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Robert Mann

Robert: "I think you have to have
a lot of passion".

Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
October 31st, 2006

It's Halloween once again, so I sat down to talk to filmmaker Robert Mann about his just released horror film, The Pupkin Karver. I recently had a sneak peek at the movie, and was pleasantly surprised by it's originality.

Read on to hear the trials and tribulations of low budget filmmaking in the horror genre. Having heard Robert's answers to my questions, I'm surprised the film turned out as good as it did.

Robert is a really nice guy and his cast and crew sure are talented, so all our readers in the USA should check this out tonight.

How did you get into the film industry? I believe you were an actor before you began writing/directing?
RM: First of all, thanks for taking the time to do a review on the film and conducting this interview. I really appreciate all the support and attention you have given to the film. Okay, regarding your first question, yes, I did start out as an actor, and I still act but mostly in my own films. I actually did some voiceover work in The Pumpkin Karver for which Iím not credited. Hereís the big scoop for the film Philip; Iím the voice for the Pumpkin Face character and also the voice for the Radio DJ on the radio at the beginning of the film. When you shoot a ďno budgetĒ horror film you got to cut corners and do what you can to get the film made. Since we had no money to pay for actors to do the voices for the Pumpkin Face or the Radio DJ, I did it. That was actually the most fun I had during the shoot.

As for how did I get into the film industry? I just did whatever I could to get a job and get my foot into the door. Iíve acted, did stand-up comedy, wrote, produced and directed. I think you have to have a lot of passion, perseverance, dedication, and be thick skinned to get work in this business. My first film, Trapped, I raised $100,000 and shot it in 12 days. I did that because for 10 years I wrote screenplay after screenplay and was getting nowhere. I would submit the material to New Line Cinema, Castle Rock, Imagine, Fox, producer after producer and nothing. They would all like my writing but nobody wanted to take a chance on a first time writer. So after so many years of that, I said, ďscrew itĒ Iíll try and raise the money and make the film myself. And thatís basically what I did. I shot my first film on 35mm but it was all done on short ends, long ends and re-cans. I would go to three different places in LA at midnight and see what film was dropped off that day, then buy it up from anywhere from 4 to 28 cents a foot. But it was great experience because it taught me how to watch every penny and make sure there is absolutely no waste when making a film.

Have you always been a fan of the arts?
RM: I guess, my mom was an actress and she would always take me to her stage plays when I was a kid. She would also take my sister and I to operas and have us be on set of any films she was shooting. She was an extra in The Bellboy with Jerry Lewis and did some background work in Goldfinger. So, I kind of grew up in the biz and grew to appreciate the arts, especially in college when I began to study people like Michelangelo, Van Gogh and Picasso, and read Shakespeare, Ibson and Oí Henryís short stories. I loved those. After Twenty Years was my favorite. I must have read it twenty-five times, I just love the twist at the end he gave it, great stuff.

Are you a big fan of the horror genre? If so, what are some of your favourite horror movies?
RM: You know thatís a interesting question and Iím sure the hard core horror fans will want to hang me by my balls but no, Iím not a ďbigĒ fan of ďmostĒ horror films. Wait a minute, let me amend that, Iím not a big fan of ďslasherĒ films. I love the original Psycho. How can you not like Hitchcock? And being shot in black and white, I love it. The Exorcist is a great horror film. But see, it has a really believable story, I mean who canít be freaked out by the devil? Everything about that film was innovative at the time and I still think it holds up really well. But you see, to me, both of those films have very ďhumanĒ elements to them. We can get emotionally attached to Norman and the loneliness he endures. And in The Exorcist, we have so much empathy for Reagan and her mother, by the time the film ends, we have invested so much, it heightens the climax. And again, itís not most slasher films where we donít care about the victims or the person doing the killings, because we donít know anything about them. Even the classic horror films like The Wolfman and Frankenstein, you had empathy for killers because it wasnít their fault, they were victims too. So I do like some horror films but they have to touch me emotionally, then Iím hooked and Iím there for the ride.

