If you’ve fol­lowed cult films on video at all in the last decade, you’re famil­iar with the name David Gregory.  He became one of the great cult movie doc­u­men­tar­i­ans when he made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth in 2000 and quick­ly moved into a career of pro­duc­ing top-notch sup­ple­ments for all man­ner of cult and hor­ror DVD’s.  His work in the home video field even­tu­al­ly led to the for­ma­tion of his own DVD label, Severin Films, which spe­cial­izes in the kind of cult fare he’s spent his adult life chron­i­cling.

More recent­ly, Gregory has moved from telling the sto­ry of how films are made to mak­ing films him­self.  He made his direct­ing debut with Plague Town in 2008.  That film stayed true to his hor­ror roots and so does his lat­est, The Theatre Bizarre.  This new effort finds Gregory work­ing with a vari­ety of tal­ent­ed and unusu­al direc­tors to cre­ate a hor­ror anthol­o­gy in which each direc­tor tack­les a dif­fer­ent sto­ry.  Read on to learn more about this film, Gregory’s thoughts on the hor­ror anthol­o­gy and what the future holds for his career…

You have made a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion from mak­ing doc­u­men­taries to direct­ing fic­tion­al nar­ra­tives with Plague Town and The Theatre Bizarre.  What was the biggest chal­lenge in the learn­ing curve that accom­pa­nied that tran­si­tion?

DG: It actu­al­ly wasn’t huge as it’s some­thing I’d always want­ed to do and had done to some extent with shorts and such before get­ting into the doc­u­men­tary realm. Sure there’s a lot more coör­di­na­tion and peo­ple etc but then you get to throw blood around so that’s more attrac­tive.

With The Theatre Bizarre, you are both direct­ing and super­vis­ing the work of fel­low direc­tors in a pro­duc­ing role.  Which role presents the greater chal­lenge and why?

DG: Well the role of direct­ing was more of a chal­lenge because it was a huge under­tak­ing to get what we need­ed with the time and bud­get we had. But it was an absolute plea­sure because the team work­ing with me was absolute­ly ded­i­cat­ed from start to fin­ish, no mat­ter how long the days ran. It was with­out a doubt the most sat­is­fy­ing pro­duc­tion I’ve ever been involved with. Now, I have to say that being an over­all pro­duc­er was also cool because con­sid­er­ing that we were shoot­ing in four coun­tries, with sev­en sep­a­rate pro­duc­tion units, with a tight bud­get and sched­ule, it went rel­a­tive­ly smooth­ly. Though I have to admit that the pro­duc­er role was not as com­pli­cat­ed as you might think because each unit had their own pro­duc­ers han­dling their films so I didn’t have to be involved in the day to day pro­duc­tion of the oth­er episodes. And all of those pro­duc­ers (includ­ing Alex Spector who han­dled pro­duc­ing duties on my episode SWEETS — I had my hands full enough with direct­ing) were top notch. The most fab­u­lous thing about this whole Frankensteinian exper­i­ment was that rather than every­one tak­ing it as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to moan about low bud­gets and dif­fi­cult con­di­tions (and pret­ty much every­one was used to work­ing on big­ger bud­get pro­duc­tions), they took it as a chal­lenge to pull some­thing off under such con­di­tions.

Your fel­low direc­tors on The Theatre Bizarre are a diverse and impres­sive bunch.  Did any­one take you by sur­prise by what they pro­duced for their seg­ment and, if so, why?

DG: The main sur­prise was get­ting such high cal­iber film­mak­ers to leap on board the exper­i­ment. Surprises were min­i­mal with the films them­selves because we saw each oth­ers’ scripts before shoot­ing began. I know at the script stage there was some minor debate about THE ACCIDENT which Doug Buck encour­aged and we unan­i­mous­ly agreed ulti­mate­ly that it absolute­ly had its place in the film, being about why we may enjoy such enter­tain­ment and act­ing as some­thing of a breath of fresh air from all the sev­ered dicks, toad mon­ster sex and eye pierc­ing. And lo and behold it has proved to be the seg­ment that most audi­ences have respond­ed to. The only occa­sion­al neg­a­tive respon­se being that it doesn’t belong. I dis­agree and will hap­pi­ly take on that dis­cus­sion when­ev­er it comes up.

I sup­pose some­thing of a sur­prise was that all the film­mak­ers were able to attack this con­cept of Grand Guignol from a per­spec­tive that was absolute­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of their work but why should I be sur­prised by that? When I approached the­se direc­tors I approached them because I want­ed their work in its purest form. And because the film­mak­ers are diverse I think the over­all film illus­trates how phan­tas­magor­i­cal­ly var­ied the hor­ror gen­re can be.

