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On April 18, 1976, a demon was born in Warren, New Jersey.
That demon was Fred Vogel, who would later grow up to write and direct some of the most controversial and disturbing films on the planet.
Only part of that is true. Though Mr. Vogel is responsible for films that’ll send your mama into cardiac arrest, Fred himself is actually an intelligent, articulate, and overall nice guy. Of course, I didn’t really expect him to be the devil incarnate, but I must admit to have been slightly taken aback to how congenial and funny the man is, especially considering his cinematic forte. I mean, he’s even nicer than me, and I’m a fucking sweetheart!
At any rate, here’s my interview with ToeTag’s Head Honcho and Worldwide Badass – Mr. Fred Vogel.
Daily Grindhouse: What’s the first movie that changed your life?
Fred Vogel: James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN from 1931 was the movie that made me fall in love with the horror genre and make-up. Seeing Karloff’s make-up just blew my mind when I was 5 years old. That was definitely the movie that inspired me.
What’s your take on contemporary horror today – both mainstream and independent?
Right now, unfortunately, in 2011, it’s gotten pretty bad. I’m looking more towards the underground, into independent – especially the French and some of the overseas filmmakers – because right now it’s just not happening here in the states. Everything is just so watered down and butchered.
Is there anyone in particular you follow, like the gal who did IN MY SKIN or anything like that?
I really don’t follow anybody. One of my favorite filmmakers, he’s not even a horror filmmaker, is Paul Thomas Anderson. When it comes to genre guys, I’m just hoping that somebody makes something good. When normal guys make something good, or even the big guys make something good, it kind of keeps the blood pumping in the horror genre. Unfortunately, right now, I haven’t really seen anything that’s got me talking about it.
You work a lot, obviously, with small budgets. How often are sacrifices necessary to get the ideas in your head onto the screen? Do you see a small budget as a detriment to the final film, or a test of your creative mettle?
I’ve always worked with small budgets, so it’s kind of like how you’re raised. When we design a script, we have to realize that we’re not dealing with lots of money, but we still try to put the true vision inside there. I use it to my advantage actually, because I think sometimes when you’re dealing with very little money, you’re more creative. It keeps me on my toes. I’ve been on big movie sets, and how they just throw money around is ridiculous.
ToeTag is known for their amazing practical effects, for the blood and gore looking stomach-churningly real. What are your thoughts on CGI gore – like NINJA ASSASSIN? Do you think there’s a place for stuff like that, or should filmmakers with ample budgets quit being so fucking lazy?
I don’t care for the CGI blood. Sometimes it’s necessary, if you can’t do it. Blood can be very problematic. You never know where it’s going to spray, or how it’s going to land. That’s why I think a lot of people are using it nowadays. At ToeTag, we love to use real stuff. We use real guts when we need to. The blood that Jerami makes here at ToeTag is a lot different than most blood. It’s usually a lot darker and more vicious looking. I think sometimes, if you can marry the two together, it looks pretty good. When movies have to rely on CG blood, I think it kind of makes it look like a video game.
Do you think if James Cameron suddenly started funding some of your projects, that you would use a little bit of CGI or stay with the tried and true?
If it was necessary and it would help with the effect, then absolutely. The reason why we don’t use it is because we don’t have the funds for it, but also, because we’re such fans of the practical way. If you look at Lon Chaney’s films from back in the day, his make-up is better than make-up in movies now – and he did that with fish skin and wire. These people have silicone and all these other kinds of make-up. Just because you have more money and you have the technology, doesn’t mean it’s better.
I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about some of the make-up being used in J. EDGAR to make some of the characters look older. You look back at Lon Chaney and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and think, “Dude, we haven’t advanced enough to make a convincing old man yet?”
Look at what Dick Smith did on THE EXORCIST with Max von Sydow. That’s what that dude looks like now. And that’s a little bit of latex and some make-up.
Let’s talk a little bit about AUGUST UNDERGROUND. I know the series, obviously, has a reputation for being brutal, graphic, absolutely not for the squeamish. Do you think your films deserve such a reputation?
Absolutely, it is. That’s one of the main reasons I don’t make them accessible. I’ve always turned down other people wanting to do the distribution on it, because they’re not meant for everybody. They are for the graduating class. I’ve met kids who jump right into extreme, and they don’t watch the classics. I think they kind of miss out on a lot of stuff. My AUGUST UNDERGROUND films are not for everybody. I just did a convention in Cincinnati and I probably turned more people away who wanted to buy the movie, just because I thought it’s just not for them. I’d honestly rather not sell it to them and ruin their day or make them not want to watch other independent horror. To me, it’s not about that. The AUGUST UNDERGROUND movies are hardcore because they have to be. It’s my way of showing how these sociopaths – these serial killers – really are. I didn’t want to pull any punches; I wanted to make it as real as possible.
