Chances are if you’ve been into cult movies at all with­in the last few years then you’ve heard of Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus.  This direct-to-video quick­ie with Lorenzo Lamas beat the odds by escap­ing the gen­re flick ghet­to and becom­ing a pop­u­lar meme all across the inter­net.  However, you prob­a­bly don’t know much about the cir­cum­stances behind its mak­ing or the per­son who sat in the director’s chair.  The answer to the lat­ter ques­tion is Jack Perez — and don’t think that the pres­ence of his name on this film means he’s anoth­er cut-rate schlock­meis­ter.  There’s a lot more to Perez’s career than this left-field suc­cess.

In fact, Perez has had a tru­ly fas­ci­nat­ing career since the mid-1990’s, work­ing in a vari­ety of gen­res and medi­ums as he’s carved out a col­or­ful and thor­ough­ly unpre­dictable career as a direc­tor.  He’s done episod­ic t.v. (both fic­tion­al and real­i­ty), two direct-to-video flicks for The Asylum, sev­er­al t.v. movies, 2nd unit direct­ing for stu­dio films and a hand­ful of crit­i­cal­ly-admired inde­pen­dent films. The con­nect­ing thread run­ning through this diverse set of cred­its is the pas­sion of a true cinephile.

It is Your Humble Reviewer’s hope that this inter­view gets you to inves­ti­gate Perez’s work fur­ther, for he is a tal­ent­ed indi­vid­u­al who has man­aged to do a lot with a lit­tle in cir­cum­stances that would make oth­er film­mak­ers give up.  He’s also on the cusp of a break­through with his recent, well-reviewed indie film Some Guy Who Kills People.  Read and enjoy, for Perez is tru­ly “one of us…”

Like so many gen­re guys, you were a “mon­ster kid” who made his own Super 8 films grow­ing up.  Could you describe a favorite pro­duc­tion from this era?

I killed my lit­tle sis­ter off repeat­ed­ly. Not because I dis­liked her (though she did chuck all my pre­cious STARLOGs and FANGOs off our sec­ond sto­ry land­ing after I pissed her off one time).  I had her wrapped in ace ban­dage play­ing a mum­my vs my franken­stein.  Did a lot of clay­ma­tion crea­tures and fly­ing saucer attacks, earth­quake and flood minia­tures and Kong-esque sequences.  My wife’s favorite is a stop-motion short she refers to as “Masking Tape Man” — which is a giant killer robot (whose head is made of crum­pled up news­pa­per wrapped in the stuff) who rolls down a card­board Broadway run­ning over toy sol­diers.

You’ve told me before about the sum­mer of 1979 being a water­shed time for you as a fan of gen­re films.  Could you elab­o­rate on that a bit for Schlockmania’s read­ers?

Well, the famous Newsweek issue of that year had us all going. The one tagged “Scary Summer” fea­tur­ing a close-up of Sigourney Weaver from the end of the orig­i­nal ALIEN, which was soon to hit screens. The arti­cle described an avalanche of hor­ror just around the bend, includ­ing Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, Frankenheimer’s mutant bear movie, PROPHECY and John Badham’s gory/sexy DRACULA with Olivier as Van Helsing.  It all had us going.  Did I for­get Cronenberg’s THE BROOD? It was a good year to be a hor­ror kid.

In the past, you’ve said Sam Peckinpah and Alfred Hitchcock were two of your favorite direc­tors.  Please explain what draws you to their work — and pick a favorite from each man’s fil­mog­ra­phy.

Totally dif­ferent film­mak­ers of course. But both were beyond pas­sion­ate, per­son­al and actu­al­ly freaks (which I con­sid­er myself to be).  They were also in com­plete com­mand of the medi­um — all aspects — while clear­ly pur­su­ing a very per­son­al agen­da.  They inspired me and con­tin­ue to do so. I sup­pose if I had to pick one favorite of each it would be NOTORIOUS and BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA.

Your first film was America’s Deadliest Home Videos, which was a “found footage” film sev­er­al years before The Blair Witch Project made that con­cept into an entire sub­gen­re.  How did this project come to be and how do you feel about it today?

Well, like all first movies, there’s a lot of it that I don’t like.  But the good thing was that I was young, intense and try­ing to do some­thing dif­fer­ent to help make my direc­to­ri­al mark.  The para­me­ters were a 7K bud­get to be shot on hi-8 video in Racine, WI with orders to cram in as much sex and vio­lence that I could into what­ev­er sto­ry I could hatch. I got no fee, but the sto­ry would be mine.  I hat­ed the look of 30 fps video and knew any dra­ma shot on that for­mat would be fight­ing a “cheap” asso­ci­a­tion, so I came up with a con­cept that uti­lized the poor look as an advan­tage, mak­ing it an inher­ent part of this sto­ry, about an obses­sive cam­corder enthu­si­ast who ends up point­ing his lens in the wrong direc­tion.  It was also before MAN BITES DOG, which fol­lowed a sim­i­lar design thread.

