Dark comedy filmmaker Chris LaMartina is too prolific and interesting to contain within one blog post! Here's the stunning conclusion (Hyperbolic Overload! KaPOW!):
SRW: We’re up to President’s Day, clearly your ode to late ‘70’s/early 80’s slasher films. A holiday not yet cinematically staked! And the killer’s mask/costume is nearly as iconic as some of the more famous films in the genre. This is a film rife with potential for a sequel. Is it coming, Chris?
CL: We actually did a faux sequel trailer for our now defunct web series, Lost Trailer Park. Here it is!
SRW: You’ve done your homework. All the slasher staples are here: mean high school girls, resourceful good girl, outsider boy hero, red herrings, moronic bullying jocks, dumb/abusive/clueless teachers, fat “funny” party animal kid, creepy janitor, musical “stings.” A checklist of greatest hits. Which slasher flicks inspired you?
CL: The “Sleepaway Camp” movies… “Return to Horror High”… Those are my favorite slashers by far. I think you have to have a sense of humor when it comes to slasher flicks because of their formulaic nature. I think the examples I cited present a ‘fun’ approach to the typical sex and violence tropes that populate every slasher movie.
SRW: Witch’s Brew is a tale of slackers, pretentious art-posers, witchcraft and micro-brewing gone horribly bad (tailor made for me!). Chris, you’re certainly not afraid of gore or bodily dysfunctional grotesqueries. I gotta admit some of it’s a bit much for me at times. Grossest film I’ve seen since (the original) Cabin Fever. Do you ever feel you’ve gone over-board? How much is too far? Do comedic elements take a bit off the edge?
CL: I don’t think I’ve ever gone overboard with the gore because I don’t think I’m really making brutal or mean-spirited films. So, when you suggest the comedic elements take the edge off… I’d agree. Those magic trick type/almost gross out moments are what provide the cushion… it’s wild and creative instead of nasty and depressing.
Now granted, “Witch’s Brew” does have some intense scenes- Max’s death in the first few minutes come to mind, but we included that scene (a Boy Scout being burnt alive by witches) to increase the wickedness of our villains. That’s a lesson we learned from Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat” books- Make your bad guys BADDER!
SRW: At times, as in many of your films, the secondary characters are more likable and empathetic than your leads. I’m thinking Preston, in particular, and the “Hi-Ho Silver” bar-keep guy. Very good actors. I also enjoyed the lounge singer, who I later realized was your dad. Talk about utilizing resources!
CL: I just really love telling stories with ensemble casts and it’s those minor roles that folks can have fun with because they have to get to the punch so quickly. I grew up in a family with lots of cousins, aunts, and uncles- folks I didn’t get to see all the time, but were memorable in a variety of ways. I try to pepper our films with similar injections of personality as much as possible. Besides, if there’s going to be a character in our story, why not give them something that stands out?
And yeah, my Dad has played minor roles in every one of my films actually- he’s the devil bartender in “BoL”, the science teacher in “President’s Day”, the governor in “WNUF”.
The most awkward role for me was when he was one of the clients in “Call Girl of Cthulhu”… that was right before Melissa (the call girl herself) started dating. It was pretty funny when she showed up for a family dinner weeks later and we had to explain that my Dad had already met her.
SRW: All right! Odd choice, I know (and I’m probably alone), but next we chat about my favorite of your films, the WNUF Halloween Special. Okay, first of all, Chris, you had to know the title is terrible from a marketing aspect. At first I stayed away because I thought it was a wrestling event!
CL: Hahaha. Well, most people who know my work know that I start each project with a title first… but WNUF was the opposite. We wanted to make a found footage flick, we broke the mold a bit, and then… when it came time for a title… our traditional goofy titles didn’t really work… so we wanted to call the flick something you’d read on the side of a taped off of tv VHS spine.
We needed a title that was realistic for the found footage angle, but also made it memorable/identifiable for horror/Halloween fans. There had been many times over the years when I’d find a VHS tape at thrift store or yard sale that had “Halloween” or an October date scrawled on the label that made it obvious I need to take a chance on ‘em. That was the strategy behind the full title for WNUF.
