Heather Santrous: Terry, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me and being brave enough to be the first person for me to sharpen my interview skills on. I take it since I see your comments on my own blog, and other horror related blogs, that you are a fan of horror movies. Do you roughly remember when you started watching horror movies and was there a certain movie that got you hooked on the genre?
Terry Kimmel: Oh, man, I wish I had a definitive answer to that! Not just for you but for myself, because I'd be curious to know. Whatever. I guess I just like horror movies.
One of my first film memories was a fantasy film. It was at the now long gone Sheridan Twin Drive-in, and we came in a little late to see One Million Years B.C. featuring the "Dynamation" stop-motion effects of Ray Harryhausen and the fur-bikini-clad wonders of Raquel Welch. Um, not necessarily in that order. We came in when Raquel's tribe of fish-eating cave people were fighting a giant-ass sea tortoise. Hmmm, maybe this film doesn't really count as fantasy, but is technically an action/historical drama.
Ha ha ha ha! Sorry. I think I've always been fond of fantasy films, so the genres of fantasy, horror and sci-fi all were appealing to me. But perhaps dinosaurs and gorgeous women hooked me from the start, which would put me at 7 years old then. Cripes!
I also remember arriving late to the drive-in to see the original Planet Of The Apes. We came in when the crew of the spaceship discovers that the lone woman on board died of old age in the suspended animation tube she was sleeping in because of an air leak or whatever.
I also wonder if my parents chose the movies we watched as a family because they were interested in them or because I showed some interest in them. So, even though I don't have any distinct memories of this either way, I wonder if they influenced my tastes in film.
Much, much more recently, I read Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs' book, IMMORAL TALES: EUROPEAN SEX & HORROR MOVIES 1956-1984. This turned me on to tracking down all sorts of trashy, lurid horror fare on DVD. Titles like The Blood Spattered Bride and filmmakers like Jean Rollin and Jess Franco. Which also led me to checking out a couple of DVD companies that distribute these weird films from the past, like Redemption and Mondo Macabro, which helped me to discover films like Nude For Satan (with awesome Italian actress Rita Calderoni!) and Alucarda. Oh, yeah... I've been in a complete moral and spiritual downward spiral ever since I crossed paths with that damn book...
There's also another component to this question, too, I think. And that's my desire to make movies. Because of this, I always find horror films interesting intellectually, because I think they offer an opportunity for the filmmaker to see how well they can manipulate an audience, to see if they can elicit a strong reaction from viewers simply by having them watch their movie. The horror genre offers different degrees of scary films, too, from ultra-gorey to bloodless psychological terror and everything in-between. So there's a lot of cool potential to explore in terms of experimenting with ways to frighten and make an impact on an audience. As an example, the films of Alfred Hitchcock always symbolized to me the intellectual aspect of trying to generate suspense and terror in an audience. So sometimes I watch scary films as an audience member and sometimes as a student/wanna-be filmmaker.
HS: I have a hard time saying which movie is my favorite since there are so many movies that could fit that bill for me. Are you like that as well or is there a movie that you do call your favorite?
TK: Oh, I'm definitely the same way. My usual answer for my favorite movie is one of two titles: It's A Wonderful Life and Pulp Fiction. So, I'm cheating from the git-go.
In terms of horror films, my usual answer is this: Scariest horror film is The Exorcist. Most disturbing horror film is Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Jaws I love to death, but I think I love that movie as a movie, not a horror movie, although it's overt horror elements work extremely well. But yeah, I could sub-category you to death (or at least to levels of extreme boredom) with favorite movies and favorite horror movies.
HS: I am a big fan of horror movies, and movies in general. But I have never had a desire to be an actress or even work behind the scenes. When did you first feel that desire?
TK: I don't remember when I first was interested in doing plays in school. I think I first did some performing in middle school (grades 6-8), but I don't remember why I was attracted to it. I think performing came out of my usual desire to participate in a group activity. I'm one of those jerks in class that always likes to ask questions or always volunteers to read aloud. So, if they were looking for volunteers to participate in plays, that's probably the biggest reason why I auditioned in the first place. So, that's just something that's been a part of me, to some degree, for a while. Either performing, or else, helping in other ways to put on a production, like set construction.
Meanwhile, my best friend, Steve D'Addieco, was also interested in plays and movies. His family got a super-8 film camera when he was in high school, and he quickly started making short movies with it. The thing is with movies, you need actors, so you drag your friends into these crazy films. That dynamic continues with these ultra low-budget films today. If you're interested in making movies, but you have no money, you try to establish some networking and creative community karma by helping out on other people's films in some way. Hopefully, they'll return the favor when you need to exploit them-- uh, use them for your own film.
For some reason, the Buffalo area is a fertile location for creative individuals. There has been a network/community of live theater operating in the area for years, despite having the valid reputation of an economically struggling blue-collar town. I'm very fortunate to have gone to high school with Randy Kramer, who is the artistic director for Musicalfare, a theater company he started years ago that focuses on only staging musical productions. His wife, Lisa Ludwig, is one of the busier actresses in town, and I've been fortunate to work with her on several occasions, having co-produced plays with her and having directed her in a number of these productions some years ago. I'm also the godfather of Randy and Lisa's son, and I used to babysit their daughter, who made me act in all her little weird dramas. Like, I played Beast to her Belle and apparently I wasn't doing right by Belle in the relationship, etc., etc. Hey, I didn't make this stuff up, the kid did.