It’s worth not­ing that America’s Deadliest Home Videos fea­tures Danny Bonaduce as well as a young Melora Walters.  What are your mem­o­ries of work­ing with the­se two actors?

Well, I had cast Melora (then unknown) in my NYU the­sis film, STARING AT THE DARK, and thought she’d be ter­ri­fic as the moll in ADHV.  Luckily, she agreed to come to Wisconsin and live in a creaky house with all of us for a mon­th. Danny I didn’t know, but pro­duc­er Mick Wynhoff had a con­nec­tion to Danny, who at the time was in the news for all kinds of weird shit.  It was a score, because he lent a cer­tain strange, comedic curios­i­ty to the piece.  And he was total­ly cool — both him and his then-wife Gretchen (who actu­al­ly played his wife in the movie and even agreed to do a nude scene!).

From there, you moved on to tele­vi­sion by direct­ing episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.  What was it like work­ing for Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert? 

Well, Raimi wasn’t around that much as he busy mak­ing his own movies, but Tapert was the guy dri­ving the thing.  Tapert hired me to direct sec­ond unit action sequences on the HERCULES tv movies (just pri­or to the series) after I cut a cou­ple of HERC pro­mo trail­ers for him as well as a doc-por­trait on John Woo mak­ing his first American pic, HARD TARGET (which Renaissance pro­duced).  When the sec­ond unit stuff went well, he hired me to do what was essen­tial­ly the pilot ep of XENA (titled “THE GAUNTLET”), which had Xena rebelling again­st her wom­en & chil­dren-mur­der­ing army and hav­ing to sur­vive the tit­u­lar rit­u­al (which was actu­al­ly quite bru­tal — a wom­an being beat­en sav­age­ly with clubs by fifty male sol­diers).  Anyway, Raimi and Tapert were both very cool, like kids real­ly, and the whole expe­ri­ence was like a jacked-up, pro ver­sion of mak­ing my wacky super-8 movies.

On those shows, you also worked direct­ly with action heroes Lucy Lawless and Kevin Sorbo.  Any mem­o­ries you can share about work­ing with this dynam­ic duo?

Kevin and Lucy were both very down to earth and fun­ny.  Initially, Kevin was real­ly the only American in NZ dur­ing the series (with the excep­tion of the rotat­ing US direc­tors and occa­sion­al shipped-down char­ac­ter actors) so we Yanks bond­ed pret­ty quick­ly.  Lucy was a Kiwi and last-min­ute replace­ment for the part, and since this was real­ly my first pro direct­ing gig, we both kind of leaned on each oth­er dur­ing the shoot. She killed it of course.  Doubly cool was the chance to do a “bat­tle of the giants” sequence, because in my episode Xena and Herc have a big knock­down, drag-out fight before ulti­mate­ly join­ing forces to take on Xena’s old army.

On a relat­ed note, you’re friends with Josh Becker and even appeared in his cult fave Running Time as a “fake Shemp.”  Can you tell us about that expe­ri­ence and how you end­ed up in the film?

I first met Josh while in NZ doing HERC. He was old friends with Raimi and Tapert and already an estab­lished direc­tor, whose films, THOUGH SHALT NOT KILL…EXCEPT and LUNATICS: A LOVE STORY I had admired.  He was also a cinephile and a par­tic­u­lar fan of old war movies (like myself), so we hit it off right away.  I think the very first shot I did on the series was a sec­ond-unit insert for Josh’s HERCULES & THE MAZE OF THE MINOTAUR movie.  I believe it was a close-up of a sorcerer’s creepy hand ges­tur­ing for coins, or some­thing.  Later, we wrote a XENA ep togeth­er and I helped Josh con­ceive a sequence in RUNNING TIME.  For my con­tri­bu­tion, Josh cast me as a rais­in-sized shemp-con­vict in an ear­ly sequence who tells Bruce Campbell to “fuck off” as he’s being dis­charged from pris­on.

Your next film was The Big Empty, an unortho­dox vari­a­tion on the Los Angeles noir.  How did this indie pro­duc­tion come to be and what you drew you to it?

I con­sid­er it my first seri­ous fea­ture.  An attempt to do some­thing per­son­al, but also gen­re-inspired and with a degree of cin­e­mat­ic finesse. Actor/writer James McManus and I were best friends since NYU and made a great writ­ing-direct­ing team.  We inspired each oth­er and set out to make indi fea­tures togeth­er.  We first tried with LA CUCARACHA, spend­ing 5 years hus­tling to get the financ­ing and almost mak­ing it hap­pen with William Hurt play­ing the role that Eric Roberts ulti­mate­ly inhab­it­ed.  We final­ly real­ized no one was going to front the dough for that movie until we proved our­selves with a small­er, sim­i­lar­ly-themed piece. Our friend, John Schultz had just suc­cess­ful­ly direct­ed his first movie, BANDWAGON using friends and crew out of ZM Productions (where many of us were  employed mak­ing behind the sce­nes doc­u­men­taries) and it seemed like the best way to go.  So we fol­lowed his mod­el, rais­ing 150K and shoot­ing over 24 days on 35mm in LA.  Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE and Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION were key influ­ences, but real­ly we were attempt­ing to fuse our love of Chandler and noir with more intense char­ac­ter-dri­ven sto­ries and mix­ing in all our own per­son­al issues and neu­roses. Looking back, it was the cer­tain­ly one of the most cre­ative­ly excit­ing and sat­is­fy­ing expe­ri­ences of my life.

