It started in high school when buddies Barry J. Gillis and Andrew Jordan hit classic VHS titles like BOARDING HOUSE. For two kids working through Fangoria magazine, Shot-on-Video horror films were something tangible. If a couple of filmmakers could grab a camera and shoot a film, why not them? Ten years later, they would both be legends in the world of cult films.
Gillis has a passion and enthusiasm for film that is unmatched. He has been around the world of cinema, released two films, is working on releasing a third, and also has written a book, recorded an album, and for all I know climbed Mt. Kiliminjaro, drank a beer full of tap water, and slid down on the back of Amber Lynn. We hung out with Gillis after he learned about the Featured Filmmaker series on the site and you can be sure we are going to talk to him again soon. In the meantime, lets roll.
Thanks for hanging out with us man, I feel like we are in the presence of cult royalty here.
Oh no problem, I am honored. Have you seen the movies and everything?
Yeah man. In fact I am not sure how many times I have seen it. We wrote a review before our site went live on our old blog which was called Plisskens Grindhouse at the time and we couldn’t stop talking about it.
Are you “G”? Did you write that review?
Yep, that’s me. My name is Geoff but my buddies all call me G. Yeah its pretty funny; I worked in a video store from the late 80’s through the late 90’s and THINGS for whatever reason was almost just as hot as FACES OF DEATH and each time we got it in some fucker would rent it and never bring it back.
I hear stories like that all the time, I can’t believe it. It was originally on VHS and we started hearing these things so…. Yeah Geoff you guys are doing some great stuff.
Oh thanks man, we appreciate it.
Yeah I saw your site, I don’t get a chance to jump on the web a lot and see every single site but you guys are doing some great stuff. The whole production of the site is great but yeah, I am working in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada and also making films so I am kind of doing two things at once. Eventually I just want to be doing movies.
Well cool man, thanks for jumping on the site we appreciate it. We haven’t been around too long so we always dig the feedback. Do you remember the first film you saw that made an impact on you?
Oh you know what? I saw lots of film when I was younger. We had a movie theater about 4 or 5 blocks away and that’s where they would show like the Saturday and Sunday matinees. For instance, they may have played four movies and then the big movie of the day would come like JAWS or KING KONG which played one time. I was in grade school and ended up in some classroom and some black and white movie was playing that some students played or something and that’s when it occurred to me that I could do it. It wasn’t until I met Andy (Andrew Jordan, Director of THINGS) though that I really started thinking that I could do that stuff.
You guys were both in the same high school right?
Yeah we went to the same high school. I remember he had a really vast VHS collection and he was always showing around Fangoria in the class. I didn’t know who he was, I saw him walking around the school with his jean jacket that had Black Sabbath “Heaven and Hell” on the back or whatever it was, so I knew who he was cause that was one of my favorite bands. But when he ended up in my classroom, I remember people gathering around and hearing girls going “oh my god that’s so gross” and stuff like that and people walking away cause he was showing Fangoria and so we just started talking and I found out he had this vast VHS collection. He was the only person I knew with a VCR.
So did you guys just start hooking up to watch films together?
Yeah and he would also lend me his VCR which was a pretty big deal at the time to lend something out, especially when it’s your only one. We would watch all these movies like SUDDEN IMPACT I don’t know how many times. Basically it was just kind of eventual (how he came to be involved with film). I remember Andy showing me things like BOARDING HOUSE and movies that were shot on video, most films were shot on 35mm but we knew that would be expensive. Back then to even think about making a movie it was a huge undertaking, now it’s easier to make a film though with HD cameras and laptops and stuff like that. It’s a lot easier right now to make a movie than it was back then. But back then, to even fathom it… but when you started to see BOARDING HOUSE and then all the others, you started to actually hunt down movies that were cheap and done on video and if they could do it…. (laughs)
So at that point did you start putting together the idea for THINGS?
Well we decided to buy a video camera and we shot a movie before THINGS but it never became a movie. There are actually some scenes from it on the TV in the move. There’s a guy with a mask and it looks like someone is being… I don’t know what.
