“Massage Parlor of Death” Celebrates 90’s Shot on Video Movies

2/23/15

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Richard Mogg’s “Massage Parlor of Death” is a homage to the director’s favorite shot on video movies of the 90’s.  Just released on DVD, Blu and VHS, our own Andrew Peter’s interviewed Richard for the inside scoop on his latest work.0

Andew Peters: Tell us a little about Massage Parlor of Death

Richard Mogg: MPOD is very much my “love-letter” to shot on video films. It’s about a young, deranged girl running an illegal massage parlor out of the back of her house… but that’s just a front, of course. What she really needs is her clients’ blood and body parts to complete an ancient ritual to resurrect her dead lover. So she’s hacking ’em up as soon as they walk through the door. We really worked hard to incorporate many traits of low budget, shot on video horror with this one… so expect lots of gore, sleaze and cheese!

AP: It’s obviously a throwback to 90’s SOV. Are there any in particular that influenced MPoD?

RM: I certainly had influences, but not consciously from the 90’s. H.G. Lewis’ “Blood Feast” and Nick Millard’s “Death Nurse” were the big ones really. I didn’t write MPOD with “Blood Feast” in mind, but the basic plot is the same: death for resurrection. The story I wrote was really based around the limitations I had at the time: one location, multiple victims, small window for production, and the killer being the main character. But that it essentially ended up with the plot of “Blood Feast” didn’t bother me, because every filmmaker makes something their own when they tackle it. MPOD is actually my 4th feature film so I’ve been lucky enough to develop my own “style” in approach – and we let our killer succeed at the end too, just not with the results you’d expect. But the flair I wanted to add was the cut & paste feel of “Death Nurse”. Ultimately there’s a wide range of production quality around shot on video films – Christopher Lewis’ “Blood Cult” and “The Ripper” are great examples of high production levels. But I personally find the most enjoyment watching the poverty row productions… the ones where you feel it’s a camera shooting somebody’s friends, and Millard’s films have that in spades. I’m really a fan of his work… and none of it is the “wink wink” type of nonsense you see in a lot of horror films today. I personally think the “wink wink” approach takes away from the story and plays the audience for the joke. MPOD is very cheesy, but we play it straight. It’s never a “wink wink” situation.

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AP:  What is it about SOV, to you, that makes it appealing?

RM: Personally, I think all films should be interlaced and shot on video. Ok, maybe not all… but there’s an honest quality that comes across with video that just can’t be replicated with film. Take Tim Boggs’ “Blood Lake” or any of Millard’s films for example… they’re time-capsules! When you watch them, it’s like you’re watching a home movie. It feels like you’re sitting down with friends and experiencing 80 minutes with the people onscreen. I think that’s what makes SOV films feel so comfortable in today’s digital world, because analog now carries that great feeling of nostalgia. I personally don’t care much for the digital look because it can come across as very stale. It can look too new, even years after it was shot, whereas analog’s smeary resolution looks aged right out of the gate. I dream in analog! But beyond the visual esthetic, SOV films tend to be made because video was either the most affordable or only choice available to the filmmaker at the time. That hopefully means there wasn’t some pile of money lying around, ready to be thrown into any given problem. The Polonia brothers, Donald Farmer, Troma and countless others have proven that when you can’t buy your way out of a jam, you get creative. And that’s exactly what I see in SOV… they’re films made by dedicated people with limited resources, getting creative on how to sell a certain effect. There’s a hell of a lot of heart in SOV films.

AP: Can you tell us a fond memory you have of SOV films? Like, when you discovered it or why you like it.