Robert: "This is the truth, the idea just popped into my head one day".

The Pumpkin Karver is just about to be released on DVD stateside. Where did the original idea for the film come from?
RM: This is the truth, the idea just popped into my head one day. My producer had met me through a mutual distributor and asked me if I wanted to direct a Halloween themed horror film. He had a script called Scare-a-Thon which I didnít like very much. It was about a monster of sorts, who goes about ripping up people in a drive-in theater on a single night of killing. Well first of all, I didnít want to do a monster film, and secondly, I thought the film was dated. I mean drive-in theaters are basically non-existent and a thing of the past, so I didnít think that would work very well with todayís audiences. So I told him that and he said, come up with something else, so I came up with The Pumpkin Karver. Basically itís Edward Scissorhands goes psycho. Funny huh? But really, I wanted to write a story about an artist who carves up incredible pumpkins but because of an evil encounter something happens to turn him to the dark side.

How did you find your cast? They sure are talented.
RM: My casting director Suzie Magrey submitted the film in the breakdown services and in one day we had hundreds and hundreds of pictures and resumes to go through. I really think the cast is very talented. Iím sure every director says that about his or her cast, but I really do feel that way. Some of them were first timers or had very little experience. Michael Zara is a great example of that, but I felt he did a great job with a very difficult and different role. To me, Jonathanís character is more like Norman Bates in Psycho than most of todayís horror leads. Jonathanís an artist. Heís venerable, shy, sensitive, not what you would call someone who may be a killer. Minka Kelly, who is now on Friday Night Lights, was also very young and new. But both my casting director and I saw this very unique young woman. When I matched her up with Michael, they just seemed to connect. And she grew and grew as an actor as did Michael. A lot of people donít know this but we shot this film over a period of 2 Ĺ years. So when I say that they grew as actors, they actually had time to develop their acting skills. Terrence Evans who plays the old man Wickets is just a very seasoned, talented pro. As soon as he came into the audition room and read, I knew he was my Wickets. Amy Weber, who played Lynn and was one of our associate producers, was also great. Even my girlfriend, Amy Cowieson chipped in with some solid voiceover work and a small walk-on roll as the Go-Go Dancer. I could go on and on about all my actors but I donít think thereís enough space, right?

Did the shoot run smoothly?
RM: No, no, and no. It was anything but smooth. This was the hardest, most traumatic, and painful experience I ever had in this business. After which, I really had to think if I ever wanted to make another movie. I had to deal with so many negative and evil personalities that it made the experience horrible. If it wasnít for my cast and crew supporting me to finish the film, I would have walked. And thatís a sad thing to say, but itís true. The film was literally killing me. In addition to all the negative and destructive energy around me, I had very, very, very little money. Think Blair Witch budget with a Christmas bonus. Seriously it was tough. It took 6 plus years to get the film made: 2 Ĺ to shoot principle photography alone! The producer ran out of money and tried to raise more to finish the film. It was not budgeted properly from the beginning, so it created all these stop and go problems. To his credit, the producer finally ended up getting a second mortgage on his house. In addition, I charged $23,000 on my credit card and brought on two friends who added another $21,000 and the film finally got completed. I was amazed the continuity is as good as it is. Iíve had comments from some people on IMDB who have seen the film and have criticized me for the ďnon-matchingĒ jeeps. Well, (another scoop for your readers) the first jeep we used during the first year was sold to someone in Washington and we couldnít get it back to match. The producer didnít want to spend the money to rent one that matched, so he found one from some guy he met at a gas station or somewhere and we used that during the second year. Well, we didnít have enough money or time to finish the jeep sequences so during year three we had to find yet another jeep. Thatís right horror fans; three different jeeps, one film. My DP and I did the best we could to cover it up, but hey, it makes for a great trivia question, right? But the worst part was not having enough help or time to shoot the film properly. One day we shot over thirty set-ups with no key make-up artist, no first AD, no wardrobe, no prop master, no set dressers, etc. Anyway, I was up for over 72 hours and was dying Grazerís pants purple (to try and match them from the previous year) in my kitchen sink at 2:30 in the morning with a 5:00am call time. That was it for me, the day after the shoot; I was in the hospital with diverticulites and a perforated colon, which developed into peritonitis. I spent nine days at the hospital and came very close to being carved up myself. We all gave so much for this film to get finished, and Iím not saying this to get the ďsympathy voteĒ itís just a fact. Directing a very, very low budget film is so painful you really wonder if itís all worth it. I will say this, no matter what people think of the film, good, bad or indifferent; we all gave everything we had to make the film the best we could under extremely difficult conditions. Did I mention the sub-freezing temperatures in wide-open spaces?

