Q&A: Damien Leone on “ALL HALLOWS’ EVE” and “FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE MUMMY”
Writer/director/special FX artist Damien Leone recently enjoyed the Halloween DVD release of his first feature, ALL HALLOWS’ EVE (reviewed here), an anthology comprised of three shorts strung together by the appearance of a demonic clown. His next feature brings together two even more archetypal horror characters: FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE MUMMY. Leone recently spoke to FANGORIA about how ALL HALLOWS’ EVE came to be, struggling to create great FX with very little money, the creation and future of Art the Clown and how he’s reimagining classic creatures.
FANGORIA: ALL HALLOWS’ EVE is made up of footage you’ve been shooting for a long time…
DAMIEN LEONE: I think it was around 2006 when we shot the first short [“The 9th Circle”].
FANG: Were you a film student at that time?
LEONE: No, but that was the first thing I ever made as a semiprofessional film, with a crew, instead of just shooting with a camcorder on my own. We jumped right in there and filmed on 35mm, believe it or not. I know it doesn’t look like it; we were learning. It’s a very amateurish short compared to the others. I think the opening scene, with Art the Clown in the train station, is still pretty effective.
FANG: I thought the characters in that were awesome—all the prosthetics on the different actors. Did you do all those FX yourself?
LEONE: I did everything—it’s all me on that movie. For a couple of days, a girl assisted me with applying some of the makeup, but I built and sculpted every masked face in that short. The devil mask was supposed to be this reptilian creature. I built a whole chest and face, but the night before we were going to shoot the scene, the mold broke. I had to quickly resculpt, mold and cast this new devil face in the middle of the night before we shot, so it came out looking like it does! It was tough. All the masks could have been made out of better materials, but I didn’t have the crew or the time. I just wound up making these, almost like Halloween masks. It was an unfortunate budget problem, but you learn, and try not to make the same mistakes.
FANG: It’s still very strange-looking and impressive, especially considering you did it singlehandedly. Tell us more about Art the Clown. Where did he come from?
LEONE: I don’t know, exactly! I can’t recall if there was a moment when the character hit me like a bolt of lightning. I always felt clowns had the potential to be very scary. I believe the first idea I was toying with was this scene of a woman coming home on Halloween on a city bus in the middle of the night, in a bad neighborhood. She’s the only passenger, and a clown gets on at the second-to-last stop and starts harassing her. I felt that would be really creepy. We tried getting our hands on a bus to film in, but it wasn’t happening. So we changed it to a waiting room, and that’s now the opening of “The 9th Circle.” He was never really intended to be a lead villain; he’s just this character who moves her from A to B. He’s obviously the best part of the short; everybody kept talking about him. That’s why we went and made “Terrifier” a couple of years later.
FANG: “Terrifier,” which is the movie’s third segment, is really all about Art, and gives him some personality—which, it turns out, is really horrible.
LEONE: [Laughs] I just want to tell you right now that I love women! I’m not a misogynist or anything.
FANG: Don’t worry, I didn’t think you were! In fact, I just thought Art was a misogynist. Since he wasn’t a full-fledged character yet in his first appearance, what was the process to turn him into the awful guy he is in “Terrifier”?
LEONE: From the short scene Art has in “The 9th Circle,” we took the little things we did with him that people seemed to enjoy. He’s got a demented sense of humor. That’s a big part of his personality, and in “Terrifier,” he starts off as this prankster who’s painting a bathroom with shit. But he can switch gears real quickly, and into the most horrifying character imaginable. He’s got rules. He’ll never mutter a sound, no matter what. If he’s stabbed, he won’t scream. Even if he’s laughing, no sound will come out.
We did upgrade his makeup for “Terrifier.” Originally, his features were a lot more subtle. I decided to make him more gaunt-looking; I accentuated his cheekbones, his nose and his chin, to make him a little more like a zombie. That’s what we’ll continue using in future Art the Clown projects.
FANG: Ooh, so there are more Art movies coming?
LEONE: Yes! There are. There is definitely going to be a stand-alone Art the Clown film. It’s not going to be an anthology, no VHS tapes or anything; it’ll be more like an hour and a half of “Terrifier.” I promise to deliver the goods.
FANG: I have to know, was the name intentional—that you chose the word “art” as his moniker?
LEONE: Yeah! It’s the most pretentious name [laughs]! When I first told it to Mike Giannelli, who plays Art, we were in his house and I was telling him my first idea for the scene with him and the girl, drawing sketches of what I imagined him to look like. We were joking, “This guy is like a work of art.” And the joke just grew into the nasty things he does to his victims—they’re almost like nasty works of art.
FANG: I actually didn’t realize ALL HALLOWS’ EVE was an anthology when I first started watching, since you directed it all. What was it like piecing together your own work into a feature?
LEONE: I loved it. Originally, that wasn’t supposed to be the case; my producer wanted me to turn over “Terrifier,” and he was going to put that into an anthology with shorts by other filmmakers. He always wanted to make the clown the center of attention, and was going to try to shoot more scenes with him to put into movies people had already done. I wasn’t having that, and talked him into letting me shoot everything. He was totally cool with it, and allowed me to write more and use the two shorts I had already made to create a whole, cohesive film.
FANG: The middle segment gets a bit weird, though. All of a sudden, it’s a science fiction film. Why did you opt to go in that direction?
LEONE: I take full responsibility for the alien segment! It was 100 percent my idea. A lot of people ask me why we didn’t do another Art the Clown story, and I felt if I gave people another 15 or 20 minutes of him killing someone, it would take away from the impact of “Terrifier.” I was thinking, what other things could we do? I had the idea of this alien creature chasing a woman, and intended to build the alien puppet. It wasn’t originally going to be a man in a suit, but because of time and budget, the puppet didn’t come out properly. We found out on set in the middle of filming that it wasn’t going to work, which was really scary. We had to scramble to get an actor, and my buddy Brandon deSpain, who I’ve worked with before, came and played the alien. I thought he did an admirable job under the circumstances.
FANG: You seem like you’re down on the alien, but that was my favorite part of the short: seeing this bizarre-looking, unearthly and somewhat hilarious creature! It reminded me of the film COMMUNION.
LEONE: Oh! I totally ripped the shot where she sees the alien peek out from behind the stairs from COMMUNION. I love that movie. No one has noticed that yet! You’re the first one.
FANG: The alien is reminiscent of that film, while at the same time, your character design is unique.
LEONE: I wanted it to be kind of like a Jason mask. He’s wearing the standard, metallic version of the tall grey that everyone is used to seeing, so I wanted that to be a mask over this hideous, bubbly-looking head.
LEONE: Well, I designed the mummy and did special effects for a film in New Mexico called DAY OF THE MUMMY, and now I’m in preproduction on FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE MUMMY, which I wrote and will be directing and doing the special effects for. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m looking forward to it. I really like the script. It could be really cool if done right.
FANG: What’s the appeal of reworking classic characters for you?
LEONE: I always loved the Universal monsters growing up. The makeup, the masks, their iconic looks—they’re indelible! I was amazed to find out that there hadn’t even been a low-budget FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE MUMMY! I was shocked. When I realized I could be the first one to do that, it really got me excited to work on the project. Even a child today, if you show them a picture of Boris Karloff in the classic makeup, they’ll know he’s the Frankenstein monster even if they’ve never seen the movie. It is going to be cool, and I’m looking forward to putting my own spin on it.
My creature is not going to look like the Boris Karloff Monster; I’m gonna make him look unique. I’ve already sculpted the mummy and made the prosthetic, and it looks really cool, a little different. I’m gonna make the movie dark, gritty, and violent. I’m really excited about it.