If you’ve read my review of INVASION OF THE UNDEAD, you already know I was blown away by its energy and visual style. It’s one of the most exciting feature debuts I’ve seen in recent years, and much of the credit for its success has to go to its writer/director Torey Haas, who has synthesized a childhood of video games and monster movies into a truly inspiring piece of entertainment. Based in Atlanta, Torey has worked extensively as a editor and visual effects artist, while simultaneously honing his craft on short films. Partially funded through an Indiegogo campaign, UNDEAD is his first feature and marks the arrival of a terrific new voice in genre filmmaking. Torey took some time out of promoting INVASION OF THE UNDEAD to talk to Daily Grindhouse about his influences, crowdfunding, and much, much more.
Stay tuned to the end to get an exclusive discount code for downloading a copy of INVASION OF THE UNDEAD.
Doug Tilley (DT): Let’s begin with talking about your production company MONSTERBUSTER ENTERTAINMENT. On your website you say Monsterbuster is devoted to the creation of “quality genre entertainment.” What defines quality genre entertainment to you?
Torey Haas (TH): Ha! I just wrote that on the website to fill space, but since you called me out on it here goes: to me, “quality genre entertainment” is two-fold and describes a film that not only displays a certain level of technical competence but that more importantly also has heart. For low-budget, independent films there will always be some concession in quality due to the budget, but the trick is to try and minimize this as much as possible, which is what we strive to do. Furthermore, the creators of all of our films are all extremely passionate about filmmaking and the stories their films tell, and hopefully that shines over any budgetary limitations as well, and creates an entertaining experience for the viewer. The genre part comes into play only because we’re not experimental filmmakers — all of our films exist in defined genres, primarily horror and fantasy of course, but we have made a few dramas and comedies. I should probably add this to the website!
DT: What made INVASION OF THE UNDEAD the right material for your first feature? It obviously shares continuity (and a visual style) with your earlier short JAKE AND JULIE VS. THE BOOGEYMAN. Did you see that short as being a dry run for an eventual full-length project?
TH: When I started seriously planning my first feature, I narrowed down the possibilities to three scripts I had written, one of which was of course INVASION. I ultimately chose INVASION because I felt it was not only possible for us to pull it off on a low budget (like many first feature films it takes place primarily in just one location) but more importantly because it was a story that had been in my head for years and that I just really needed to tell. Of all the characters I’ve created, Desmond, Jake and Allison are easily my favorites and I got to thinking that if I end up making only one feature film I needed to bring them to life. Complimenting this was the fact that the script contained everything I love about horror and b-movies – cocky hero, attractive and capable heroine, lots of monsters, a sword-fight, cheesy effects and stop motion animation – so it was really the natural choice for my first feature.
As for JAKE AND JULIE VS. THE BOOGEYMAN!, I had never really seen it as a dry run for INVASION until you asked this question, but now that you mention it there definitely are some similarities! JAKE AND JULIE VS. THE BOOGEYMAN was my thesis film at Georgia State University, and like INVASION it features stop motion monsters and stylized CREEPSHOW-esque lighting when the story turns more supernatural. It’s a bit more lighter in tone than INVASION, though, since it was meant to be a horror movie for kids like GREMLINS or THE MONSTER SQUAD (although I’ve heard from several reviewers that children really enjoy INVASION as well) but they definitely exist in the same universe. The titular Jake is meant to be a younger version of INVASION‘s Jake, and I am hoping to someday film a showdown between his future self and a revenge-seeking Boogeyman. Ultimately though, all of the short films I directed prior to INVASION really were dry runs for the feature when you get right down to it… TROLL PICNIC features stop-motion and colored lighting, FIRST DATE was both my first time working with Greg Garrison (Desmond) and my first time mixing live action and stop-motion to create a hybrid monster, MARIO AND LUIGI introduced me to Dylan Schettina (Jake) and features a ton of video game references, and MAKING THE CUT starred Marie Barker (Allison) and included many of the crew that went on to make INVASION.
DT: Both JAKE AND JULIE and INVASION seem greatly influenced by video games – particularly old-school video games. How has the logic of old games influenced the world of INVASION OF THE UNDEAD?
TH: Growing up, video games were just as big an influence on me as Ray Harryhausen and horror movies, especially role-playing and adventure games like Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania and Ys (mainly the original games on Nintendo and Super Nintendo). One thing I love about all of these games are the epic boss battles where the villain takes on multiple forms to battle the hero while awesome music plays, and that was something I wanted to bring to a movie since I had never really seen it before… the closest films I can think of (and these are two movies that will likely never be mentioned in the same sentence again) are SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD and THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES II with Lou Ferrigno, but neither of those came close to capturing the feeling I would get when fighting a boss in a video game.
