I managed to track down Jason Paul Collum ahead of his new films premiere this Monday (15th of December) to talk about his latest project, 'Something to Scream About' a documentary about Scream Queens hosted by Brinke Stevens and featuring amongst others, Judith O'dea (Night of the Living Dead) Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) Julie Strain (Blood Gnome) and Debbie Rochon (American Nightmare). The screening takes place at the Parkside Union Cinema in Kenosha WI, but don't worry if you can't make it, the film is scheduled for release on DVD on March 16th next year.
Tell us about how you discovered the horror genre, and what it was that appealed to you?
I'd always hated horror films growing up. Accidental viewings of JAWS (1975), BURNT OFFERINGS (1976) and TOURIST TRAP (1979) had severely damaged me when I was very little. I still become very nervous and even nauseated when I'm near the ocean, see hearses, and stand near mannequins...I'm not kidding. When I was 12 I was babysitting and I caught an episode of AT THE MOVIES with Rex Reed, dedicated to the best of the slasher films. It intrigued me, and shortly thereafter there was a back-to-back showing of FRIDAY THE 13th (1980) and FRIDAY THE 13th, PART 2 (1981). I watched them with complete terror, but for the first time enjoyed it! The following weekend HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1980) was on and I was completely hooked. I think it's because I was beginning my "teen-angst" phase. I felt the world was coming down on me, nobody understood my thoughts and feelings - all the usual angst. Horror became my outlet. When I watched a horror movie, I was a part of it in some ethereal way. I placed myself as the hero or heroine...never the killer. I wasn't happy when someone got hacked up. I think I was taking the emotion of the character and channelling it...here they were, in this insanely horrid situation, battered and brutalized with no hope of survival...yet they managed to pull through it...bloody and battered, but alive. That summarizes exactly what my teen years were to me.
Now, I'll admit, at 30, I don't love horror with the same passion I did at 15. I've matured beyond school yard bullies and worrying what everyone thinks about me, which is why I believe the statements listed above. I don't need horror like I did then; to have an on screen characters do battle for me...instead I deal with the problems face-to-face. I do still enjoy horror, just not with the intensity I did then.
Do you have a particular favourite?
Well, the obvious answer is CARRIE (1976). One need only observe my psychological breakdown to the previous question. Aside from feeling like I was "one" with Carrie White, I think it is simply one of the best made horror films ever. The music, the lighting, the acting, the atmosphere...all brilliant, and I still have to point out that although it's considered a horror classic, it should be noted noting scary happens until the last scene of the movie.
When did you decide that you wanted to work in the horror industry, and how did you go about getting started?
During the summer of 1990 just after finishing my junior year of High School, I picked up a video camera to make a 10 minute horror film for a contest. It was called DEAD WOMEN DON'T WEAR SHOES and was "inspired," (alright, it ripped off) an episode of 1985's THE NEW TWILIGHT ZONE. It actually turned out decent. I didn't win any prizes, but used it in a film class as a project and got an A+. The class required me to make 3 additional short movies on video, for which I got another 2 A's and a B+. Though I had planned my entire life to be a Kindergarten teacher, I changed my mind throughout that semester thinking that if I could get those kinds of decent responses from my teacher and classmates, then maybe I had a little bit of talent.
My first official "job" was in my third year of college. I had written a spec screenplay for THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT - PART 2. Kushner-Locke had passed on it after many months, so I submitted it to a company called MDM Productions/MOORE Video. They liked it, but couldn't afford the rights. When I refused to sell it to them under a new title (THE FIRST HOUSE ON THE RIGHT, I was determined to get it made as a LAST HOUSE sequel only), they instead offered me screenwriting and directing duties on the sequel MARK OF THE DEVIL 666. That made them some good money, so they hired me for two additional no-budget movies (5 DARK SOULS in 1996 and 5 DARK SOULS - PART II: ROOTS OF EVIL in 1998). I'd also worked on some local television commercials and indie films, so with those experiences under my belt, I moved out to West Hollywood in 1998 to pursue it more seriously.
The first script you wrote was 'Last House on the Left 2' can you tell us a bit about the script?