Yeah that’s the part where you say something like “I think this stars the guy who was in that Bruce Lee movie.”
Oh god! Yeah anyway! That was a nightmare to shoot, it was freezing and we didn’t know, we knew zilch. Those cameras were really bad and we had no money and no resources. It was just a disaster. We were so inept that we didn’t even have extension cords. But I told Andy that we should put that movie in THINGS on the TV. Actually, I don’t know if anyone will catch on to this but, in WICKED WORLD I have the people in that movie watching THINGS, and then now in THE KILLING GAMES when the guy turns on the TV he is watching WICKED WORLD. I am trying to make that like my little trademark. Everything is so accessible these days for anybody that wants to go out and make a movie; I encourage anyone to go out and make a movie.
So when did you start developing the idea for THINGS and actually start writing that script?
Well my family is from Nova Scotia. I ended up meeting a girl on summer vacation and I wanted to move down there. So I was kind of begging my dad to go into early retirement, so he did, and I was always telling Andy we needed to raise money to make a film. Andy called me two or three years later and my girlfriend was pregnant at the time, this was a different girl, and he said his parents were going to give him three to five thousand dollars and that he had an outline for THINGS. Even though she was pregnant I didn’t want to leave the dream behind so I was on the plane the next day or the day after or whatever it was. It could have been a week. You have to remember I am 46 now and I was like 22 then right?
Yeah so it’s been a while.
Oh yeah, and some people have really good memories like Gene Simmons, he remembers, you know Gene Simmons from Kiss?
He has a memory like its going out of style. But I can’t always remember if it was the next day or next week but I went to Toronto and saw the outline for THINGS, which he said that he couldn’t think of a better title for it. He did all the drawings though and had the thing coming out of the girl’s stomach. A lot of people can’t believe a lot of money went into that as it did but a lot of the money was just wasted because we didn’t know what we were doing. Basically that’s what happened. We got $3,000 or whatever and then that turned into $35 or $40,000 and they decided enough was enough.
When you say you were wasting your money because you didn’t know what you were doing, do you remember what kind of things you were spending that money on? Are you talking about like using Amber Lynn instead of a less expensive actress or dropping more money into better locations?
No that was Mel Lieberman’s money. We hooked him into distributing the movie by showing him the trailer and we sent it out to Vestron who was releasing all kinds of horror movies but they said it wasn’t up to par. But there were tons of video stores back then, they were everywhere, the laundry mat had videos. The videos we were renting were from Lettuce Entertain You and they had a Toronto address so they were always in the back of our minds. Finally we met Mel and he thought it was great and he put so much money in these ad slicks and posters and also sent us down to Michigan to take pictures for the cover. He had so much money into it he had no choice but to release the movie because he had so much money into it.
Amber Lynn though was stripping in Toronto and I can’t remember who saw that she was stripping… I think I saw she was stripping in the paper. I called Andy and figured we could get her for $1,000 even though we had no money. So we went down to talk to her and mentioned $1,000 to her agent who was her boyfriend at the time and we talked to him at the strip joint. Back then porn stars had just started stripping and making some major coin. She was making like $25,000 a week doing that. Anyway, they wanted more money so I figured we only needed her for an hour and we offered her $2,500 for an hour and they agreed. Then we started calling Mel Lieberman and there were a lot of phone calls that day and I am the more aggressive one and kind of the talker. Andy talks too but I am the more aggressive one. So Mel finally agreed after thinking about it for hours and hours and consulting people but he finally came up with the money. By then the B-movie market was starting to go down and we basically witnessed it first-hand. He went from a big giant office to a small office, to just a few reps selling videotapes. Other things though like basic lighting packages. We went to a place that was charging a lot of money and we didn’t think about finding a filmmaker co-op and things like that. Glenn Orr who made the creatures was only there for one day but we could have negotiated a better deal to have him there the entire time. The first creature which was called Irving, it really moved really well but once it got sticky stuff on it, it stopped moving well, but that could have been included in the price.
That’s one thing though man that really works in the film. The effects, especially considering the budget and the time it was made, are pretty good. Those creatures look good. I mean THINGS is comprised of moments that work and moments that may not make a lot of sense, but I thought the creatures look good.