Do you think there’s a line between making a good film and making a vehicle simply to shock the audience – gore just for the sake of gore?
Absolutely. I’ve heard people say that about the AUGUST UNDERGROUND films – that they’re just gore for the sake of gore, but they’re not gore for the sake of gore. The whole reason why I made the movies was, one, I was trying to raise money to make a bigger movie. I knew that I didn’t have a lot of money, and I knew that I could make a movie about a serial killer. At the time, I was teaching at Tom Savini’s make-up school and it really bothered me that some of my students thought that serial killers were cool. Well, of course they think they’re cool, because every movie tells you that they’re cool. They don’t show you how these people really are and the stuff they do – get really into the mindset. And that’s what I wanted to show.
They almost make Patrick Bateman, in several scenes of AMERICAN PSYCHO, look sexy. I think that’s the wrong message.
Especially with my character, I wanted him to be a little heavier – to be fat and just be gross – in every scene that I possibly could. And not be intelligent. I researched serial killers and I pretty much pulled the best that I got from all of them and blended them into this character.
Are you ever recognized in public as having played in this film? “Oh, that’s the guy from AUGUST UNDERGROUND!”
There’s been a few that I found pretty funny. One time I was at the gym, working out, and these people spotted me. I saw them circling around, back and forth, like – “Yeah, that’s the guy.” One time I was at the airport in Amsterdam, and someone came up to me and was like, “You’re the killer in AUGUST UNDERGROUND.” And I was like, “Yes, I am.” It’s funny that it’s spread, from when I’m overseas in Europe to here in the States. There are people who have seen the movie – especially such a little movie that has reached so many people. It’s very exciting.
I mean this as a compliment: it deserves a reputation. I remember when the Internet first got popular, I found a horror website which boasted the ten most brutal films you won’t be able to sit through. I watched them and thought, “Meh, I guess I have a thicker skin than most.” They tell you to watch out when you watch the AUGUST UNDERGROUND series. They’re absolutely right. You better be prepared, because it’s a hammer right between the eyes.
It’s funny because AUGUST UNDERGROUND has been taken on kind of like what TEXAS CHAIN SAW was. They say it’s so gory, but there’s not much blood – there’s more blood in SELLA TURCICA than there is in AUGUST UNDERGROUND. It’s just that the stuff that you’re seeing is so revolting and repulsive. In your mind, you’re so grossed out by it – like when I’m shoving shit into a girl’s ass or smearing it on her nipple – that stuff’s a lot more brutal than lots of spray. And that’s what CHAIN SAW was.
Tell us a little bit about the ten year anniversary for AUGUST UNDERGROUND. What do you guys have on tap?
We’ve been doing screenings all year. We did a big show up in the Poconos, where Necrophagia played, and we showed all three movies. We went over to Europe and AUGUST UNDERGROUND played at the B-movie and Underground Film Festival in Holland. They did a ten year retrospective on AUGUST UNDERGROUND. My goal with this DVD is not to tell you how I made the movie, and all the behind-the-scenes stuff like that. It’s really for the fans. It’ s kind of like – this little movie that cost me 1500 bucks is still going strong ten years later, and it’s finding an audience every day. If you would have told me in 2001 that I would still be selling copies of the damned thing – it really blows my mind.
How did you end up collaborating with Scott Swan of Ain’t It Cool News and Masters of Horror fame for MASKHEAD?
It was really interesting. One day, sitting at my computer, I get this email that said Scott Swan. The name didn’t sound familiar to me. Until I read the email, and it was like, “Hey, my name is Scott Swan. I wrote John Carpenter’s CIGARETTE BURNS for the Masters of Horror. I’m a huge fan of your AUGUST UNDERGROUND films and I’m interested in making an underground movie. You are the truest underground filmmaker and I want to make the movie with you.” And I was like, wow, CIGARETTE BURNS was my favorite one. What was going through my mind was like – wow, this could be kind of cool. What if Hollywood’s coming to ToeTag? Let’s see what Scott can do. It all started off with phone conversations and talking about things. Scott and I are into the same kinds of movies. MASKHEAD was born that way.
