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Kevin Tenney, best known for the popular 1980s fright flicks NIGHT OF THE DEMONS and WITCHBOARD, returns to the genre with BRAIN DEAD, a zombie comedy opus that splatters onto DVD this Tuesday, October 26 from Vicious Circle/Breaking Glass. FANGORIA spoke with the busy Tenney, whose NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (now on DVD and Blu-ray from Entertainment One) got the remake treatment this year with Tenney himself onboard as producer.
FANGORIA: First off, how is the WITCHBOARD remake progressing? KEVIN TENNEY: Since I wrote and directed the original WITCHBOARD fresh out of USC film school, I decided to have my production company, Prodigy Entertainment, acquire the remake rights from the original production company, and we are presently seeking financing.
FANG: There is already Corman’s BRAIN DEAD and Peter Jackson’s second movie of the same name. Are you concerned that some people might be confused by the title of your new film? TENNEY: It didn’t really occur to me. Peter Jackson’s film was called DEAD ALIVE here in the U.S., because of the earlier Roger Corman film. I hadn’t even heard of the Corman film when we decided to make our BRAIN DEAD, and I’ve always known Peter Jackson’s film under its U.S. title. So many of my previous films have undergone title changes when they’ve played overseas, I just assumed the countries that had played Jackson’s film under its original title, would change our title to something else. I’ve been surprised that so far, they’ve all kept the title, BRAIN DEAD.
FANG: Since you are a producer on NIGHT OF DEMONS remake, can you talk a little bit about the project? Are you happy with the outcome?
TENNEY: I think it’s a funny, gory rollercoaster ride, which is more a re-imagining than a literal remake. It’s got a much bigger budget than my version had, with a cast of well-known and well-established actors, as opposed to the originals’ unknown newcomers, so it definitely feels like a more polished, professional film. I hope the fans will like it as much as I do.
FANG: Does Linnea Quigley make a cameo? TENNEY: Absolutely, Linnea has a cameo. I suggested it to director Adam Gierasch, and he and his writing partner, Jace Anderson, came up with a fun scene specifically for her as a homage to her character in the original.
FANG: How was it switching from director to producer?TENNEY: There’s usually only one director on a film, but we had four producers on NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, so it was a lot easier. It was also enlightening to be less involved with the everyday creative decisions. But, ultimately, film is a director‘s medium, and we‘re all there to support his vision, not our own. I already directed my version 20-something years ago. I had absolutely no desire to do it again. As a matter of fact, during the actual production, I was directing another film to which I had made a previous commitment, a family film entitled BIGFOOT.
FANG: BRAIN DEAD took three years to come out. Why the struggle?TENNEY: Struggle? We got offers from two distributors right after the cast and crew screening, but they both would have sent BRAIN DEAD straight to DVD with no fanfare. We decided to take it to film festivals around the world instead. Over the next 18 months, BRAIN DEAD brought home five best picture awards, five best FX awards, one writing award, a best scream queen award and a best screenplay nomination. It proceeded to get great reviews from the various online sites that had been present at the different festivals, which created a good, strong buzz and word-of-mouth. Because of that, we got picked up for a limited theatrical release throughout the midwest for the next six months, where we again received rave reviews from many of the local papers where the film was playing. Now we are coming out on DVD to an audience that has been waiting for the film, rather than an audience who has never heard of it.
FANG: Who did the FX for BRAIN DEAD? TENNEY: Our makeup and gore FX were created by Gabe Bartalos’ company, Atlantic West Effects. Gabe is probably best known for creating the Leprechaun from the very successful LEPRECHAUN film series, as well as all of his work on most of Frank Henenlotter’s films. Gabe and I worked together years ago on PINOCCHIO’S REVENGE, and we’ve been friends ever since. When I formed my own production company, Prodigy Entertainment, and decided to make BRAIN DEAD our premiere film, Gabe was the first person I thought of for the makeup. Our visual FX were created by Andrew Durbin, who was suggested to me by one of our crewmembers. He pretty much animated all of our CGI by himself on some borrowed and/or rented computers. We had a very tiny budget, but he and Gabe both gave us a huge bang for our buck.
FANG: And how important do you think it is to show the kill in horror movies? And have the budget to do it.TENNEY: I don’t think it’s important for all horror films, like psychological thrillers or ghost stories. But you can’t really make a zombie film without creative, gory kills. Well, you can, but those are the zombie films that usually suck. In my opinion, you need to graphically, almost lovingly, show the kills in a zombie film. And you need to spend for the effects, so that they deliver for the audience. The budget for BRAIN DEAD may have been extremely tight, but we allotted a good sized portion of it to the effects, and it shows in the final product.
FANG: How much more difficult is it to get a film off the ground now as opposed to the ’80s?TENNEY: When I directed most of my earlier works, even low-budget, independent films required a certain amount of financing in order to be possible. Movie cameras, film stock, lighting packages and postproduction facilities were fixed costs; you couldn’t just get your friends together and shoot a feature film for a few thousand dollars. Digital cameras have changed all of that. The recent prosumer cameras and videotape/P2 cards are cheap in comparison to 35mm cameras and film stock. Plus, there are no lab fees, and you can edit and color-correct your film on your home computer. This has proven to be a double-edged sword. Popular films like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY would have been impossible 25 years ago, so it’s great that talented filmmakers with no Hollywood connections can still create product for a wide audience. On the other hand, now it’s possible for any hack with a hair-brained idea and a couple of grand in his bank account to gather his friends and family to create what amounts to nothing more than a glorified home movie. And these awful films are flooding the DVD rental shelves, forcing true horror fans to sift through hours and hours of dreck in order to discover any real gems. And it’s still just as hard as ever to get a legitimate film off the ground with a realistic budget. Having an established track record like mine is definitely an advantage, but it’s not a guarantee.
FANG: You definitely follow the blood, boobs and beasts motto in BRAIN DEAD. Do you think you can still have a successful formula without all three?TENNEY: Like I said, some subgenres of horror do not need all of these ingredients. Some, like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and BLAIR WITCH, don’t need any of these ingredients. But personally, I like my zombie films with a heaping handful of everything, including the kitchen sink.
FANG: Besides the WITCHBOARD and DEMONS remakes, anything else on the horizon for you?TENNEY: Just trying to decide what my next project will be. Besides the WITCHBOARD remake, which like NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, I will produce but not direct, I’m also currently writing two new horror screenplays as well as my first novel.
FANG: Thanks for your time!
TENNEY: Time is money, so gimme your wallet!
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