Welcome to our exclusive interview with Hollywood based writer / producer / director, William Winckler. William is a self-confessed fanatic of the world of sci-fi, horror, fantasy and cult films, so it’s no big surprise that his latest feature is monikered William Winckler’s Frankenstein Vs. The Creature from Blood Cove (WWFVTCFBC), due for completion this very month (June 05). This is just the latest from a man who in 1989 created a television comedy sketch series called Short Ribbs that featured an all-midget cast, and was responsible for the American version of Tekkaman the Space Knight, a sci-fi animated TV series originally produced by Tatsunoko Productions in Japan.
His first full length feature was a homage to both Russ Meyer and Benny Hill and was entitled The Double D Avenger, starring not one but three of Russ Meyer’s buxom beauties, including Kitten Natividad in the lead role.
Hi William. You shot The Double D Avenger on a very low budget. How much do you value the freedom that working with such a low budget gives you in terms of day-to-day production practicalities, and did you work with a larger budget on WWFVTCFBC?
The budget for WWFVTCFBC was actually very high for an American independent horror film. In fact, it's quite a bit greater than The Double-D Avenger. For The Double-D Avenger, we deliberately made an Ed Wood-style film, and as a silly camp comedy, it worked. However, for WWFVTCFBC, the film had to be a mix of the classic-style black & white horror film with the action, violence and brief nudity of the Hammer horror films. So WWFVTCFBC and The Double-D Avenger are two totally different types of productions with entirely different budgets. As for freedom and creativity, artistically speaking I was able to pretty much do what I wanted within both budgets; both worked for what needed to be done.
Are you playing horror straight, as in the 1930s, '40s and '50s Universal horror movies, or utilizing a more knowing, humorous approach like Young Frankenstein?
While I loved Young Frankenstein, our film is nothing like it at all. WWFVTCFBC is played totally straight -- it's definitely *not* a comedy, although there is some comedic relief in the picture. It's actually somewhat of a cross between classic horror and Atomic Age monster films. It's a fun but serious old-fashioned, dramatic monster movie.
I should also point out that the horror film universe is huge ... there are many different styles of horror movies, and for over 60 years we had stories of monsters, vampires, werewolves, mummies, etc. Then, in the 1980s, the slasher film hijacked the horror genre, and it hasn't fully recovered since. I do like some slasher movies, such as the original Halloween, Hitchcock's Psycho and the original Friday the 13th, but there is another world of horror out there. In this current climate of slasher and extreme gross-out horror schlock, I think we've done something very different and special with WWFVTCFBC.
Dr. Ula Fortani, Salisbury and Dr. Monroe Lazaroff resurrect Frankenstein's monster
One other point I'd like to make is that while blood and guts are needed in horror, if it's played over-the-top it turns off 90 percent of the audience. Blood and shocking gore are great, especially when done in the Hammer horror tradition, but overdoing it ruins movies. The human emotion of "fear" is totally opposite from the human emotion of "disgust." Horror films should mostly frighten, shock and entertain audiences while keeping them in suspense, not make people want to rush out of the theater to vomit their popcorn.
Are you using much in the way of special effects on WWFVTCFBC? Can you tell me who is involved in that, and did you have to get your hands dirty?
A large team of talented effects artists that included Rich Knight, Rufus Hearns and others handled special effects and make-up. Some of these guys worked on big hit films and TV shows, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spider-Man and Stargate. We have several monsters in the film, and lots of victim make-ups, but our biggest special effects job was the actual Blood Cove Creature, a biogenetically engineered half-man, half-fish monster. It was a full body suit, capable of operating on land and in salt water, made especially for our actor/stuntman, Corey Marshall. The suit was cast directly from his body, and it was a real ordeal for Corey to lie still for hours while the suit was initially being crafted. Special dentures were also made for the monsters.
However, the biggest headache was the time it took to put the actors into make-up. It took hours and hours just to do the Frankenstein monster's latex appliances. As a matter of fact, my biggest concern was trying to shoot each day's pages and hoping the monsters would get into make-up fast enough, because I didn't want us to fall behind schedule. It took forever, but on-screen, the make-up and costumes look great. As for my getting involved with the make-up effects, I left that to the experts ... although for a quick insert shot, I do recall helping inject some blood into a mock-up of the creature's chest when the Frankenstein monster stabbed at it.
A deadly werewolf ambushes Dr. Monroe Lazaroff
I am aware that when films are shot in B&W (as with B&W still photography), different techniques and approaches to shooting must be employed to make the most of the medium. How did you approach this and what medium did you use to shoot?
My talented cinematographer Matthias Schubert, along with Kate Sobol (our gaffer/assistant cinematographer) and I, planned this shoot out very carefully months and months in advance. Since the final product would be a black & white film, we lit differently, and had to be careful that the backgrounds were right. For example, if a character with black hair was in front of a totally black background, the head might look weird, with the hair blending into the dark backdrop. So we were careful about things like that. The underwater fight sequences were also tricky, with Frankenstein's monster fighting and wrestling with the creature beneath the ocean's waves. Matthias had scuba gear on, and his camera was in a special protective casing. It was a real ordeal to get enough light on these monsters fighting this big underwater battle! Not only that, we also had our stunt coordinator, Jeff Scott, always within a few feet of the actors, to rescue them if they needed help.
While Russ Meyer and Benny Hill were obvious inspirations behind The Double D Avenger, which classic directors were you influenced by to make WWFVTCFBC?
