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George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has been remade,
officially or unofficially, countless times, almost always with
disappointing—if not disastrous—results. But Douglas Schulze’s MIMESIS (on DVD
and Blu-ray tomorrow from Anchor Bay) adapts that classic in original and
intriguing ways. FANGORIA spoke to the Michigan-based director about his horror
MIMESIS’ story begins with friends Duane (Allen Maldonado,
pictured below) and Russell (Taylor Piedmonte) enjoying a horror convention.
While Russell is excited to meet Alfonso Betz (Sid Haig), his favorite
director—who, during his panel, warns the audience about the alleged link
between violence in movies and in real life—Duane is just there to try to hook
up with girls. They meet Judith (Lauren Mae Shafer), a sexy Goth babe who
invites them to an exclusive after-party that only a select few know about. The
site is a remote farmhouse (where, in the film’s prologue, the farmer—played by
CHILDREN OF THE CORN’s Courtney Gains—and his wife are slain by ghouls), and
certain guests are served tainted beer. They wake up the next morning dressed
in clothes straight out of the ‘60s, and soon find themselves struggling to
survive a real-life version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
At a time when so many studios and filmmakers are
unimaginatively remaking old films, Schulze has managed to do something new,
using a genre classic as the basis for a fresh story which is also a love
letter to Romero and may well prompt fans, especially younger ones, to rewatch
or discover for the first time the picture that invented flesheating zombies.
Made on a similar low budget, MIMESIS recreates the sets and the atmosphere of
NIGHT, with Lon Stratton’s cinematography giving the picture a dark, grayish
tone reflecting the original’s black and white of the original. Fans will
notice the main characters named after Romero’s stars—Duane (Jones), Judith
(O’Dea), Russell (Streiner), Keith (Wayne), Karl (Hardman)—and original cemetery
zombie Bill Hinzman even has a cameo. MIMESIS turns an all-time horror favorite
into a real-life nightmare, forcing its characters to experience a fright flick
from the inside…
FANGORIA: Many people may not know what “mimesis” means; can
you explain it?
DOUGLAS SCHULZE: In its simplest terms, it means imitation.
More specifically, it’s the imitation of life in art. I believe a Greek
philosopher is credited with coining the term. It’s a very fitting title
for a film about people imitating the movies.
FANG: Did you choose NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD because
it’s in the public domain?
SCHULZE: No. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was selected because I
couldn’t think of a more disturbing film to “mimesize” than one about
flesheating zombies. In a way, the fact that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is in the
public domain was discouraging, because there have been about a dozen
unauthorized remakes, and we feared being compared to them. We have credited
the Internet archive for the few seconds of clips from the original film we
used, and there’s a token credit at the end mentioning that our film was
inspired by Romero’s.
FANG: Was it difficult to recreate the original location and
SCHULZE: Yes, actually. We spent several months looking at
farmhouses in remote areas of Michigan, and we found several that worked, but
the problem was that most people didn’t want us filming on their property. We
eventually found an abandoned farm that had the perfect look; our costume
designer Cheryl Freeman was instrumental in discovering it.
FANG: Was MIMESIS self-financed?
SCHULZE: Yes. As independent filmmakers, we look to the
money we make on the sale of one movie to fund the next. Sadly, the film we did
prior to MIMESIS made lots of money, but our distributor chose to rob us. So
the budget for MIMESIS was quite limited. Independent filmmaking is
perhaps the single most challenging art form in existence; it’s one big uphill
battle from concept through completion, and these days, with the world
financial crisis, it’s only getting tougher. But if you think it’s tough making
a film, try selling it! There’s always a market for a good film, but sometimes
distributors aren’t looking for a good film; they’re looking to fill a niche.
And today, it’s not enough to make a movie; you have to promote it on social
networks, at festivals and conventions. You have much more work to do to ensure
your film will reach its audience.
FANG: How did you cast your actors?