RM: I’m fairly certain that the first SOV film I ever saw was John Wintergate’s “Boardinghouse” – widely accepted as the first SOV horror film. I remember renting it as a kid on VHS… and it blew my mind! It resembled the porn tape my grade 5 buddy had found in his dad’s closet, only it was horror. For years I thought it was just a weird transfer of the film, but then I started discovering more SOV. And the more I rented, the more I found that they spoke to me in a very personal way. They basically showed me how to make a film years before I went to film school. “Redneck Zombies”, “Blood Cult”, “Mark Of The Beast” – I grew up on these films! With the growth of the internet and recent re-releases of many titles on DVD, I’ve been able to collect a substantial number of them. At one point, I realized my SOV collection reached into the hundreds and I made the decision to start writing about them. Having actually made a handful of films now myself, the insight and appreciation I have for SOV has grown even further. In one year alone, I watched “Blood Lake” 43 times because I was obsessed with that feeling of being there, hanging out at the lake house. That’s a pretty extreme thing to do, watch a film 43 times in one year! But it was like the film had somehow broke the barrier between staged fiction and caught on camera reality. And it would have been 44 times, but my wife threatened to leave me.

AP: Was that what helped you to decide to make an SOV film?

RM: My love of old SOV horror is definitely the reason I make SOV films today. I love that smeary look! Analog just has character. But there are other reasons, especially the ones that speak to first-time directors. Video can hide mistakes. Poor blood FX can look positively ghastly on analog! There also seems to be some acceptance by the general public that a film shot on video is unprofessional, which can mean things like continuity errors, unmatched eyelines, occasional boom mics popping into frame – all these things that the viewer might balk at in a “Hollywood” film – get either a laugh or pass by without notice in a SOV. So when I made the leap into features with my first film “Easter Bunny Bloodbath”, I knew I wanted to do it as a horror SOV because I loved SOV, but also because that approach gave me the latitude to make mistakes that weren’t detrimental to the enjoyment of the film. (“Easter Bunny Bloodbath” is exclusively available at Briarwood Entertainment, by the way!)

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AP: It also seems to have slasher elements. Is that a genre you’re a fan of and possibly wanted to incorporate into your film?

RM: I’ve always loved horror films… slashers in particular. I was born in ’81 and grew up in the excess of the slashers (the excess of the SOV too), but it all comes down to two films for me: “Halloween” and “Friday The 13th”. One with the immeasurable amount of suspense and style, the other with blood and panache. My most recent film (which I am just finishing sound mix now) is “Teenage Slumber Party Nightmare”, a slasher with shades of “Halloween” and a masked killer with a rusty power drill. But I don’t think I went too slasher with MPOD… it’s more of a gore film. Chunks of flesh and lots of stabbing.

AP: There seems to be some comedy thrown in there as well, reminding me of something like Blood Diner

RM: Oh there’s comedy! But the comedy comes from the excess of it all, the “over the top” quality, not from telling jokes or “wink wink” to the camera. That’s the main thing I stressed with the actors, that their characters should never register how absurd things are. But when you get down to it, the setting of a fake Massage Parlor where the clients are being killed is not funny, and the idea of resurrection is more delusional or spiritual. And the characters are interacting with this world in a literal sense, so they live, die or deal with the consequences at hand. But when you add it all together with the crazed intensity of the killer’s motives, it becomes positively absurd. And the blind acceptance by every massage victim walking into their own doom turns the absurdity into hysterics. So the film is filled with comedy. And of course it’s funny you mention “Blood Diner” which is, after all, a remake of “Blood Feast”. But in production, I kept pushing Michelle Kaveet (the killer) to really go over the top with her delivery… and it’s pretty hilarious. Especially when you watch the Blooper Reel, she can barely keep it together – she’s cracking up!   Just the absurdity of everything was so over the top, we let the absurdity speak for itself. It’s situational comedy, I guess. I personally only write scripts when there’s chances to have comedy in there, somewhere. It’s becoming one of the things I’m getting known for. I really feel that the best horror films are the ones that take you on a roller coaster so you need to give a laugh once in a while. Some people hate comedy in their horror films and that’s ok, to each their own, but I’m only interested in doing films that are fun to make and fun to watch.

AP: How long was the shoot overall and how long would you typically shoot daily?