I wrote it on spec (which means nobody asked me to write it) at age 18 in early 1992. I submitted it to a gentleman named Phil Mittleman at Kushner-Locke Co., which owned the original film. He responded extremely well to it, and passed it to Jonathan Craven (Wes's son). They sat on it for about 6 months with yes/no/yes, then ultimately "no." They deemed it was destined to get an NC-17 (we were in the Republican Bush Era when the MPAA was still coming down HARD on any kind of horror film), and wanted it to get theatrical release. NC-17 meant "death." So they would have had too many problems.
Looking back at it now I'm surprised it came out of my own brain. It's very crude and very, VERY violent. I set out to top the original, and I'm still positive I at least succeeded in that goal. It followed Weasel's escape from prison and his kidnapping and torture of a young man! Everyone who reads it stops talking to me for a few days afterwards. I had some seriously pent up anger back then. This, of course, was good for the script. I still believe there's no reason to make a LAST HOUSE 2 unless you can out do the original without making a gore-porno.
I still pass it around from time to time. I even wrote an all-new script with an alternate storyline, still focusing on Weasel getting out of jail, but the sequel rights to the film are so jumbled I have to clue who to contact. Anyone out there know?
Jason poses with 'Brotherhood 2' students.
After you moved to West Hollywood, you met Brinke Stevens, what was that like?
An absolute dream come true! She is my angel! I was your typical fan-boy gushing at the seams. She invited me to her house the first time I came to L.A. and we had dinner with a group of other people. She immediately took me under her wings and started introducing me to people in the industry. She even tried to convince me to NOT move out to L.A., fearing it would only cause me misery and damage...which, to some extent, it did...I should have listened to her....She was immediately open and giving to me. I wouldn't be where I am today without her.
Brinke soon introduced you to J.R. Bookwalter and David DeCoteau, which must have been exciting. What was that meeting like and what happened as a result of meeting them?
I met J.R. at one of Brinke's annual Birthday BBQs. We knew who each other was and just hit it off right away. By complete coincidence, I mentioned being a fan of Dave's work, and J.R. was working with him at Full Moon! So a few days later I get a call from Dave saying J.R. had told him all about me and he asked me to come in for a meeting at Full Moon. I did and Dave was immediately wonderful. He promised to get me working on his next project (which turned out to be the non-Full Moon flick ANCIENT EVIL: SCREAM OF THE MUMMY). I was nervous as hell at both that first meeting and on set, but Dave always tried his best to make me feel comfortable. I went on to work with Dave on another 4 films (THE BROTHERHOOD 1 &2, FINAL STAB and THE FRIGHTENING), then started working with J.R. as well on flicks like HELL ASYLUM, DEADLY STINGERS and the BAD MOVIE POLICE comedy series, even getting to be an actor!
Can you tell us about your first film 'Mark of the Devil 666: The Moralist, in terms of how the production went and how the film was received?
MARK OF THE DEVIL 666 actually went off very well for my first full-length, "serious" movie. It was shot over several non-consecutive weeks in the summer of 1994 with a few pick-ups in the fall. The cast was mostly local actors and friends. The only experienced actors were Mick Wynhoff (AMERICA'S DEADLISET HOME VIDEO) and Lee Worrell (ASWANG). No fights, no major catastrophes.
I'm still unsure of how audiences received it. It sold very well, but to this day I still hear very little about it...of course I watched it again recently and it's absolutely horrid, so I guess it's best I don't hear from anyone.
All of your projects since seem to have been relatively hassle free, is this because you get on so well with you horror peers?
I think it's more a case of control, and the level on which each project is produced. The movies I did for MOORE Video were entirely my own during filming. The actors were always a mix of experienced professionals and friends. Nobody had attitudes, or expected glamour. They came in, did their jobs, and gave 100%, even though they were enduring some really rough conditions. The biggest day of filming on 5 DARK SOULS was out in the woods, with no trailers, all day in minus 21 degree temperatures! The fake blood even froze! If you look at the publicity stills from that one day everybody has bright red noses...yet not one of them complained. Everyone always did what I asked, or politely offered suggestions to make dialogue or action flow smoother. It was plain sailing until post-production when I lost control over editing, sound, music, graphics, etc.
JULIA WEPT (2000) remains my first true film that entirely represents my creative thought process. I had control on it from start to finish. All of its blemishes can be blamed only on me. I know 5 DARK SOULS is my most popular, but it's still not entirely mine. MARK OF THE DEVIL 666 and 5 DARK SOULS, PART II are the biggest examples of loss of control. The music in MOTD 6 is insanely bad...embarrassing actually. 5 DARK SOULS II isn't as bad, but is simply way too long...the edit, which was merely my rough cut, contains every single shot bringing it to nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes running time! It was supposed to be just about 2 hours, which is still way too long for a movie of its quality.
