Joe Lynch is one of the most creative people working in the movie industry today. He first blasted onto the UK horror scene with his superb shocker Wrong Turn 2 and since then he has built up quite a reputation. Not only was he part of the team behind the awesome multi-story picture Chillerma, (one of the big hits of FrightFest 2011) but also the much anticipated movie Knights Of Badassdom.
In this, this second of a two part interview Joe talks at length of his involvement with the anthology movie Chillerama and his new project, Holliston.
HC: Where did the idea for your segment for Chillerama come from and did it take long to write?
JL: Actually, while the idea of "Zombies in a Drive In" for Chillerama originated from Adam Rifkin and Tim Sullivan's discussions about an anthology before Adam Green and I hopped in the car, coincidentally enough, I had been working on a script for a few years called The Ozoners which was about a creature taking over a Drive-In on Long Island in 1994 on the last night before it's closed down, which is when the last drive in actually closed from what I remember. The tone of The Ozoners was more akin to Dazed & Confused meets The Thing. This was also before I discovered Joe Lansdale's amazing The Drive In novel, which is a must read. So knowing I might never really get a chance to do The Ozoners (which is what Drive In's used to be called) I basically lifted most of the characters, storylines and set pieces from that script and applied it to the bridging story of Chillerama, which ultimately becomes something bigger by the end. The whole bridging script and the climax (which was double the length of the other shorts) took about a week to write while I was prepping Knights Of Badassdom and so much fun to do because in the context of an anthology, it just worked SO much better.
Having been such a Zombie movie fan in the past, I knew I wanted to push the idea of the Undead past convention and taboo; I mean, what's left to do anymore to keep that rotting flesh fresh for the audience who might be oversaturated by Zombies by now? Since sex mixed with violence is still considered too risqué, I thought "Perfect!" and things like the term "Xombies" and "Demon Semen" were born! Some of my favourite Zombie movies touch on the subject of bringing in a sexual element to the flesh-eating forte, from Dead Alive to Re-Animator, but I also remember the fantastic book collection called Book Of The Dead that Skipp & Spector put out that had a short story called Eat Me by Robert Mccammon which was basically Undead Erotica and so unique at the time. Funny enough, Skipp plays one of the Xombies in the Drive In (blink and you'll miss him though), which was like the Splatterpunk seal of approval for me! But if we were all going to use B-movies and exploitation flicks in Chillerama to be subversive, then I thought Zombie Sex and even the repression movies have towards sex and death (and full frontal male nudity, for example) was the last frontier I could push a film like this, and the humour element was the right kind of sugar to make the medicine go down. If we were having fun throughout the film and the other shorts did their job to entertain, a huge Xombie Orgy might be welcomed with loving arms rather than screaming from seats. Well, sometimes audiences screaming from the theatre is a good thing!
HC: You must be a fan of the genre and if so do you have a favourite zombie movie?
JL: Without question, Romero's Dawn Of The Dead! That was my first movie (don't tell my mom I repeated that. Whoops…) The idea of allowing subtext and satire into a horror movie changed my perception of the power of film on an audience. In terms of the idea that repressed sexuality is unleashed at a dying American institution is what hooked me to the idea of doing it and one way I looked at the storyline from a standpoint of subtext. That's because of Romero's digging deeper, asking questions and posing it to the audience who might have just come for a fun time, and now it’s always expected of him every time he makes a Zombie movie. It made me ask myself those questions when I wrote it and we made it; "Sure I'm trying to break taboos here and have fun doing it, but why?" I loved posing those questions, even if I’m the only one! In terms of visuals, I absolutely love Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (the gonzo camera, the amazing gags), Re-Animator (again taking sex and violence and mashing them together in the climax) and the fun, humorous spirit of Dan O Bannon's Return Of The Living Dead, which reminded me you can be funny AND dangerous with your zombies, walking speed notwithstanding.
HC: Was it a hard piece to cast?
JL: Yes and no. Some of the roles I knew who I was going to cast because I had already planned on casting them and told them beforehand and they were willing to go on the ride. Here’s an example: Brendan McCreary, who plays Ryan M one of the "Geek Squad", was really the first person cast; I saw him at a show he and his Brother - my long-time composer and good friend Bear - put on and I remember saying "I gotta put him in something!" I just asked and he, never formally acting before, said yes and I'm so glad he did because I think he rocks in the flick. Because this was such a low-budget "family affair" I HAD to cast family and friends. My lovely wife Bri and my son Remy play 2/3rds of the Marshalls (the also-quite-lovely AJ Bowen plays the husband/dad) mainly because I knew they’d let me do this wild sh*t and get the joke we were trying to make and Bri, like the rest of our friends, knew the limitations we had and wouldn't balk. We needed people willing to go with the flow, which is why having actors like Laura Ortiz (who plays the concession clerk Desi and my girlfriend in our TV show Holliston) or Ward Roberts, who played Miller (another talented director who made the sublime Little Big Top with Sid Haig), were great because they'd been there, done that. The other kids, Corey and Kaili, were cast traditionally through a casting call, as well as Olivia Dudley who plays Laura (who said she loved Evil Dead in the audition so we knew she was good peoples). The rest of the cast were just family and friends willing to freeze their asses off for us for little to no pay and my hats off to them for sticking with us. The casting of Miles Dougal was my homage to Rifkin's work since Miles is in every one of his films and was so iconic for me, so it was my way to pay tribute.