SCHULZE: Some of them were local Michigan-area actors, and
some were from Los Angeles. I always try to cast the lead protagonist first;
being independent, we often can’t afford to cast a seasoned name in the main
role, so it’s even more important to find a great up-and-comer for it. I had
some assistance from Gavin Grazer, who helped find Allen Maldonado.
FANG: How were you able to cast Sid Haig (pictured left with
SCHULZE: We were looking for a powerful, intimidating
actor—someone who could carry a dramatic performance and kind of look
internally to the character. When my co-writer Joshua Wagner and I were scripting
MIMESIS, we wrote Alfonso Betz with Sid in mind, not knowing if we would be
able to get him, and we were very surprised that we did. He came to us as a
very open actor; he likes to hear the director’s perspective from the outset,
so the first time we met to talk about the character, he wanted to hear my
perspective on it. He sat very patiently, listening and not talking, then gave
me his take on it, and we hit a nice middle ground. His approach was pretty
dead-on for what we wanted; you’re not sure if Alfonso is a good guy or a bad
FANG: When we see Alfonso at the convention, he’s sitting in
front of posters from your previous films…
SCHULZE: Yeah, and I also had him say lines that connect
with some of my own beliefs and feelings when it comes to violence in our world
today. I find it tragically laughable how, whenever some kid shoots up a
classroom, parents and conservatives rush to blame violence in movies and video
games—and they’re the same parents who are never around for their kids!
FANG: You cast iconic actors like John Saxon, Dee Wallace
and David Carradine in your previous films like HELLMASTER and DARK FIELDS;
what do you recall of those experiences?
SCHULZE: For me, it’s the most magical part of making a
movie. Amidst all the hard work and long hours, I have a chance to stop for
10-15 minutes between takes and chat with some real screen legends. You can
learn a lot about making a movie from them, and when the cameras start
rolling, they’re wonderful. I feel very fortunate to have worked with Carradine,
Dee, John and Sid, who is brilliant in MIMESIS. These are actors I’ve
respected for years, and when making each film, I try to make sure we have a
few dollars to afford one of those fine actors. I admit that there is a
“box-office draw” mentality when casting, so I figure, if we’re going to get a
name actor, I might as well look to those whom I’ve admired since I was a kid.
Obviously, you want someone who fits the part. Saxon was perfect for
HELLMASTER, and I was a fan since childhood, having seeing him in ENTER THE
DRAGON and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and also Carradine from his days on KUNG
FU. But you have to put aside the fan in you when you’re working with them.
FANG: You also worked on DARK FIELDS with the great Richard
Lynch, who recently passed away. What are your memories of him?
SCHULZE: Well, Richard was a tortured soul; if you knew him,
you know what I’m saying. But it was his inner demons that made him such a
brilliant actor; I firmly believe that his performance in DARK FIELDS is one of
his best. Sadly, in his later years, he was relegated to bit parts, but I gave
him a lead role and he didn’t disappoint. I consider Richard to be one of the
greatest and most underrated actors who ever lived. I miss him.
FANG: What more can you tell us about the making of MIMESIS?
SCHULZE: I created an animation for the entire film, and
used that as a visual guide. I was inspired by Romero’s minimalistic style; he
was keen on Dutch angles and long master shots. I tried to incorporate some of
that in my own visual styling. When filming, we would devote an entire day to
each of the horror scenes, so we could get ample coverage that would make those
parts more impactful. We shot on the RED ONE digital camera, though the images
looked too clean in 4K, so we purposely downgraded to 2K to give the film that
gritty late-’60s drive-in feel. We used minimal lighting on set to try and
capture the same harsh contrast seen in the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
I was a bit uncomfortable letting the actors fall into half-shadow, but I
learned to embrace the process. Lon and I developed something we call the
“floating Dutch” shot, which basically has the camera connected to a special
mount that allows us to drift in and out of a Dutch angle. We did that so much
that by the end of the film I had a new nickname: Dutch Schulze!
FANG: What about the makeup FX? They are pretty amazing!