RM: Well, this was my 4th feature so I’ve really got scheduling down to a science. The entire film was shot in one weekend: 8 hours on Saturday and 7 on Sunday. That’s including lunch both days! But the difference between MPOD and my other productions is that we really only had one location, except for the flashback sequence. So camera & lights were set up first thing in the morning and then we could just bang through everything. The majority of the actors had already worked with me before too, so they knew what to expect. I enjoy shooting with a very relaxed atmosphere and encourage improvisation. Everybody arrives with knowledge of their character and their scenes, but I’m the first to say I don’t always write the best dialog, so I invite actors to make it their own. They know where I want the scene to go anyhow. But with MPOD, I don’t think we did too much improvising… everybody pretty much stayed on script and we were often times ahead of schedule. In general, I always try to avoid shooting more than 9 hours a day and never at nights (unless absolutely necessary). I truly feel that when you’re shooting in the most comfortable conditions possible, you get the best results.

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AP: What sort of problems did you face?

RM: You know, I’ve had productions where the actor just doesn’t show up, or I had to shoot that important “waterslides” scene in the backyard but it’s been raining all day… but with MPOD, there really weren’t any problems at all. Part of that is because we controlled the location and it was indoors, but the other thing was I scheduled all the actors to arrive at different times throughout the day (for death scenes) – and they were all on time! So it’s really thanks to them that we were able to pull things off without a hitch. Plus I let them all have showers right after they got bloody.

AP: The cast seems to be having fun with their roles. How was working with them?

RM: They were outstanding, and yes they were all laughing silly on this film. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some really talented, trained actors over the years – and also with people who’ve never acted before in their lives. I enjoy working with them all. I think it comes down to the tone you set as the director, and the respect you show to their time. With MPOD, no one got paid (we make films with our own money) but I always provide food and value them while they’re with me. I love improv, so I’m always open to where an actor might want to take the scene – even if I don’t use it. Improvising gives the actor a chance to contribute and me to see what might be better in a scene, so it’s always a win-win. Funny story with Jason Wu, the actor who plays the hooker’s Jon… I think he was only 18-19 at the time we shot, and of course he has that great moment where the hooker (played by Kaitlyn Yurkiw) bangs him on the massage table. Well Jason was straight out of school himself, fairly innocent, and had only acted in a few short films – none of which were romantic. So we talk about the scene and block it out and get Jason to lay down on the table with Kaitlyn straddling him. Anyhow, I think Jason lost all sense of reality for a bit there because every shot we did, he has this amazing wide-mouth grin on his face. When we were finally done the scene and he got off the table, Jason told me it was the greatest moment of his life.

AP: Your film has a genuine look to the 90’s, the character’s style and the overall look. This was obviously something important to you while filming. What difficulties did you have while filming to achieve that look?

RM: There honestly weren’t too many difficulties with MPOD, probably because the SOV approach helped hide any real issues we faced. I knew going in, for example, that I wanted to keep any bloopers we might get actually in the finished film. And they’re obvious bloopers… like when the stick two characters are fighting over breaks, and then we cut to them holding another stick. Stuff like that was kept in for effect. But the wardrobe and set-dressing was all kept to a minimum, mostly to save money. I imagine that was also the motive behind the minimum set-dressing of past SOV’s like “Venus Flytrap” and “Las Vegas Bloodbath”. That’s probably why we look so genuine! But the thing we did purposely was dress all the victims in white shirts… and that was just so the blood would show. We did give ourselves away intentionally in one bit with a cell phone though. Just a little thing to say we’re a throwback. But as for the camera, the film was shot natively in HD 1.85:1 with the intention of cropping to 4:3, so I knew that going in.

AP: Most people seem to homage to the 80’s, why did you choose 90’s?

RM: It wasn’t that intentional, really. But I think it comes off as more a 90’s homage because the nature of it being a throwback. Actual SOV’s from the 90’s were made by people conscious of SOV’s from the 80’s, so 90’s SOV’s tend to have a greater sense of showmanship. When the 90’s hit, the floodgates were already open and SOV’s were popping up all over the place. More and more films pushed the boundaries into gore, sleaze and neon. The 90’s also seemed to be the time where you’d find repeat SOV directors… Todd Sheets, Tim Ritter, Polonia brothers and more. The 80’s were almost like one-hit wonders in comparison, but the 90’s franchised it. So to do a throwback today about early SOV with excess, I guess is easier to place it with the franchised 90’s.