To tell you the truth, with that same money right now you could do a lot of things with that. You like those effects though?
Yeah I think a lot of the SOV horror films are kind of the same way. Sometimes the effects are what they are and sometimes they kind of rise above the budget constraints and I think THINGS has moments where the effects aren’t that bad. It looked like you had someone who knew what they were doing in some of those shots.
When Doug’s hand is bitten off, Glen built a hand out of wax for that and I thought that was pretty good.
So this film has had a pretty wild ride and really, for people out there kicking around the idea of picking up a camera, its kind inspirational in a way. What’s it like to have a film like this taking on this kind of prestigious status in the world of SOV horror films?
Well, obviously you come for the same mindset as me and Andy. I am just blown away. I am hoping WICKED WORLD can be discovered at some point as well. There is like 49 killings in that movie, some are off screen but… It’s better in production terms. It’s on 16MM and it’s a lot better in a lot of ways. There’s something in that movie that people like. It’s kind of surreal.
Does it bother you when people kind of go after the film and trash it?
Oh no, we love it. Sometimes I even will leave a comment on the sites. I just find that people have so many inventive ways of trashing the film but it’s done in fun. There’s also people who outright trash it and don’t like it and that’s fine. The main goal though was to make a film and get it distributed. It’s like winning the lottery. You just never know. Like THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, that’s like a mainstream cult movie isn’t it?
Oh yeah and probably now just beyond a cult movie.
I saw it once and I enjoyed the experience but I never felt ready for it again when I saw people throwing stuff at the screen. The person that invited me to that movie, I didn’t know he was going to come dressed as a girl and (laughs), I enjoyed the experience but I have never wanted to watch it again. Whether it’s ROCKY HORROR, GRUESOME TWOSOME, or Herschel Gordon Lewis it’s just amazing. I couldn’t believe when we were at the Rue Morgue festival and people were asking us for autographs and pictures, it just blows you away.
Has the Intervision changed the momentum you had with getting THE KILLING GAMES out?
I had already completed THE KILLING GAMES on 1080hd same as HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. Basically we’re working on the future to use THE KILLING GAMES to get some really decent money so that’s what we’re doing. But yeah the Intervision thing was definitely a high you know? What I would really like to do at some point is a sequel to THINGS with a bigger budget. Can you imagine a THINGS movie with 5-10million dollars? If you have X amount of dollars and Bruce Campbell in the movie and you had great special effects and creatures but keep the same kind of production. What is it about THINGS you like so much?
You know that’s a really interesting question. I think what makes this film so unique is that it’s just filled with these random moments that don’t make a lot of sense. Things like the tape recorder in the freezer, the sandwich gag with the spider, filling up your beer with water, its just unlike anything I have ever seen but what I keep coming back to is whatever this film is, it was made by a couple of guys who obviously were digging what they were doing you know?
That sandwich was in the original outline. I can’t remember the exact words Andy said but when he read the outline my character was supposed to be kind of a nerd or square and I told Andy alright, I’ll do it let’s get on with it but I can be cool in other parts.
And that’s why it’s cool man; it has moments that would never be in any other film. Like when Fred is going through the cabinets, there really isn’t a reason for that but he’s taking an interest in everything he’s finding. There’s also all the side stories about the art that are kind of mentioned but never go anywhere. I just dig those moments.
Yeah when I watch it I always find something different. When I first made the movie I watched it and I was so happy we had a movie. I hated it for a long time, especially wearing that blue sweater. I went years without watching it but every time now I watch it I have a different experience.
You know what it is man? You can only see different variations of blood and gore so many times but when you have the gore plus the unique and random moments with these characters, that’s what makes the film work for me.
I don’t know, it’s just crazy. I don’t know if it’s the pacing being hap-hazard or the combination of things coming together to make it unique. People do invite their friends over to make new recruits. It’s just been a crazy ride.
FRIEND Barry on FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/people/Barry-J-Gillis/100001015311252
SEE YOU ON FORTY DEUCE,
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