After a long gap between seg­ments — both inter­view­er and sub­ject were busy with projects of their own — Schlockmania is proud to present the final seg­ment of its epic inter­view with home video fea­turet­te auteur Daniel Griffith.  Topics cov­ered in this final seg­ment include his fea­ture length doc­u­men­taries on the films Dark Star and Twins Of Evil as well as the fea­turet­te he did for the recent Red Scorpion spe­cial edi­tion.  Like the pre­vi­ous two install­ments of this inter­view, it’s full of intrigu­ing insights into what it’s like to put togeth­er sup­ple­ments for the home video mar­ket…

You’ve done a fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary on the John Carpenter fave DARK STAR.  What inspired you to go fea­ture-length with this doc­u­men­tary and what is your favorite part of it?

When I was approached by VCI to pro­duce the bonus mate­ri­al for DARK STAR, they were basi­cal­ly expect­ing one or two ‘sim­ple’ inter­view featurette’s. But when I came back from the LA shoot with more than 10 inter­views com­pris­ing over 25 hours of footage (includ­ing vis­its to the USC cam­pus and stu­dio loca­tions), they were imme­di­ate­ly excit­ed with my pro­pos­al to pro­duce and direct a fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary on the mak­ing of the film. I use ‘mak­ing of’ light­ly here… since it is much more inti­mate than that. That’s why I refer to it as an ‘odyssey’ in the title (“LET THERE BE LIGHT: THE ODYSSEY OF DARK STAR”). It is more of a life jour­ney.

There’s a lot of per­son­al dra­ma hap­pen­ing at the core of the DARK STAR sto­ry. You have the­se two cre­ative indi­vid­u­als, before they became the gen­re titans we know today, work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion on one of the most ambi­tious stu­dent films ever pro­duced. To cap­ture all the fever­ous elec­tric­i­ty and all the frus­tra­tion attrib­ut­ed to mak­ing some­thing… out of noth­ing. But, some­where along the way, their rela­tion­ship began to strain. In the end, they would both part ways and nev­er asso­ciate with one anoth­er again.

In many ways, it is the sto­ry about ones ‘first love’. It is a doc­u­men­tary about Carpenter and O’Bannon’s ‘first’ rela­tion­ship with the medi­um they would forever be con­nect­ed to. DARK STAR was their first ‘true’ fea­ture film. Through that expe­ri­ence, they learned a lot about them­selves and how they com­mu­ni­cate their own vision/feelings. And like so many ‘first loves’, this one had a bit­ter end. But, they took what they could from the expe­ri­ence and moved for­ward. If they would have given up, the world would have been robbed of so many great films, beyond HALLOWEEN or ALIEN.

Telling this type of sto­ry also pro­vid­ed me with anoth­er unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to strip away all the acco­lades and accom­plish­ments of the prin­ci­ple char­ac­ters and allow the audi­ence to know them on a stu­dent lev­el. That was some­thing very magi­cal to me. Being a great admir­er of those involved with DARK STAR, it was an hon­or to be able to tell the sto­ry of their ori­gins with­in the film indus­try. And it’s not just a film about Carpenter and O’Bannon. So many tal­ent­ed indi­vid­u­als were involved with the film. It’s just as much a sto­ry about them, as it is any­one else.

My only regret is that I couldn’t get Carpenter inter­est­ed in being direct­ly involved with the doc­u­men­tary. No mat­ter how I hard I tried to appeal to his good nature, he flat-out refused to be asso­ci­at­ed with the project. I guess, at the time, I took that per­son­al­ly, though I now under­stand why he denied my requests. He con­sid­ers the film to be a ‘lark’, not his finest hour. I have to respect that. And sad­ly, the doc­u­men­tary suf­fers for it. But I found a ‘play­ful’ way to include his com­ments with­in the sto­ry, regard­less. Every time his archival audio inter­view is used or ref­er­enced, I jux­ta­pose it with the footage of the frozen Commander Powell, who is rest­ing peace­ful­ly with­in the bowel’s of the ship. In the film, Powell is their absen­tee lead­er… and in the doc­u­men­tary, Carpenter is their absen­tee direc­tor.

You also pre­miered screened your DARK STAR doc­u­men­tary at a film fes­ti­val in England.  Can you tell us a bit about that expe­ri­ence?