Now, moving to the bigger budgeted stuff I did with DeCoteau and Bookwalter, there was obviously more crew and financial support. The few problems that existed were the result of crew members not doing their jobs quick enough. There were some minor mishaps on THE BROTHERHOOD (2000), but the cast and crew got along so well the enjoyment way overshadowed the bits of misery.
In all, DEADLY STINGERS was the only project which actually threatened to take my life. I got hurt doing what really didn't seem like a stunt, as I was just hanging upside down in a ravine. It resulted in my tearing the fatty layer between my skin and muscles in my stomach and torso. I now have a tear that runs from my navel up through my chest. There were several conflicting personalities on set, some attitudes, and lots of natural disasters...Santa Ana winds knocking over equipment, bitter cold nights (it was mostly all night shooting)...things of that nature. J.R. and the Line Producer, Jennifer Kessler, were the only two who kept me going each day. At least I can look at it and say I honestly enjoy the end result.
Both Bookwalter and DeCoteau's movies work because the people are there for the love of the work, they typically know going in that it's all being done on an upper-scale level of gorilla filmmaking. Lots of stuff has to be crammed into very few days of long shoots. These people are professionals through and through.
Can you tell us any funny stories about the productions of any of the projects you've worked on?
Gosh, you'd think I'd be smart enough to keep the on set antics in a journal, because there is a lot of fun. It all happens so fast, and you're together for such a short time, that though you make a few bonds, you seldom keep in touch and even remember each others names months down the line. My favourite set was DeCoteau's FINAL STAB. Everybody just clicked. Melissa Renee Martin, the heroine, was insanely hysterical. She had the cast and crew laughing constantly. It seemed like a big college party. People drank, other people wandered off together into the woods for some, eh, "exploring." Just a crazy group.
HELL ASYLUM (2002) was pretty cool too. And the BAD MOVIE POLICE set was pretty fun. We shot that in downtown Los Angeles and had homeless people wandering onto set asking for money. We also shot Brinke's wrap-around footage for SOMETHING TO SCREAM ABOUT on a separate part of the set...now that's low-budget! Two films for the same company shooting simultaneously at the same location. My cousin, Darcey Vanderhoef, appeared with me in BAD MOVIE POLICE, CASE #1: GALAXY OF THE DINOSAURS (2003). She portrayed a make up girl and I was one of the "not-so-straight" himbo actors... that was fun. I came up with my infamous "nipple tweak" at the last moment as the cameras started rolling. I'll likely never live it down...plus I had to keep doing it for the additional takes...I was a bit sore afterwards.
My one favourite funny memory was on ANCIENT EVIL: SCREAM OF THE MUMMY. We were shooting publicity stills with DeCoteau and the mummy. Being the queen he is, he asked if his hat was straight. I responded, "It's the only straight thing on you...." The crew thought it was pretty funny. Later, actor Michael Lutz was lying in his briefs on a cot getting his "ripped out heart" FX applied. Dave's sets are often filled with a good majority of gay men. Within 5 minutes of one of them discovering Michael on the cot in his undies, the room was suddenly filled with men...and a few of the women, just "casually" stopping by for conversations...no shame.
I also remember Dave's friend, Ted Newsom, showing up on the set of THE BROTHERHOOD during the final scene where Bradley Stryker is giving his "Let me fill you with myself" speech to Sam Page. Ted walk on set just as Bradley spoke those lines and he burst into hysterical laughter and asked Dave if he had gone back to making gay porn. It took a while to calm everyone down after.
To go into all the good memories would take up too much space. Suffice to say groups on both Dave's and J.R.'s flicks have lots of fun.
Tell us about your latest project to be released 'Something to Scream About', how did it come about and what was it like to discuss your favourite subject with a bunch of friends and get paid for it?