There’s no chance of any independent filmmakers being on the next season of Masters of Horror, I’m assuming? The Fred Vogel/Eric Stanze season – probably not?
I wish they would do something like that. I get approached a lot about doing things like that. “Would you like to be involved with this, we’re putting together the sickest filmmakers from all across the world.” I look at it – I made the sickest fucking movies and I’m not going out there to make the sickest fucking movies. My movies are sick, because they need to be. I’m not doing it as a gimmick, I’m not doing it as a cash cow. I would have made different kinds of movies if I wanted to do that.
Honestly, I’ve been so disappointed with so many of the episodes with these filmmakers I loved growing up, and they’re churning out these kind of mediocre films – even when given full creative license. It would be more interesting if they had more fresh minds, new blood to get in there – but then again, I guess they’d have to change the title. You can’t really be a Master of Horror until you’re old, I would assume. I don’t know how it works.
I totally understand what you’re saying. When I was in Holland, I just won this award – it was kind of like a Lifetime Achievement Award – but they didn’t want to call it that because I’m so young. They called it a Groundbreaker Award for breaking ground in underground cinema. It meant a lot to me, and it made me think, especially about these Masters of Horror. When Romero made his great movies, when Hooper made his great movies, when Wes Craven made his, and Carpenter and all these guys – those were the early movies, those were the movies where they had to struggle. They didn’t have the money. They had the freedom. They could do what they wanted to do. Once big money and producers and all that shit gets involved, it really kills the creativity and the integrity of the project. That’s why Eric and I and a lot of these other great, independent underground guys do what we want to do, because we don’t have that bullshit.
Tell us a little bit about SELLA TURCICA. Is this your take on THE HURT LOCKER, ToeTag-style?
No, man. SELLA TURCICA came at a time when ToeTag was really messed up. We were going through a lot of shit and it really made us think – everything is bullshit. The government, everything the TV tells you – it’s all these lies and crap. How do you portray that in a movie? Of course, when you start coming up with ideas, when you start thinking about all of this – these lies and things – you start thinking about the government, you start thinking about the war going on right now. It’s like – let’s tell the story this way. Jerami Cruise, who’s the head of ToeTag special effects and my partner, his cousin just got home from a war. We had somebody who could be our liaison to helping us tell the story. We can put our take on it – we really don’t know what’s going on over there. That’s what the story of SELLA TURCICA is really about. We don’t know. It could be anything. You have to use your imagination and hope that what you think is going on in the story is right. We’re telling it three different ways. It’s a weird film.
With war being a hot topic and such, how’s the feedback been regarding SELLA TURCICA? Has it been mostly positive, or have there been misguided patriots?
It’s been mixed. I’ve had lots of soldiers say that it’s great, and then I’ve had some soldiers say that we’re not telling the story right. Like I said, I had a real soldier – so that all the dialogue was perfect. The stories, that the character Brad tells, were literally some of the stories our guy Nick told us. Just like anything, nothing is perfect. Not everybody’s going to like what you make. I was really worried that a lot of the gorehound ToeTag fans were going to think this movie was kind of soft, because it’s 90 minutes of drama, then the gore kicks in. This is the story that I wanted to tell at this moment in time. It was a really great vehicle for us and it was an opportunity for me to make a little bit of a drama – which is one of my favorite genres. I got a chance to work with Camille Keaton and that was awesome. It was definitely a lot of fun.
What’s next on the docket for Fred Vogel and ToeTag Inc.?
Right now, we’re going through this really weird time. I’ve been doing a lot of meetings with bigger producers and things like that. They want to toss a little bit more money my way and try to do things on a bigger budget. Going through that, there’s a lot of talk, then a lot of waiting around. So, that’s kind of like what we’re going through right now. We’re getting ready to do an effects gig in New Orleans over the December-January time frame. We’re just trying to stay busy that way. Whenever we’re not making movies, we’re either doing effects for somebody else’s movies or just doing art here. Painting or sculpting – things like that.
Finally, for our readers who are not yet familiar with your work, where’s a good place to start in your filmography?
It really depends. I think you can jump in anywhere. If you want to test the water on the very extreme side, the AUGUST UNDERGROUND movies might be your cup of tea. If you want to see a very disturbing, polished film – then THE REDSIN TOWER. I think all my movies stand alone – everything from MURDER COLLECTION V.1 to MASKHEAD to SELLA TURCICA. It’s pretty much whatever you feel like watching.
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