Well, I was con­tact­ed by the SCIFI LONDON film fes­ti­val when news of the DARK STAR doc­u­men­tary get the inter­net. As it turns out, DARK STAR was one of the film selec­tions of the fes­ti­val in its first year, and they were now cel­e­brat­ing their 10th anniver­sary. So it made since to pre­mière the doc­u­men­tary on the mak­ing of the film there. And it was quite an hon­or, real­ly. The doc­u­men­tary played to a packed the­ater at the BFI in London, some­thing I nev­er dreamt would hap­pen. And the fes­ti­val itself is won­der­ful!

It is also worth men­tion­ing that the ver­sion of the doc­u­men­tary I pre­miered was the EXTENDED VERSION, which will pre­mière on the new­ly restored blu-ray release of the film this October (from VCI ENTERTAINMENT).

You moved into the world of Hammer Films with your doc­u­men­tary on VAMPIRE CIRCUS.  This gig took you to England — can you tell us about what this entailed?

When Synapse Films con­tact­ed me about the Hammer titles they recent­ly acquired, I jumped at the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­duce the extra’s for them. Little did I know that this col­lec­tion of Hammer titles would lead me on a chal­leng­ing path rid­dled with pit­falls and frus­tra­tions. You see, when Synapse said ‘HAMMER’, my ambi­tions went into over­drive. ‘You mean… a chance to pro­duce documen­taries on a group of Hammer titles that have rarely been seen or released on home video?’ I imme­di­ate­ly put a list togeth­er of all the indi­vid­u­als I felt had ded­i­cat­ed their lives to the preser­va­tion of Hammer’s his­to­ry. And it was through them… that I would con­nect with the film­mak­ers direct­ly relat­ed to each pro­duc­tion. Slowly, I dis­cov­ered that a large por­tion of those involved with the Hammer titles DID NOT wish to be inter­viewed (for rea­sons I can­not dis­close). Plus, my bud­get on the­se Hammer titles (col­lec­tive­ly) was sooo minus­cule, that I quick­ly had to make a deci­sion of how much I want­ed to put into the fea­tures. Of course, my pas­sion for the­se films would grad­u­al­ly over­come my need for finan­cial com­pen­sa­tion, and I went for the most ambi­tious route pos­si­ble (given my restraints).

On my trip to the UK, I was able to film inter­views with his­to­ri­ans like Sir Christopher Frayling, Kim Newman, and Wayne Kinsey, as well as Hammer alums like direc­tor Peter Sasdy (for HANDS OF THE RIPPER and COUNTESS DRACULA), John Hough (for TWINS OF EVIL), Damien Thomas (also for TWINS OF EVIL), and more! I was also given the rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to film inside Hammer’s old offices on Waldorf Street in London, and var­i­ous Hammer loca­tions on the Pinewood Studio lot. Now that was a real treat!

Your most recent piece is THE FLESH AND THE FURY, an 84-min­ute doc­u­men­tary on the new Synapse release for TWINS OF EVIL.  It’s impres­sive how you sus­tain the length of this piece: was it intend­ed to be fea­ture length or did it grow into that run­ning time?  Please describe the process of how it came to be.

When I first start­ed the TWINS OF EVIL doc­u­men­tary, I only set out to direct a 30 min­ute fea­turet­te (sim­i­lar to the one found on the VAMPIRE CIRCUS disc). But the sto­ry grew into a fea­ture doc­u­men­tary that went beyond the film itself. I real­ly want­ed to incor­po­rate seg­ments that offered infor­ma­tion on the orig­in of the CARMILLA sto­ry, as well as the var­i­ous cin­e­mat­ic adap­ta­tions that were pro­duced before Hammer/Fantale latched onto the prop­er­ty. In the end, I want­ed to offer Hammer fans a full course meal, as opposed to a sam­pler plat­ter. Hopefully, I achieved this goal with­out bor­ing too many view­ers. Haha!

One last ques­tion on the THE FLESH AND THE FURY: it incor­po­rates some orig­i­nal footage you shot to illus­trate por­tions of the doc­u­men­tary where the text of CARMILLA is read aloud.  What inspired this idea and what it was it like to shoot the some­times racy footage?

Well, the entire con­cept for THE FLESH AND THE FURY was to cre­ate a 1970’s exploita­tion doc­u­men­tary, some­thing that has nev­er been explored with Hammer before. Most peo­ple remem­ber Hammer as a respectable motion pic­ture com­pa­ny that pro­duced clas­sic hor­ror films. But actu­al­ly, they were more of an exploita­tion film com­pa­ny, more so dur­ing the era in which TWINS OF EVIL was pro­duced. Because of the relax­ation of cen­sor­ship in the UK, Hammer was able to inter­ject more vio­lence and nudi­ty into their films. Therefore, I want­ed to design to the doc­u­men­tary to ‘exploit’ this his­tor­i­cal fact. For exam­ple, any­time I ref­er­enced a film, Hammer or oth­er­wise, I would plug-in a still that con­tains a nude scene.