SOMETHING TO SCREAM ABOUT started when J.R. questioned me how copies of SHOCK CINEMA (1991) were selling at Femme Fatales. It had remained a popular item, so he was considering if he should put it out on DVD. In a later conversation, I mentioned I'd be interested in relaunching the series with a Volume 5 which focused on the ladies of horror. He then suggested we do it as a "Femme Fatales presents" title and make a new series. Celeste Clarke, who owned FF, agreed, but before a contract could ever be drawn, the magazine shut down and later switched hands. We had already begun shooting in June 2002, and I didn't want to associate the documentary with the new owners, mostly because I didn't know them. So we simply went forward with it on our own.
There were a lot of hassles getting interviews. In addition to the girls who appear, I'd also lined up Lisa Wilcox (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4 & 5), Pamela Susan Shoop (HALLOWEEN II), Sam Phillips (PHANTASM II) and Ginger Lynn Allen (SAM HAIN). Through no fault of their own, scheduling conflicts kept arising and we were running out of time to get the interviews done so editing could begin. So I had to bang my head against a wall a few times.
We did also interview director Sam Irvin (ELVIRA'S HAUNTED HILLS), director Danny Draven (DEATHBED) and newcomer Lizzy Strain, but as the editing progressed it evolved from a documentary about the history of the "Scream Queens" into more of a behind-the-scenes telling of the lives of these girls and what they endure, both positive and negative, to be able to act in the industry. The history seemed to become trivial to some of the stories these girls were telling. So we ultimately had to drop Sam, Danny, Lizzy, (because she didn't have the same experiences as the others) and myself (I'd appeared in the opening monologue). I still feel bad, because Sam gives an excellent account of the Hammer Girls, which I'm hoping to use in another documentary down the line. (Lizzy's footage was edited into a short piece which will appear as an extra on the DVD.)
It was completely gratifying to sit down with all of these women whom I've adored since childhood. I'd already interviewed many of them for Femme Fatales, so it was like reuniting with old friends. They were all very open and candid, especially Julie Strain and Debbie Rochon...they dished the dirt. The editing process was very long. My very first rough cut was 4 hours and 30 minutes, which had to get cut down to 65 minutes. J.R. (who edited) and I had a few scuffles, but I'd insult him and he'd call me a whiny bitch and then we'd love each other again. Any critical acclaim this documentary gets is because of J.R.'s fantastic editing. He made it look so slick and very E! TRUE HOLLYWOOD looking. He's one person who definitely deserves to get better work and budgets than what he's being offered.
As for myself, sitting with each of the ladies had me on cloud 9 for days. They're absolutely gorgeous and very giving.
And I believe the premiere, this coming Monday will include a screening of 'Julia Wept', which I believe was made for $80, can you tell us if this was a difficult task?
Not really. I was so used to making movies for no money it was really no different from the others for MOORE Video. My only major problem was that the camera was on its last legs and literally died the day after we wrapped the final shot. I just dropped it off at an Out of the Closet store in West Hollywood. Some lucky sucker probably paid $20 for it and fixed it up like new. I'd just tired of it giving me problems (though now I feel some lost emotional connection, as it was what I'd used to make all my other films).
I knew the shoot was going to be short and needed to be done quickly, so I deliberately wrote only 3 major characters and 6 supporting roles, so I wouldn't have to work around too many schedules. I also made it blood and FX free, so I wouldn't have to deal with clean up. I made a decision early on this was going to be my "grown up" movie...no splattering. So it all went fairly well. I still believe in my motto, "If you want to make a movie, don't wait for someone to give you permission...go out, pick up a camera, gather a few friends, and make a movie." Anybody, especially with the cheap technology available today, can do it.
I know you don't like to discuss future projects for fear of cursing them (much like myself) but can you tell us what 2004 will bring for JPC?
Right now I'm up to my neck in promotion on SOMETHING TO SCREAM ABOUT. Then I'll begin publicity rounds for my book ASSAULT OF THE KILLER B'S: INTERVIEWS WITH 20 CULT FILM ACTRESSES which comes out through McFarland & Co Publishers, Inc. early next year. I'm still trying to get another film project off the ground to lense in Wisconsin this Spring, but no guarantees until I find that investor. I'm also expecting to have some short stories published in a book by a gentleman named Keith Schaffner. And of course there's more film work on the horizon with Bookwalter and Co. Right now I'm just trying to decide on my next definite move, because when you begin a project I've found it'll be a part of your life for about 2 years.
"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Jason,
and we all wish you the best of luck in the future."
Visit Jason's website here: www.jasonpaulcollum.com