I’m not sure if I quite pulled it off in INVASION either, but I certainly tried! The final battle between Desmond and Z’athax is directly patterned after A Link To The Past (all of Z’athax’s attacks are homages to Agahnim’s) Final Fantasy IV and Ys III, and once I decided to go that route the other video game touches (like having the creatures flicker when Desmond, Jake, or Allison hit them) just came naturally. The decision to make Desmond a retro gamer also grew out of this, and that’s the element that really ties it all together I think.
DT: Tell us a little about working with Nick Lauinger on the incredibly distinctive visual style for the film. CREEPSHOW seems like an obvious influence, but were there other films that you were looking to as inspiration?
TH: I went to film school with Nick — he’s an extremely talented cinematographer and I can’t imagine working with anyone else, but that said he does not watch horror movies so every time we make a movie together I have to loan him a handful of DVDs just so we’re on the same page. For INVASION, CREEPSHOW was of course a major influence, but so were Argento and Bava; the scene where Allison descends into the basement is lit with blue and magenta just like the sunken ballroom scene in INFERNO. Two other big inspirations were EVIL DEAD and ARMY OF DARKNESS, not for lighting so much as shot composition — I love how Raimi boldly uses the camera to get a reaction from the audience, and Nick and I certainly tried to bring that to a few sequences in INVASION.
I don’t know if it was an inspiration for visual style per se, but I do want to give a shout-out to WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME. I just love how fun that movie is, and I don’t feel like it gets the respect it deserves. It is definitely the biggest tonal inspiration for INVASION.
DT: Similarly, the look of the UNDEAD are a far cry from the Romero-style zombies that have dominated cinemas for the past decade. There seems to be an influence from classic voodoo style zombies, as well as a hint of the Spanish BLIND DEAD zombie films. Was there a specific look you were going for with the creatures?
TH: Oh definitely! We had to make a big decision early on in the process on how to portray the creatures in a way that would be interesting to the audience while also fitting our extremely low budget. The first draft of the script was written over ten years ago and featured the traditional Romero-style zombies, primarily because at the time the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake hadn’t even come out and zombies just weren’t as saturated as they are now.
Flash forward a decade later to pre-production on INVASION , and every low budget filmmaker is releasing a zombie movie- we really had to find a way to make our creatures stand out. I had always loved the BLIND DEAD films, and thematically I liked the idea of the Sons of Z’athax being cloaked and essentially clones of each other because it was in direct contrast to Desmond and Jake, who are freelance paranormal exterminators bucking the system with unique personality traits. The decision to sprinkle a few close-ups of their skeletal stop motion faces was inspired by the portrayal of the dwarves in PHANTASM II, who were cloaked actors for the most part with the occasional close-up of a prosthetic face. One fun fact about the Sons of Z’athax: we only had the budget for one cloak, so whenever you see more than one Son onscreen it was accomplished through shooting the same actor multiple times and compositing the footage all together in post.
As for the voodoo zombies, they were designed by our creature creator Tricia Gaulesky. It bugs me how people seem to forget that zombies are originally from voodoo culture, and there really haven’t been that many movies that have explored this effectively since WHITE ZOMBIE. While INVASION is definitely not that movie, I did want to include voodoo zombies and some aspects of the lore (like their aversion to salt) just to make them stand out from the Romero clones that have become so prevalent. That said, I really had no idea what they should look like and I left that up to Tricia and her zombie make-up team (Christine Nguyen, Kate Northcutt and Jeremy Ledbetter); I think I sent her some pics from SUGAR HILL and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE but I left it at that, and in the end I was really happy with the design she came up with. It was threatening, stark and looked great in the colored lighting, especially the make-up on Big Z (John Reed).
DT: One thing that always seems to trip up low-budget directors is action. Fight scenes inevitably are jerky and unconvincing. INVASION features several complex sword fights, and you pull them off wonderfully. What’s the key to shooting action on a budget?
TH: Practice was definitely key! The fight scenes were extremely important to me — in a lot of ways, the entire movie is an excuse for the sword fight between Desmond and Guysmiley — and I wanted to take them as seriously as possible. Alan J. Sanders, a talented stage fight choreographer, was brought on board really early in preproduction and he trained Greg and Nathan DeRussy (Guysmiley) in stage combat for six months prior to shooting. We have behind the scenes footage of all of their lessons that you will see in the making of documentary on the upcoming DVD, and I’ll just say that their first lesson is a far cry from the final fight sequence in the film.
Because of all this training though, we were able to get through the actual fight without any injuries or damage to property (which was important because we did not have any production insurance), and more importantly, we didn’t have to rely on editing tricks to sell the fight. One of my favorite moments from the shoot was when the crew first saw Nathan and Greg fight for the first time — I had been to each of their training sessions so I was used to it, but to everyone else it really looked like they were trying to kill each other! I think Marie actually refused to watch it because she was worried for their safety.