1998 found you direct­ing the award-win­ning La Cucaracha.  This film seems to pay homage to Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia in a num­ber of ways.  Care to share your thoughts on that sub­ject?

LA CUCARACHA became eas­ier to fund once THE BIG EMPTY had played some fes­ti­vals and won some awards.  It was big­ger in scope that TBE, but fol­lowed a sim­i­lar the­me — that of a man try­ing to find mean­ing in his life by throw­ing him­self down a dark path that ulti­mate­ly beats the shit out of him.  BRING ME THE HEAD and all of Peckinpah real­ly was in it, as were oth­er  essen­tial “south-of-the-bor­der noirs” ‚TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, WAGES OF FEAR, THE BRIBE and RIDE THE PINK HORSE.  The vibe was Mexico as a strange and dan­ger­ous escape (and pos­si­bly doom) for messed up gringos.  But BRING ME THE HEAD epit­o­mized this, real­ly — and Peckinpah had poured his soul into that movie — you could feel it in your bones.  I want­ed to make that kind of fear­less, fuck-all movie more than any­thing.

La Cucaracha also fea­tures one of Eric Roberts’ best per­for­mances.  What was it like work­ing with Roberts and do you two stay in touch?

I was a big fan of Eric’s — POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE was a key movie for me when I was in col­lege. And like every­one else I had been blown away by his work in STAR 80 and RUNAWAY TRAIN. So I was a lit­tle intim­i­dat­ed work­ing with such a pow­er­ful, estab­lished actor. But he was very cool. We hung out at his house in Sherman Oaks and talked about the char­ac­ter and choic­es and he under­stood how seri­ous I was tak­ing this project, how impor­tant it was to me, and I also think he sensed that this was his oppor­tu­ni­ty not to do just anoth­er action role but real­ly sink his teeth into char­ac­ter work. And he total­ly rose to the occa­sion.  He’s also very down to earth and fun­ny, and he and his wife Eliza are big ani­mal rights peo­ple (as my wife and I are) so we hit it off imme­di­ate­ly and remain good friends.  I last vis­it­ed him on the set of THE EXPENDABLES where he played the bad­die. Between takes, we clowned around with Stone Cold Steve Austin, who is a full-blown riot. Surreal.

2000 found you direct­ing a pair of t.v. movies, one about The Brady Bunch and the oth­er about Mary Kay LeTourneau(!).  How did the­se gigs come your way and what is the expe­ri­ence of direct­ing a net­work made-for-t.v. film like?

I made both MOWs for Rocket Science Labs, which was the evo­lu­tion of ZM pro­duc­tions where I start­ed mak­ing behind the sce­nes docs.  Chris Cowan and Jean-Michel Michenaud, who ran the com­pa­ny, had both con­tribut­ed to the mak­ing of THE BIG EMTY (Michenaud com­pos­ing the film’s score) and they trust­ed me.  I was actu­al­ly quite excit­ed about doing a movie about the Brady Bunch, as I had watched the show reli­gious­ly grow­ing up.  That world was real­ly part of the fab­ric of my child­hood — a col­or­ful, safe 70’s fan­ta­sy.  Of course, the real­i­ty was that Robert Reed (play­ing Mr. Brady) was a clos­et­ed homo­sex­u­al who had been trained to play Shakespeare and was now on this increas­ing­ly imma­ture TV show, and he was grow­ing agi­tat­ed, con­stant­ly argu­ing with pro­duc­er Sherwood Schwartz and ulti­mate­ly get­ting barred from the set.  This stuff was real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing to me and I liked the idea of all this dark­ness going on beneath the fam­i­ly-friend­ly façade.  I decid­ed to design it like a film noir and Shawn Maurer (who had shot both THE BIG EMPTY & LA CUCARACHA) joined me again as cin­e­matog­ra­pher.  Of course, all Fox cared about was the scan­dalous com­po­nents and so I was able to get away with some pret­ty unusu­al visu­al stuff. We made it like the MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE!

Same thing with THE MARY KAY LETOURNEAU STORY.  I made that VERY dark and atmos­pher­ic, this time work­ing with DP David Bridges (who had shot WALKER for Alex Cox).  We used very wide lens­es and night­mar­ish light­ing.  It was a cool piece with a won­der­ful per­for­mance by Nina Hellman as Mary, but at the end of the day Fox decid­ed not to air it.  I think they used it as a tax write-off, which is pret­ty lame.

Be sure to return on Friday 7/6 for part two of this inter­view, which will cov­er top­ics like Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus, Adam West, Wild Things 2, Some Guy Who Kills People and much, much more…