AP: Even though your film was shot in HD, it has a very analog look to it. How did you manage to make it look that way?

RM: Ah the look! Beautiful isn’t it? Once the film was shot in native HD and edited, I cropped the image from widescreen down to 4×3. I added a couple prism effects to the image… just to separate out the colors a bit. Then after exporting the film, I ran it through a VCR. Twice. But this step is key: on the second pass in the VCR (when you’re running from one VCR to the next), adjust the tracking so it’s slightly off, adding just the right amount of static to the image. Now you’re cooking with analog! It took me a little trial and error to get the results just right – you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve seen it blundered. Sometimes people leave the image widescreen (which kinda sucks on 4×3 tv’s) or they just use filters in editing software. Frankly I’ve spent hours fiddling with filters and the only thing that really gave the authentic results was actually downconverting with a true analog signal. I hope more filmmakers give this a try and have fun doing it!

AP: Would you say shooting an SOV movie is more difficult than shooting something more usual, like digital?

RM: I think when you get right down to it, SOV can be the final product to anything not shot on film. Hi-8, SD, HD… all can be downconverted through a VCR and come out looking absolutely SOV authentic. I was really skeptical about this, because for years the industry has gravitated to digital cameras. They’re just so inexpensive and accessible now. And when you dump a digitally shot film onto video, it looks like just that. But the right amount of degradation can replicate what analog SOV’s once were. So ultimately the decision of what format to shoot on becomes a simple decision of what’s affordable and reliable for the filmmaker. It’s a bit of a cheat, but the results are the same. But as for SOV as a stylistic approach of film, I’d say that it’s a hell of a lot of fun, but not for everything. It’s a hard question to pose because we may now have to define what SOV actually means. Does it literally mean shot on video, analog only? Does it mean low to no budget? I think that’s sort of what’s happening today… we’re redefining what SOV means. If I can shoot a film on HD video, then output the film that looks authentically like an 80’s-90’s SOV, then there is real promise for the future of analog SOV fans. As more filmmakers realize there’s an esthetic to analog that hasn’t been matched, I hope we’ll hear more about other filmmakers doing this too.

AP: Blu-ray seems like an interesting choice to release an SOV on. What was the deciding factor behind that?

RM: Ron Bonk! Not only is he one hell of a nice guy, he’s a visionary! I was really impressed with his idea to include both versions of the film (original HD and downconverted VHS) on the releases, but I was blown away when he announced Blu-ray. I mean, it’s a great idea! And the VHS version is on the Blu too, so fans can really see the best of both worlds here. I had always intended the film to be seen downconverted only but frankly, the HD is beautiful. It’s shameless promotion for me to highly recommend fans to snatch this release up (which they should fast, it’s limited!), but I also believe it’s the first time an SOV has ever been available on the Blu-ray format. So kudos to Ron!

AP: Anything else in the works or laying low for awhile?

RM: Well I’m an independent writer/producer/director with my company RickMoe Productions, so there’s always something brewing here. Right now, I’m presently doing final audio mix on the above mentioned “Teenage Slumber Party Nightmare” before I send final cut out to SRS Cinema and see what we can get cooking (everyone at SRS has been fantastic with MPOD, just a great experience). I’m also still editing an alien invasion flick I shot a while back called “Hot Chicks Blast Uranus!” – lots of special fx stuff. And I’m getting ready to shoot my killer sasquatch opus “Bigfoot Ate My Boyfriend!” later this summer. We’re aiming for a mind-bending, 3 hour SOV extravaganza with that one. Plus my wife and I are expecting our 2nd little one in August… so it’s a busy year!

AP: Thank you, Richard, for taking the time to speak with us!

RM: Thank you Andrew and everyone over at B-movie for the great questions and letting me chat!

 

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