I'd say the hardest role to cast was Cecil Kaufman. I had written it for a particular actor in mind who I'd grown up loving in some of my favourite 80's horror movies (and who was already an acting veteran) and who I'd see all the time in Los Angeles, mostly at the movies! To me he WAS Cecil Kaufman and he informed my writing the character. Sadly, he wasn't up for it which I totally respected, but from there we went out to a lot of older actors (you'd be shocked at the list) but the problem was both the size of the part for what we had the budget for and also the content, which was a little "blue" (no pun). When Green originally mentioned Richard Riehle, I wasn't sure, mainly because I didn't want to use another Ariescope "friend" to so speak, since Adam had worked with Richard on Hatchet. But the second I met with Richard and talked about the role, not only did I realize I was in the presence of a true pro, but someone who "got" the part. The day Riehle was on set and immediately knew Cecil's 3-page monologues talking to a poster of Orson Welles by heart? That's when I knew we truly had some movie magic going. He was a dream to work with and the heart of the movie for sure... I'm so glad Green suggested him for the good of the whole film.
HC: Will there be more Chillerama movies in the future?
JL: Honestly, that's all down to the fans. If they go out and support the film by buying it, telling their friends to buy it, getting it on VOD, supporting the film when it comes to their town... hell yes there will be more Chillerama's. Part of the fun was how Rifkin and Sullivan handed us these titles, almost like Corman did back in the day when he presold titles and THEN made the films, so we'd want to do the same thing here. Get 4 new brave filmmakers who are up to the challenge and willing to have fun under very strict perimeters. That was half the fun of making the movie... there was not enough money or time to worry about things, so I would always say "What Would Corman do?" or "What Would Troma Do?" and just forge ahead. If the horror fans out there embrace the film and the fun, cinema-loving spirit we tried to bring back, maybe another night of Chillerama will be unleashed. God help us all!
HC: What can you tell us about Holliston?
JL: Holliston the town? Very lovely place, great people, it's like Castle Rock without AS MUCH weird sh*t going on. Oh, did you mean the show? Oh... the show Holliston is, in a way, a traditional sitcom; you know, multiple cameras, audience laugh track... but in this we have more irreverent humour, hotter girls, cooler cameos and lots more blood. Oh and Dee Snider. Key component there. It's kinda like Friends... if there were more head explosions and space aliens in the closet. This was Adam Green's baby for 13+ years and its so gratifying to be part of it both on the creative end - I was an executive producer and helped with the writing - and also acting with my closest friends. It was always a pipe dream for Adam and I to make this happen, one of those "Wouldn’t it be crazy if…?" scenarios, but Peter Block and FEARnet loved our FrightFest shorts and believed in our off-beat vision for the show, which was both adhering to TV comedy tradition but also turning it on its head as well. We're not making fun of sitcoms... we've just watched enough to play by their rules... and then subsequently break them! That the show also has a lot of heart and pathos is also really exciting too, not something you'd expect from a show like this. I don’t think anyone knows what to expect with Holliston, and that’s what I love most about all this. Like it or not... we like it and could do it for year. It's been a blast, and we're so f*****g proud of the show, it was one of the most enjoyable creative experiences I've had thus far, and like you asked before, I think I grew from this project by fully embracing what it's like to be an actor in this situation since usually I'm on the other side of the lens, and also learning that I always do my best work when I'm surrounded by people who I enjoy working with. When its fun, that kind of energy and passion shows in every frame. That's so important to me.
So in a way, we have you guys and FrightFest to thank for all of this... without FF and the Road To FrightFest saga, none of this would be possible. Or... it might all be your fault! But seriously, on behalf of Adam and myself, we can't wait for our family and friends at FrightFest to see Holliston. I think the horror crowd is gonna dig it for sure but it's also something their mums will enjoy as well. Look at us, bringing families together with exploding heads! Maybe if there is a demand, the FF boys will throw us in that Discovery Screen One night and we'll just have a party watching a bunch of episodes together and then hit the Phoenix for a pint or 6. Sound like a plan?
HC: And what about Everly?
JL: I'm currently prepping Everly as we speak, which should be shooting early summer. Everly is a unique action-thriller that I wrote with my friend Yale that takes place in one space... I keep calling it "Die Hard in a room" which is pretty fitting. It's clearly unlike anything I've done before and that's what excites me; I love changing things up and playing in other genres. Now with Kate Hudson cast in the title role as the woman who has to defend herself and her family from an onslaught of Yakuza as they besiege her apartment, this thing is gonna be a powder keg of kick-ass but also have a true emotional core which we needed. To me, Everly is like my genre doctorate, taking everything I love about movies, learned about moviemaking, the power of cinema and just cannon-blasting it on-screen. It's the most personal thing I've done, it's the biggest project I've been a part of and cannot wait to shoot us the hell OUT of that room... literally.
HC: Joe Lynch, thank you very much.
JL: Thank YOU! See you at the Drive In!