Robert: " if youíre looking for something to get you in the Halloween spirit".

What are your hopes for critical and fan reaction to the finished film?
RM: I could be all coy and elusive and say I donít really care, that films are subjective, and everyone has a right to their own opinions about art and entertainment. But any filmmaker or artist who is honest will tell you we want you to enjoy our work and validate that part of the equation for our purpose of doing them. Yes, we have to enjoy and be fulfilled with what we are creating ourselves, but whatís the point of entertaining audiences if nobody likes what youíre doing? But people have to be aware of what kind of entertainment they are buying and not be swayed by false or misleading advertising. That makes a big difference in how fans react to films. So with The Pumpkin Karver, if youíre expecting a typical slasher film with non-stop graphic gore, like Saw 3, or the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre, youíre probably not going to be satisfied and will probably look up my home address and throw a rotten pumpkin through my window. But on the other hand, if youíre looking for something to get you in the Halloween spirit of things, like a psychological, campy, festive, good time horror film, with a little blood and guts and hot chicks, then hey, The Pumpkin Karver could just be what you are looking for.

What do you feel sets The Pumpkin Karver apart from other recent low budget horror movies?
RM: No money to make it. Seriously, I think the biggest difference is that itís more psychological than slasher. Itís also more balanced as far as story. Itís a mystery and love story in addition to the horror elements. So to me, thereís a lot more going on in the film. Also, I donít think the film takes itself so seriously, I mean when someone pees on their own face after a horrible decapitation, how can you not laugh at that, right?

Would you consider doing a sequel to The Pumpkin Karver?
RM: Youíre kidding me right? Okay, hereís the real deal, I would love to do a sequel if I could get a ďrealĒ budget, and Iím not talking twenty million dollars. I could do a lot of horrific things with three to five million, easy. It would give me the time and money to do all the things I wanted to do in the first film but couldnít. I could go a lot more into the mythology of the film and really show the carvings on the victimís faces. Make it totally fucked up and twisted from beginning to end. No potatoes or side dishes on this one, just the meat. It would make Saw look like The Santa Clause. I mean I would get so sick that audiences would puke in their seats. Now that would be something fun to do!

Whatís next for you? Any exciting new projects on the cards?
RM: My new business partners and I are raising seven and a half million dollars to do three films. The idea is that the investors will have a piece of three films instead of one. Itís a safer bet going in, because thereís safety in numbers. The projects are all different genres and stories. One is a family film, sort of like Bad News Bears meets Field of Dreams, called Robertoís Friend. Then thereís a thriller-horror story called Hitchhikers. That one Iím just starting to write now. I donít want to give away the story at this time, but itís along the lines of The Sixth Sense and The Others. I have about 15 other scripts that I have written and am trying to get them out to other companies and studios. You know, Iím just working it, trying to make some things happen. Hopefully, The Pumpkin Karver will be successful enough for me to have the opportunity to get to the next level. I promise my audiences that Iíll do the best I can to give them a better movie experience on each succeeding film I make. I just need some kind of money to make it happen. Speaking of whichÖGot Cash?

"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Robert.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."

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