I've always loved classic monster movies and creature features, and those types of films originally inspired me to form William Winckler Productions. I love the classic Universal monster films, the Hammer horror movies, the AIP Sam Arkoff/James Nicholson drive-in movies, etc. I also enjoy classic Japanese monster films, anything Vincent Price did, and some of the 1970s horror, such as Darren McGavin's Kolchak: The Night Stalker films and TV series. And I love all of Roger Corman's earlier work, especially the Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe movies. As a coincidence, Roger Corman's main music composer for all his new films, Mel Lewis, is also our composer. Mel actually told me that Roger and I have a lot in common: I've never met Roger personally, although I attended a lecture of his in Beverly Hills a year ago, so who knows? Either way, Roger Corman is tops in my book!
I'd imagine it's pretty tricky to work on location in Hollywood as an independent filmmaker. Is it a case of shoot and run, like Ed Wood Jr?
Actually, we shoot in and around Southern California on various private properties, with the proper permission, insurance, permits, etc. With a big production like WWFVTCFBC, it would be very difficult to shoot as a guerilla filmmaker. Also, we had so many monsters, amphibian costumes, etc., that we attracted attention from "lookie-loos" every time we were shooting exteriors. The Frankenstein monster always draws a crowd!
Can you tell me about the cast? Have you got anyone extra-special on board like you did in The Double-D Avenger?
Many genre celebrities made cameos in the film, including Butch Patrick from The Munsters, David Gerrold from Star Trek and Land of the Lost, Russ Meyer film queen Raven De La Croix, the infamous Ron Jeremy, Troma's Lloyd Kaufman and others. Several stars of The Double-D Avenger came back in different roles too, including G. Larry Butler, Mimma Mariucci and Gary Canavello. I also cast several British actors -- Alison Lees-Taylor, Tom Ingram and Noush D -- in key starring roles, since I wanted to give the movie a bit of a Hammer horror film 'flavour'! In fact, it was surprising how many Brits worked on the movie, including our soundman and sound-effects engineers, Sam and Ted Hamer (perfect last name to work in one of my films!). Believe it or not, British cult TV actor Michael Billington, star of Gerry Anderson's UFO series and the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, was set to appear as Frankenstein's monster, but unfortunately, there was a visa/customs problem at the last minute so he had to bow out, which is especially sad because he died the first week of June.
Salisbury (from left, played by Rich Knight), Dr. Ula Foranti (Alison Lees-Taylor) and Dr, Monroe Lazaroff (Larry Butler) hear a strange cry
I'd first met Mike Billington when I visited England a few years ago (I'd gone to Pinewood Studios on another project to meet Sylvia Anderson). I also spoke to him on a fairly regular basis via phone, and he was such a great, nice guy. I wish to God we could have worked together, because we got along so well. Playing the Frankenstein monster would have been his last film role ... he could have really gone out with a big bang.
Do you have any amusing anecdotes about the shoot?
Well, let's see ... one unusual thing was that the beach location we used was frequented by nudists. I didn't think we'd have too many nudists bothering us on the beach since we were shooting in winter, but to the cast and crew's surprise (and mine) they appeared ... "barefoot all over," as Benny Hill once said. The funny thing is these folks didn't care about the monsters or what we were doing. They acted like it was no big deal to see the Frankenstein monster battling a half-man, half-fish creature on their beach!
Another time, during a lunch break, food was delivered to a house location and Lawrence Furbish, in his full Frankenstein make-up and costume, thought it would be humorous to answer the door. The delivery guy was shocked and nearly dropped our lunch!
However, I think the funniest thing occurred on our graveyard set. We shot on property near a hiking trail, and on a weekend I was walking the set all alone just to double-check the site. The gravestones had not been put up yet, but a huge grave had been dug for a scene where the Frankenstein monster's body is exhumed. I saw that one side of the grave wasn't big enough so I jumped in the hole and started digging. Just then, two hikers came by and asked what I was doing. I just smiled and said, "digging." Then this guy carefully looks at me, then looks at the grave I'm digging and says, "looks like you're digging a grave." Well, I looked up with a deliberately crazy look on my face and replied, "I am!" The hikers then got the hell out of there! I don't know if they called the police or not -- maybe they thought I was simply crazy -- but I never saw them again.
What part of the B-movie universe will William Winckler Productions explore next?
As I've said, I love classic horror and sci-fi films, so that's the direction we'll likely be going from here on out. I also love comedy, and admittedly The Double-D Avenger was a success and made us a lot of money, but for me classic-style horror films are the best, so that's where we're headed for the foreseeable future.
It's been a real pleasure interviewing you, William. Any closing thoughts you'd like to share with our readers about William Winckler's Frankenstein Vs. The Creature From Blood Cove?
If you prefer homogenized major studio films made by corporate committees, or movies filled with 100-million-dollar CGI effects that look like live-action video games and star people like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise or Jennifer Lopez, WWFVTCFBC may not be the type of film you're looking for. [laughs] However, if you love entertaining, character-driven monster movies and creature features, like the classic films of the '40s, '50s and '60s, be on the lookout for our new picture.
At the same time, when it comes out on DVD -- we're still working on a solid release date -- if all goes as planned the disc will be filled with special bonus materials. So fans will have that to look forward to, too. Either way, when the time comes, it's a title I'm convinced most horror fans will want to add to their DVD collections!
Click Here to buy The Double-D Avenger from Amazon.com.