As for the other fight sequences (Desmond versus Belle, Desmond versus Big Z, and Jake versus Guysmiley), Greg choreographed all of them and rehearsed them with the actors a few days prior to the shoot day so that everyone knew exactly what they were doing when the cameras were ready to roll. The absolute worst thing you can do for a fight scene is expect the actors to pick it up on the day of shooting; this was a hard-learned lesson for me because that’s exactly what I did for Desmond’s webisode, which is still unreleased to this day if that’s any indication. (We shot webisodes for each of the three main characters to promote our Indiegogo campaign; Allison’s can be seen here and Jake’s can be seen here.)
DT: The end of the film promises a followup — SIEGE OF THE CAT GOBLIN. Is that still in the cards, or is it reliant on how many people end up seeing INVASION OF THE UNDEAD? It certainly seems you could tell many, many stories with these characters.
TH: I would love to make SIEGE OF THE CAT GOBLIN — a rough draft is already written — but like you said it is entirely dependent on how many people see INVASION and what the response is. INVASION is actually the first film in an intended four-part series, and like all good sequels each film is bigger than its predecessor (the fourth film even features dinosaurs). I like to think though that even if the interest isn’t there for another movie I will eventually tell the full story in a different medium, like a comic book, web series or video game.
On a related note, all of MonsterBuster’s movies exist in the same universe, and while I’m not sure if we have a fan base to pick up on it yet all of our films do reference one another. I grew up reading comic books and Stephen King, and I love the idea of an interconnected universe across different media; it’s just so rewarding and fun for a fan. Marvel is of course the most obvious example since they’re really killing it with their cinematic universe; hopefully MonsterBuster can one day become the low-budget, horror version of Marvel!
DT: INVASION OF THE UNDEAD was partially funded through an Indiegogo campaign. What was your crowdfunding experience like, and is it something you’ll likely return to for MONSTERBUSTER’s future projects?
TH: I love the idea of crowdfunding, and it’s definitely enabled a lot of people to create something they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise; INVASION is a prime example since we just had no other way to raise the budget, and without every one of our Indiegogo backers (whom I am all eternally grateful for, as you can see in INVASION‘s end credits) we never would have been able to make INVASION. That said, I would like to find a better way to raise money in the future, and I’m hoping INVASION will open some doors in this regard so crowdfunding isn’t our only outlet for securing a budget.
I believe that in it’s purest form crowdfunding (and I’m only speaking for filmmaking here since that’s the only area I have experience in) should be for filmmakers to get their first major project off the ground. It just seems that now everyone is crowdfunding and the market is just completely oversaturated with projects, and I’d rather not contribute to that in the future if I can avoid it so that other first timers can have a better chance at getting their projects seen.
DT: On that note, what should we be expecting next from Monsterbuster and yourself? Where can curious readers keep up on your work?
TH: I’m working on a few different treatments and scripts right now, but the one I’m most jazzed about is a vampire western set in colonial America. I’m literally right in the middle of a Hammer marathon for inspiration (once I’m done with this interview I’m going to finish re-watching TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA). I feel that vampires have become more like superheroes in recent years; as much as I love BUFFY I’m pretty sick of vampires doing kung fu and acrobatics, and I want to try and bring back the more realistic physicality, terror and awe that Christopher Lee embodied in Hammer’s Dracula films. Of course, this film is a period piece which means a larger budget, so I can’t really say for sure yet if it will be the next MonsterBuster production. If INVASION starts to take off, we’ll probably dive right into the sequel.
DT: Anything else to plug?
TH: Sure thing! A good friend of mine Tony Reames has a short coming out called TERROR AT CAMP CREEK; check out the trailer here. I’m not sure of his release date or plans yet, but definitely keep an eye out for it.
If you want to check out INVASION we will be screening at the Gen Con Film Festival in Indiana on Thursday, July 30th at 2:00 pm. We also just got accepted into the Gwinett International Film Festival in Duluth, Georgia; I don’t know our screening time or date yet but I will definitely post it on our Facebook page as soon as I do. You can also check out INVASION on Vimeo On Demand — as a thank you for reading this interview, use the promo code “GRINDHOUSE” to rent the film for only $0.99. We are currently working on the special features for the DVD/Blu-ray release, so right now Vimeo is the only way to see INVASION… well, legally at least.
I would also like to mention that we are donating 15% of our profits from INVASION to charity, specifically to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Leukemia Research Foundation. It’s just something that’s important to me as a person and a way for us to give back to the community. So hey, for a little less than a dollar you can not only watch a fun independent horror movie but also support some really deserving charities!
DT: Finally… What advice would you have for young or inexperienced filmmakers looking to tackle their first feature?
TH: Just do it! That’s really all it takes. You’ll never be completely ready for your first feature, so at some point you just need to dive right in. Also, and equally important, DON’T GIVE UP! I went to film school with so many people that were way more talented than me, but they haven’t made any films since then because they gave up. Filmmaking is a lot of hard work, but you have to stick with it if you’re going to be successful.
Also, if you have any filmmaking questions feel free to email me at email@example.com. I’m always glad to help if I can!
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016