SRW: And the subject matter! Bold. More so than all the gore or horror you can toss at an unsuspecting viewer. The film reminds me of the notorious ’92 BBC Ghostwatch film that apparently freaked out the viewing TV audience when screened. Like Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio presentation, Ghostwatch was presented as a live, true event about investigators visiting a haunted house. People bought into it. Anyway…the WNUF Halloween Special plays out that way as well. It’s very realistically presented. Was Ghostwatch an inspiration, Chris?
CL: That’s the funny thing! I literally had never heard of Ghostwatch until we were shooting. Jimmy had done some research on the concept right before we started filming, but it was a little too late by then. I, myself, didn’t watch Ghostwatch til about 3 months ago… and I’d be lying if I said I finished it. :X
SRW: Oh, c'mon! Ghostwatch is great!
Here’s the thing, though…at least half of WNUF's running time is filled with commercials, the kind you used to see on UHF stations in the late ‘80’s. Clearly, you put a lot of care and sweat into painstakingly producing these. Couldn’t have been easy. Was it worth it?
CL: Yes. Absolutely. Making the commercials was my favorite part! I’d write/edit about 2 a day with myself as a voiceover track. I’d come home from work on my lunch break and hammer through. They were so much fun to create. Seriously, working in marketing, my brain is just a vast wasteland of goofy slogans and terrible puns. Plus, some other filmmakers helped out here too and they turned in some excellent stuff- most notably Shawn Jones (Phil’s Carpet Warehouse) and Jim Branscome (Parents Against Partying).
SRW: I liked how you didn’t go for the cheap parody punch-lines in the faux ads. Totally transported me back to watching fuzzy, late-night TV, the only way we could back in the day (You kids get outta my yard!). Chris, I’m curious as to how the WNUF Halloween Special was received. I’m sure some people simply didn’t get it.
CL: It’s been our greatest success, but you're right… you either love it or hate it. We set out to make a movie that nobody else was crazy enough to make. We were those crazy nobodys.
SRW: Good on you! Finally, your latest film, Call Girl of Cthulhu. It has to be the only film I’ve ever seen that promotes both safe sex and H. P. Lovecraft. A supernatural P.S.A! Carter’s also one of your most empathetic protagonists. I believe it’s your first love story angle I completely bought into. Not what I expected, but satisfying in an underdog way. Um, until the ending. Which I simply cannot forgive you for.
CL: Hahaha. It’s definitely the most vocal audience reaction I’ve ever received when “YOU KNOW WHAT” happens… and yeah, to be honest, after “Witch’s Brew”… I wanted to make a romantic comedy… but it just wasn't in the cards… until we figured out how to craft “Call Girl of Cthulhu” into a romantic horror sex comedy. ;)
SRW: Your films always look great, belying the low budget. Each one is more impressively mounted, Cthulu topping the list. Keep going.
CL: Thanks! It’s tough to match our budgets with our ambitions… and usually that’s where we get into trouble… but we try our best to deliver quality and most importantly, memorable stories.
SRW: After working my way through (most of) your filmography, two things stand out: you utilize many of the same actors in different roles, fascinating to watch; and your segue-ways from scene to scene has grown in your ability to evoke a laugh through clever editing.
CL: To me, movies are like summer camp. We hope every person we like can come back for the next one. Sometimes they do, sometimes they can’t. Sometimes we write roles specifically for actors we love and that’s something I hope never changes. As for editing, all of those visual punchlines are groundwork laid in the scripts- so I can’t take all the credit for those. Although, I think we definitely overdid em with “Call Girl of Cthulhu”.
SRW: What movie’s up next, Chris?
CL: We’re halfway done production of our new flick- a click bait horror satire called “What Happens Next Will Scare You”. It’s a viral video anthology flick and we start shooting the wraparound segments in November. It’s definitely a different type of style for us- with long duration takes and more traditional found footage elements, but we’re having a lot of fun making it and I’m curious to see the reaction. Some characters from WNUF Halloween Special even return!
SRW: Your movies aren’t for everyone. But I like ‘em. Lots. So, folks, check out Chris’ films. And if you don’t like ‘em, blame Chris. Thanks for dropping by, Chris, and pimp away your Midnight Crew film productions!
CL: Thanks so much, brother.