Do you see The Theatre Bizarre as fit­ting into horror’s grand tra­di­tion of anthol­o­gy films or are you and your fel­low direc­tors try­ing to rein­vent that tra­di­tion?

DG: I do indeed. Even though most, though not all, of the oldies have a sin­gle direc­tor, you still always like some seg­ments bet­ter than oth­ers and know if one wasn’t doing it for you that anoth­er was around the cor­ner. I used to hate “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verril” in CREEPSHOW but would nev­er fast for­ward through it. It was short. I’m actu­al­ly rather fond of it now. Or the mid­dle vam­pire episode in THE MONSTER CLUB. The anthol­o­gy has a rich his­to­ry in hor­ror and I was very much hop­ing for TB to be a part of that.

On the sub­ject of anthol­o­gy films in hor­ror, do you have a favorite?  And if so, what makes it your top choice?

DG: DEAD OF NIGHT is prob­a­bly my favorite over­all and not just because of the dum­my episode — which is unde­ni­ably ter­ri­fy­ing. I love that it has mul­ti­ple direc­tors attack­ing ghost sto­ries so you get the var­ied styles and each one is inter­est­ing or scary or weird for one rea­son or anoth­er but quite unlike like the next. I like THE UNCANNY par­tic­u­lar­ly the Donald Pleasance episode but also there was some­thing about Cushing play­ing a ner­vous, almost unkempt man in the wrap­around that was strange­ly riv­et­ing. Not like a lot of roles he played. Even in TALES FROM THE CRYPT he may be unkempt but he’s still the love­ly bloke that we came to know Cushing as in real life. That CRYPT episode by the way is deeply dis­turbing. CREEPSHOW is cer­tain­ly a favorite. I like ASYLUM, TWO EVIL EYES, BLACK SABBATH, TALES OF TERROR, even CAT’S EYE — except the dumb final sto­ry.

In your opin­ion, how impor­tant is the link­ing sto­ry in a hor­ror anthol­o­gy?

DG: The link­ing sto­ry is essen­tial. It’s the thin line between an anthol­o­gy movie and a col­lec­tion of shorts. On TB we all knew we were going to be part of a big­ger movie and made our films with that in mind. But it was Jeremy’s THEATRE GUIGNOL that held the whole thing togeth­er, helped in no small part by the charis­ma and cin­e­mat­ic icon sta­tus of the mighty Udo Kier. And Jeremy and his team had their work cut out because they had to link a series of unre­lat­ed sto­ries shot in dif­fer­ent parts of the world with­out try­ing to force a mean­ing con­nect­ing them all. He had to keep it abstract but still have it be some­thing that you want­ed to come back to, so they had to devise some­thing that would devel­op as the film went on with­out being over­pow­er­ing — a tough bal­ance.

What are some great link­ing sto­ries in antholo­gies? DEAD OF NIGHT again, the mys­tery of the déjà vu and no one tak­ing it seri­ous­ly, great stuff. Often the Amicus link­ing devices fea­tured char­ac­ters from the sto­ries, like DR. TERROR’S, TORTURE GARDEN, VAULT OF HORROR or ASYLUM. We did not have the lux­u­ry of get­ting an actor from each piece out to LA so that wasn’t pos­si­ble. Or it’d be two peo­ple talk­ing about cer­tain types of sto­ries like THE UNCANNY, THE OFFSPRING, MONSTER CLUB or even some­thing that ran between the sto­ries like the cat in CAT’S EYE or the comic in CREEPSHOW, again no such link for us. Ours I guess is a cross between the hor­ror host like in BLACK SABBATH and the items in the shop in FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE. Our items just hap­pen to be automa­tons.

Incidentally, I always loved how you could get a top-billed star to essen­tial­ly be your host through the hor­ror anthol­o­gy like Cushing or Karloff but only have them com­mit­ted for a min­i­mal time. We were all over the moon when Udo agreed to do it. He’s played Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll, worked with every­one one from Fassbinder to Madonna, from Von Trier to Argento, and he is larg­er than life on screen. That cast­ing couldn’t have been bet­ter.

Your entry in The Theatre Bizarre, “Sweets,” deals with the falling apart of a rela­tion­ship built around food. What inspired you to pur­sue the­se themes and is there a mes­sage you want to com­mu­ni­cate with this seg­ment?

DG: I don’t know about a mes­sage so much as cre­at­ing a sit­u­a­tion that we can all relate to on some lev­el ie being the dumper or the dumpee in a rela­tion­ship but then exag­ger­at­ing and per­vert­ing the sit­u­a­tion so it becomes dis­turbing or fun­ny depend­ing on your out­look. To me the way we treat each oth­er at the end of a rela­tion­ship can be far more inhu­mane and despi­ca­ble than a bit of per­vy food fetish play and imagery but it’s not the stuff that audi­ences find gross behav­ior. So mix­ing the two togeth­er in a sort of grotesque cel­e­bra­to­ry stew seems to me like a pret­ty hon­est, if metaphor­i­cal, rep­re­sen­ta­tion of how we humans behave.

