His old man gave him his first camera at 13 and that was it. Game over. Nothing else mattered. Cut to 2010 and with a few short films and one feature under his belt, Stuart Simpson completed EL MONSTRO DEL MAR; a tribute to drive-in cinema with a nod to Roger Corman, Russ Meyer, Tura Satana, and more. MONSTRO was the first Simpson film I have seen and it won’t be the last. This cat knows how to jam a film with rockabilly cool and he joined a short list of directors I am keeping my eyes on.
DAILY GRINDHOUSE: What was the first film that changed your life and made you want to be a filmmaker?
Stuart Simpson: BLUE VELVET and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE had a huge impact on me as a teenager that led to me being an obsessed film nerd. Low budget films like EVIL DEAD and TOXIC AVENGER inspired me to have a crack at it myself.
Tell us about your appreciation for film growing up and what kind of access you had to titles.
Growing up I had seen the introduction of video stores popping up in the 80’s to them being everywhere to now they are dropping off like flies. As a kid I loved Sci-Fi and fantasy, so I was a fan of STAR WARS, BACK TO THE FUTURE and Jim Henson’s films like DARK CRYSTAL, LABYRINTH, etc. As the youngest in my family I was exposed to my dad and brother’s love of horror films at an early stage, so throughout my teens I was right into the genre and then got more and more into obscure and weird films as my interest in the mainstream cinema dwindled.
Talk to us about growing up in Australia. They had some fairly strict censorship during the VHS boom, what kind of access did you have?
I can’t think of any films that I couldn’t get my hands onto, except maybe TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, I had to watch a bootleg of that because it was banned. There were a few cool stores in Melbourne that sold a lot underground stuff.
I think PINK FLAMNIGOS is still only officially available in an edited form.
I’m not sure. It’s easy enough to get an uncut copy.
Who are the directors you most admire?
My favorites are David Cronenberg, Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch, Park Chan-wook, Norifumi Suzuki, Jack Hill, Werner Herzog, Teruo Ishii, John Waters, Quentin Tarantino, Akira Kurosawa, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Dario Agento… god there’s too many!
You made your first film DEMONSAMONGUS in 2006, talk to us about that first experience and finally deciding to make the jump into filmmaking?
I had been making videos since I was young but didn’t try writing a feature script until I was in my early twenties. So once I had it wasn’t much of a jump to try and make it. I figured I’d just treat the feature like I was doing a bunch of short films one after the other. I had no money and it ended up taking two and half years to shoot, which was a lot longer than I had hoped. I learned a lot from the experience.
When did you first start kicking around the idea for EL MONSTRO DEL MAR?
I was talking to my friend and future producer of Monstro, Fabian Pisani, about ideas I could do for my next project around the middle of 2008. He loves the sea, goes diving and boating and has a degree in marine biology, so he instantly said do something about the sea. I laughed and said what about a sea monster film and we starting talking about how cool that would be to do. An hour later, after talking to SPFX artist Nick Kocsis, I was pretty confident we could pull it off, even if it was in an old school schlocky sorta way. Once I starting thinking about characters and the style of the film I wanted it to be, the script just wrote itself.
How long did it take you to shoot this film?
14 days over about 3 months.
What kind of difficulties did you come across making the film?
Sea tides really stuffed us around. You have to shoot fast for continuity or sometimes just so you are not up to your knees in water. A lot of the locations on the shore had extreme tidal ranges and would look completely different at different times of the day. I had a cave I wanted to shoot in but because we were behind schedule that day, the time we got there it was completely submerged.
The cast in this film is really good, in fact I don’t think there is a bad performance in the whole thing but Nelli Scarlet really stands out as Beretta. Not only because she is the leader but she just has this Tura Satana vibe. I said in the review for the film that she reminded me of an Australian version of Varla (Satana’s character in FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL, KILL!). Tell us about how you found her.
I worked with Nelli on a music video beforehand. I was looking for models on the net and came across her profile and was attracted to her classic style and tall stature. I wanted her to tower over the band. So when I got the idea for Monstro I instantly thought of her as being the leader of this band of misfits. And yeah I gave her a copy of Faster Pussy Cat and said study this, harness the power of the great Tura Satana.
When did you first discover Russ Myer?
When I was about 18, I bought Faster Pussycat Kill Kill on VHS in the basement of Minotaur (comic book shop). After that, I wanted to watch all his work. But Faster Pussycat it still my favorite Russ Myer.
His films have a really unique style and vibe to them. What about him do you dig?
For the same reason; He does have his own style both in the use of camera and in storytelling. He casts people that are fascinating to watch and puts them in crazy situations. There’s a real playfulness in his craft and the editing was quite progressive for its time. And in a strange way I relate to the desolation of the locations used in most of his films, reminds me of the dry open plains in which I grew up in Western Victoria. Mad Max territory.
What is it about Satana’s Varla that you dig so much?
She is a relentless bad ass. She has all the cool lines (and basically yells whenever her mouth opens), welds a boot knife like a wild cat and has a lethal karate chop. She is just one of those unique creatures that is fascinating to watch.
I can see a number of influences throughout the film but walk us through the style you were going for and maybe a few titles that had an impression on this film in addition to Russ Meyers.
I watch different types of cinema, I think it’s important to keep your interests and influences as varied as possible, but for this film in particular I drew on gang films of the 60s/70s mashed up with monster movies from the 50’s. I’m a fan of Jack Hill’s films like SWITCHBLADE SISTERS and THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, as well as the numerous films of that era by unknowns that had nasty anti-heroes as their protagonists. I love the chemistry of a gang, the politics and the in-fighting and of course their subversive and anarchistic nature. Biker films obviously come to mind but it’s the girl gangs that interest me the most. They are the ultimate underdog. So to see them kick ass and take names has that extra appeal to me. That’s where I drew inspiration for the characters anyway. The idea to do something ridiculous as a monster movie definitely came from my love of Roger Corman films as well as old drive-in Hollywood studio and Japanese monster films of the 50’s and 60’s.
What kind of projects are you kicking around for your next film?
I have a project with writer Addison Heath that we are trying to get up; it’s a pretty bad ass violent gritty suburban thriller. I also have just finished writing a 30 min film that is going to be part of an anthology I am making with two other Melbourne filmmakers that I dig. Hopefully I can reveal more about that soon.
What advice do you have for first time filmmakers kicking around their first project?
Make sure you have a killer script before even thinking about shooting. It’s impossible to fix a film once its shot. Sounds obvious but some many of us have ignored problems hoping to fix them in post.
Are we going to see these characters back any time soon? It would be cool to see how this trio of badass was born and what they seemed to be on the run from.
I’ve been kicking around ideas for a prequel that shows the three girls at their most bad ass. Would be fun to do so yeah, maybe. Especially if people buy EL MONSTRO DEL MAR.
Anything we can plug for you in addition to the flick?
You can keep an eye on what our future projects are at www.lostartfilms.com. And any producers out there wanting to hook up with us please contact me through the Lost Art website.
Last question. You’re pulling a double feature, what are you playing?
A gang double: SWITCHBLADE SISTERS and THE WARRIORS
Good answer, sir.