Regarding the Carmilla ‘recre­ation’ sequences, it was hon­est­ly a last min­ute deci­sion. Instead of rely­ing on his­tor­i­cal illus­tra­tions or etch­ing, I decid­ed to cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly visu­al­ize a few excerpts from the novel­la. But since there was no bud­get to exper­i­ment with, I had to depend sole­ly upon my impro­vi­sa­tion­al skills. I called in a few favors, I found a loca­tion local­ly, and then used a Chattanooga-based sound­stage for the dream sequences. The results look as if I had tak­en a page out of the JEAN ROLLIN/MARIO BAVA book of low-bud­get film­mak­ing. And it was a chal­lenge to put togeth­er. We only had around 4 hours to make it work.

Continuing on the Synapse top­ic, you also worked on the RED SCORPION release. Can you tell us about what you pro­duced for that title?

For RED SCORPION, Synapse con­tact­ed both Red Shirt and myself to provide extra’s for the title. I decid­ed to pur­sue actor Dolph Lundgren and pro­duce a biog­ra­phy fea­turet­te detail­ing his career lead­ing up to RED SCORPION, which I felt was the first film in which Lundgren assumed the role of the action star. Everything the actor worked on pri­or to SCORPION was just train­ing for the quin­tes­sen­tial 80’s/90’s action hero he would become. Sure, he was He-Man in MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, but there he was an icon first, star sec­ond. In RED SCORPION, he is DOLPH LUNDGREN. That was the sto­ry I wished to tell. And Lundgren has such an amaz­ing, charis­mat­ic per­son­al­i­ty. I sin­cere­ly hope I get to work with him again in the future.

You also worked on some bonus mate­ri­al for DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW.  Was this only for the blu-ray?

Yes, for the anniver­sary release of this made-for-tele­vi­sion chiller I decid­ed to inter­view just about every indi­vid­u­al con­nect­ed with the pro­duc­tion for an in-depth doc­u­men­tary on the mak­ing of the film. I real­ly feel that TV movies of the week sel­dom get the respect that they deserve. This was my chance to pro­duce a doc­u­men­tary about a Halloween-based thriller that has touched the lives of so many peo­ple. And every­one asso­ci­at­ed with the film were very gra­cious with their time and mate­ri­als. I imme­di­ate­ly got the impres­sion that DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW meant some­thing spe­cial to each of them. So, I tried to cap­ture their pas­sion for the mate­ri­al and trans­late it to the screen.

An inter­est­ing thing that dis­tin­guish­es you from oth­er DVD extra pro­duc­ers is that you also make mem­o­ra­bil­ia (shirts, posters, fig­uri­nes, etc.) for like-mind­ed gen­re fans.  How did you get into doing this and what inspired it?

Creating pro­mo­tion­al items and trav­el­ing to con­ven­tions as a ‘BALLYHOO ROADSHOW’ was a con­cept I had right from the start. I want­ed to com­bine my love for cin­e­ma (as well as doc­u­men­tary sto­ry­telling)… with my sin­cere admi­ra­tion for circus/sideshow show­men and their pro­mo­tion­al tac­tics. I real­ly longed to make film his­to­ry tan­gi­ble for fans. Offering the­se unique, exclu­sive items gives them some­thing to con­nect to, some­thing hon­or­ing the films they cher­ish. Besides, where would you find a pro­mo­tion­al but­ton for THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS, or a t-shirt for K. GORDON MURRAY’S SANTA CLAUS? I mean, some­one has to do it! Might as well be me.

If you could pick any film to pro­duce a spe­cial edi­tion DVD for, what film would you choose and what spe­cial fea­tures would you pro­duce for it?

There are so many films that deserve the ‘spe­cial edi­tion’ treat­ment, I real­ly don’t know where to start. There are a few titles I would love to produce/direct a doc­u­men­tary for, but given the high­ly com­pet­i­tive atmos­phere sur­round­ing sup­ple­ment pro­duc­tion, I must keep those titles to myself. Who knows? I may be lucky enough to pro­duce one of them some­day.

To read Part 1 of Schlockmania’s inter­view with Daniel Griffith, click here.

To read Part 2 of Schlockmania’s inter­view with Daniel Griffith, click here.