SCHULZE: I agree. Cat Bernier was the FX master for
MIMESIS. She works quickly and always brings something to the production; I
worked with her before on DARK FIELDS. She can work on a limited budget—and
ours was a microbudget. She came up with amazing gags, like the throat bite in
the graveyard and the leg bite in the basement.
FANG: Can you talk a little more about your previous movies?
SCHULZE: Well, filmmaking is a learning art form; you have
to make movies to truly learn how to make movies, and some directors hit a home
run right out of the gate while others need three or four films before they hit
their stride. I’m just coming into my own as a filmmaker, so my best years are
definitely in front of me. I really don’t like my early work, but I’m pleased
with MIMESIS; it’s a solid, well-paced, fun film.
My first movie, HELLMASTER, was a 35mm film school. It was a
great learning experience, and I have fond memories of being on that set with
DAWN OF THE DEAD’s David Emge. Little-known factoid: Iggy and the Stooges lead
guitarist Ron Asheton played a demented nun in that film. DARK FIELDS is an
excellent story that has its moments. I guess I can say that although I have
yet to hit my home run, I’m consistently getting on base, and with each film I
get a bit further. I’d say that MIMESIS puts me at third base. I’m not sure I’d
want to hit a home run out of the gate and then spend my entire career trying
to chase it, but I feel fortunate to have been able to make a few feature
films, and hope to make a few more. I think I have a few home runs in me.
FANG: You also teach cinema; do your students support you?
SCHULZE: Of course. I run the Motion Picture Institute
http://www.mpifilm.com in Michigan, and hired many of my graduates to work as
crew. I’m a huge supporter of all my students, past and present; we have some
amazing success stories, and many of them are fans of MIMESIS.
FANG: What are your favorite films and directors?
SCHULZE: Well, my favorite directors are not necessarily
horror people; Stanley Kubrick is my numero uno. Thinking of contemporary
filmmakers, David Fincher comes to mind—FIGHT CLUB, PANIC ROOM. He and
Kubrick both treat the frame as if it were a canvas, and the way they use
actors and lights is akin to the way Van Gogh or Gauguin used paint and the
brush. I’m a big fan of John Carpenter’s early work, from ASSAULT ON PRECINCT
13 through ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. As far as great horror films, THE EXORCIST is
brilliant and stands up just as well today. SUSPIRIA is surreal and amazing
with art direction that is out of this world, not to mention the music by
FANG: What do you think of modern horror movies?
SCHULZE: I think there’s some great stuff out there, but
today it’s more about the moments within the movies and not so much the movies
as a whole, if that makes sense. I’m not nuts about all the remakes, though the
new EVIL DEAD looks fun and rather wicked. Today the new term is “rebooting,”
which is a kinder way of saying the studio doesn’t have faith in a part eight,
so they’d sooner remake the original. Every time I see a remake, I can’t
help but stop and think that the $4-8 million that went into that could have
gone toward a new vision. I think I’ll stop going to the movies the day they
decide to remake 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY! Hollywood would rather remake CARRIE or
THE SHINING because they think that x number of people will go see it out of
curiosity. I mean, at some point they’ll have redone every horror film ever
made, and then what? There are great, original scripts out there that deserve a
budget and a shot.
FANG: You have a MIMESIS sequel planned; was that something
you had in mind since you made the first movie?
SCHULZE: I always saw MIMESIS as a kind of franchise. The
idea is fascinating, and worthy of more than just a single film. I think with
each new MIMESIS, we will go deeper and deeper into the concept. We’ve touted a
certain classic vampire film [NOSFERATU] as the subject of a possible sequel,
but for creative reasons, we’re developing parts two and three simultaneously,
and we’re leaning toward doing what was supposed to be the third MIMESIS next.
I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but fans of the classics will really get a
kick out of this one. MIMESIS 2 is going to be very special; we’ve already
filmed the intro scene, which is a backstory, and Kristy Swanson, the original
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is in it.
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