Supposedly some­one passed out at a hor­ror fes­ti­val screen­ing of The Theatre Bizarre.  Can you tell us the sto­ry behind this inci­dent?

DG: Indeed it’s become some­thing of a leg­end now and plen­ty of folks think it’s just dis­trib­u­tor hype. I wasn’t there but I have no rea­son to believe that Doug Buck, Buddy and (“I LOVE YOU” pro­duc­er) Gesine Giovinazzo, Richard Stanley or (MOTHER OF TOADS co-writer) Scarlett Amaris would make it up — they were in atten­dance at the Oldenburg fes­ti­val that fate­ful night. They’d all seen the film plen­ty of times already so they were wait­ing in the café out­side the the­ater when a dude came stum­bling out of the audi­to­ri­um and into the bath­room. They thought he was drunk and paid lit­tle atten­tion. Soon Doug need­ed the loo so he went in to be faced with the site of the guy lay­ing flat out on the floor, bleed­ing from his nose, hav­ing hit his head on the uri­nal as he faint­ed. Doug went out to get help to see the oth­ers reviv­ing a sec­ond guy who had passed out at the entrance to the audi­to­ri­um. Both were ulti­mate­ly ok but the image of eye trau­ma from Karim’s VISION STAINS had proved too much. There were a few oth­er cas­es after that, includ­ing one in France where a guy was tak­en to the emer­gen­cy room. In each case I believe it was the needle/eye clash that caused the dizzy spells and main­ly in men.

Unlike a lot of inde­pen­dent hor­ror fare, The Theatre Bizarre actu­al­ly achieved a lim­it­ed the­atri­cal release.  How did this come to be and how has it worked out for you?

DG: Landmark the­aters took a look at the film and thought it would fit their mid­night pro­gram­ming, which has start­ed to become pop­u­lar again after many years. And it’s true, we expe­ri­enced it with BIRDEMIC a cou­ple of years ago and THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is a good exam­ple too of films that adven­tur­ous cin­ema­go­ers would like to see in a the­atri­cal, late night set­ting rather than sit­ting on their ars­es at home. Theaters like the Drafthouse in Austin and Cinefamily in LA and oth­ers across the coun­try are very cre­ative with their pro­gram­ming and the cin­e­ma expe­ri­ence in gen­er­al in order to get peo­ple back into the­aters for small­er movies. It’s a niche at the moment but it’s work­ing for them and it’s very encour­ag­ing.

Word has it that a sequel is already in the works. How are you going to keep the con­cept fresh in the sec­ond film? 

DG: We’ll be get­ting six new direc­tors, one of which will have to come up with a con­cept for a com­plete­ly new wrap­around. But oth­er than that I don’t know how much fresh­er you can be than telling a film­mak­er, “hey, here’s some mon­ey, come back with a film that would play in a Grand Guignol the­ater if it were a movie the­ater. Otherwise, it’s all you!” The con­cept is vague­ly rem­i­nis­cent of the all night hor­ror fes­ti­vals I used to enjoy in London in my youth. You’d see ten or so new movies all vague­ly gen­re relat­ed but oth­er­wise com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent styl­is­ti­cal­ly. It would be exhil­a­rat­ing wit­ness­ing all this new stuff that some­times would nev­er even make it to home video in England. That’s how I saw COMBAT SHOCK, HARDWARE, TWO EVIL EYES to name the ones with artists con­nect­ed to TB but also every­thing from MEET THE FEEBLES, THE CHURCH, FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND, BRIDE OF REANIMATOR, HENRY, LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM etc etc. Always eclec­tic, always awe­some. I want­ed TB to be a mini ver­sion of one of those sub­ver­sive, deliri­ous, sleep-deprived, but invig­o­rat­ing fes­ti­vals.

Will new film­mak­ers be involved in the next anthol­o­gy, and if so, can you drop any names at this ear­ly stage? 

DG: All new names and we have some great ones lined up but can’t say who at this point.

Finally, what are your future ambi­tions as a direc­tor?

DG: Doing a fea­ture doc­u­men­tary on Richard Stanley’s ill-fat­ed ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. Got some ideas for a new fea­ture but need to make myself go away and write it. On the oth­er hand am hop­ing to con­tin­ue pro­duc­ing for oth­er film­mak­ers and have a fair few projects in devel­op­ment. Rather enjoyed the process of mak­ing this one.