nod to that film?
Haha wow good ear! I literally went to the Kaplan brothers who composed that jingle and said, can you guys make a Halloween jingle that sounds like the Silver Shamrock song from Halloween 3. It was as simple as that. I'd like to add since we're on the topic of Halloween 3 that I really enjoy that film and I think it's hugely underrated. Tom Atkins is tremendous and it has one of the most morbid, shock endings in any horror film! The only problem with that film is that it was unfortunately associated with the Halloween franchise.
Lets talk a little bit about you, now. When did you first pick up a camera and start making films?
I'd say about 11 years old. My close friend's father would let us use his JVC camcorder to make short films. We would take the camera to my house and improvise the whole film over the course of a few days without a script. They were so atrocious, made no sense and are completely unwatchable. The one thing they taught me to do was in-camera edit which really helped shape the way I see a movie in my head, even till this day.
You hold a long list of credits: Writer, director, editor, special FX, etc... Which came first? Did you always want to be a director? Or were you more of a special fx guy growing up?
Special make-up efx came first and then making films came immediately afterwards. If I remember correctly, I bought my first starter make-up kit at a horror convention along with a bottle of mint flavored blood and a real machete with a semi circle cut out of the blade...the old Tom Savini gag. I went home and started having fun. I'd make cuts on my friend's faces then send them home to their parents. Watching the genuinely frightened reactions of their parents really gave me the bug. It's so funny, every chance I get I'll watch documentaries or interviews with all of my make-up fx idols and they literally all grew up doing the same exact thing.
What part of film making do you enjoy most?
It's hard to say. Directing is my profession of choice because it allows you to do all of the above. There's nothing more rewarding than seeing your vision come to life and then having people appreciate your work. However, the most enjoyable part of the filmmaking process for me is probably editing because you're finally alone with your film. It's in the editing room where the illusion ultimately begins to unfold and you can finally see if what you've been doing for the past few months is working.
What is the first horror movie that you remember that really scared you?
Not surprisingly, I grew up loving horror films. I looked at all of the horror icons more as super heroes than boogeyman. You routed for Jason and Freddy. However, that was not the case with The Exorcist. In my house, it was an event when that film would air on t.v. My mother would brag about how truly terrifying it was compared to everything I'd seen. It was a "real" horror movie not a slasher. So my sisters and I would all sit on the floor in her room and watch in absolute horror. I'd never seen or heard anything scarier than Linda Blair's face or voice in my life. Till this day I still think it's the scariest film of all time and I don't think it will ever be surpassed. The few things that The Exorcist will always have over many, many current rip-offs and contenders is the caliber of acting, directing and screenwriting that is so rarely found in horror films nowadays.
Do you attend, or have you attended any Horror Conventions and if so, what is your opinion on them?
Yes, I have. From ages 11 - 15 i'd gone to about three or four Chiller Conventions in NJ. I loved them. As I said earlier I'd gotten my first make-up kit at one and I'd buy model kits and rare VHS tapes. I met my hero Tom Savini a couple of times there when I was really young which was mind blowing. I'd never been more star struck in my life. For me, meeting him was the same as a wrestling fan meeting Hulk Hogan.
Being an FX guy - what is your opinion on practical FX versus CG FX?
I still think practical make-up is king for many things that are unfortunately being replaced by CGI. One thing that irks me more than anything is CGI blood. When I'm watching The Walking Dead and I see all of those beautiful KNB practical zombies walking around only to be dispatched in a hail of CGI blood, it takes me out of the show. I like CGI when it's used properly e.g. Jurassic Park, Avatar, Forrest Gump, etc. When it's done right, and for the right reason it can be glorious. But more often than not I think it's used in aid of lazy filmmaking.
Now that ALL HALLOWS' EVE is finished and about to be released, can you share any plans for what you want to do next?
Yes, I can! I've been given the opportunity to write, direct and create the fx for Frankenstein Vs The Mummy. At first I was only offered a chance to do the special fx but soon after, the opportunity to direct it as well fell into my lap. At that point they only had a treatment for it. I convinced the producer to let me write a story from scratch that was completely dark and violent. Zero camp. All business. First thing I did was immediately read Mary Shelley's novel. I think it's sacrilegious to make a Frankenstein movie having never read the novel. Although this film is probably going to have very little correlation to the novel, I've been able to capture some elements from the text that will better the script especially in regards to the creature. I'm very excited about this project because believe it or not, these two horror icons have never battled it out. To be the first filmmaker to tackle that in a film really sealed the deal for me.
We've already asked you a bunch of questions, but is there anything else you would like to add?
I just want to thank you and the guys at Forever Midnight so much for taking the time to conduct this interview and for your tremendous support. I'm truly grateful. I also really hope you enjoy All Hallows' Eve and I promise there is much more awesome horror material on the horizon.
We personally want to thank Damien for taking the time to answer all of our questions, and to remind everyone that ALL HALLOWS' EVE is coming out on October 29th from Ruthless Pictures. Seriously, don't be a fool. Support great filmmaking and go buy it right now.