So, personal and creative relationships overlap a lot here in town. A lot of my friends work as actors or directors or set designers or lighting designers in local theater and I've worked with them in several productions over the years. Now that video technology has advanced to such an incredible degree over the last several years, all that theater experience I have now wants to translate itself into cinematic experience. So, all these factors and circumstances contribute to my interest and desire to participate in the making of and the creation of my own movies, horror or otherwise. So part of my answer I guess is personal interest, part of it is wanting to help out, and part of it is fortunate circumstance. Uh, did that answer your question?
TG: My involvement with POTPD was a total networking situation. My friend Emil Nowak owns the oldest running comic book store in Buffalo, the Queen City Book Store. Well, it was his family’s store when I first met him years ago and I guess he’s inherited the place outright over the years. But I met him first as a comic book geek shopping at his store. Our relationship was always of an acquaintance type nature at first, since I really went to his store irregularly, like once, maybe twice a year. But being a good businessman, Emil always remembered me and we’d always chat for a bit. That’s how he gradually learned that I was interested in drawing comics and how I was also involved in local theater.
Now, with home video technology advanced to the degree it has so far, Emil started exploring making his own films a few years ago. He still owns Queen City Book Store. But he also has other creative aspirations. One day a few years ago, I came into the store and he started talking about his involvement with video cameras and how he was working on a short film called Tesla The Accumulator, a fantasy “bio-pic” of inventor Nikolai Tesla. It was also based on an original comic book he had written, inked and self-published called THE ACCUMULATOR. He had just invested in a Panasonic video camera that apparently was capable of shooting an image that was capable of being blown up to 35mm film size. Maybe I’m saying that wrong. I am not a tech geek, so I probably just made myself sound really stupid. But my understanding is this: video shot on this camera was capable of being blown up to 35mm film size and then projected in a theater.
Emil was interested in making films that were eventually going to be seen by an actual audience in an actual theater, so that’s why he invested the money in the camera. Because he knew I was involved with local theater for awhile, he asked me if I wanted to help him out with making some miniature sets for Tesla. I said sure. He was using the basement of his house as a sort of mini-studio and that’s where we worked. Well, I wound up helping out in a variety of ways on the film. Some set work, then being an extra hand helping out with sound and lights, and then doing some odd performance things as well, too.
I briefly did a sword combat scene with the Tesla character (on the Tesla website there’s a picture of me wearing a mask and cape and it’s from this scene). I also played a strange, masked “dream creature” doing funky improv modern dance “movements” in a cloud of fog. For lack of a better word, I use the phrase “modern dance” because Lord knows, I am not a dancer. I was just flailing my body around and I guess Emil thought it was okay.
Because of my involvement on Tesla, Emil mentioned to me another project he found himself getting involved with. This was the summer of 2005. Emil had been asked to be the Director of Photography (DP) on a low budget horror film that was to be shot on digital video (DV). A gentleman named David Williams, who had just started a new magazine called Red Scream, a magazine devoted to “erotic horror,” was also trying to make some horror films under the banner of Red Scream Films. They were going to shoot in the same prison that The Shawshank Redenption was filmed, located in Ohio .
It was going to be a 10 day shoot. Would I be interested in coming along and being part of Emil’s crew? Well, the opportunity sounded great, but I knew that my wife, a teacher and writer, who is generally very supportive of me in terms of my own creative pursuits, would nonetheless never go for me being out of town for 10 days, so I had to pass. Well, some time passed and shooting in Ohio turned out to be too impractical for a number of reasons.
But then David W. found out about the availability of Buffalo ’s own historic Central Terminal building, either on his own or through Emil’s suggestion, I forget which. When the location shifted to Buffalo, my working on the film became an actual possibility, because I could always come home every day (or night) after shooting. I wound up doing seven days of the shoot as one of two full-time “production assistants.” The other PA was Mike Carrigan, who also played some of the dead characters in the film (like the Administrator). We basically were the technical support crew for the DP, a talented man from out of town named Matthias Saunders, helping setting up lights, etc. We also did some set work as well, supervised by Emil. Matthias wound up being named as the main DP because he had more film experience, but Emil is still credited as co-DP because they did have two cameras on the shoot, Emil’s Panasonic and another rented Panasonic.
Prior to actual shooting, Mike and I worked on the doll room set that becomes an important scene for Aurora (actress Demona Bast). We had fun abusing all these poor doll heads and doll parts and I think the scene looks pretty cool visually between Emil’s set design, our artistically destructive efforts and the lighting.
The Terminal is currently being maintained mostly by a charitable organization whose main focus is to make sure the building doesn’t fall into further disrepair before, hopefully, someone with deep pockets comes to the Terminal’s rescue financially. Because of that, the electricity in the building is limited, so we had to use plenty of extension cords to access where the power was available. We had a limited number of lights, so we generally set up only one scene at a time. When we were done with a scene, director D.W. (David) Kann and the cast would move on to the next location. One of us (me or Mike) would hang back and strike the lights and move them to the next location, while the other guy went ahead to hear the next set-up instructions. There were some occasions when we wrapped a scene in one of the dark rooms at night, and I had to strike the lights by myself.
I’d have to concentrate and not let my imagination get away from me, as I shut off each light, and the room, of course, would get darker, bit by bit. When the wind blows in the Terminal, it makes some weird noises with all the broken windows and the cavernous spaces. When I’d get down to disconnecting the last light, I’d prepare myself to be plunged into darkness by saying to myself, “It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie,” and then unplug the last light with only my puny flashlight left for illumination. Those were fun exercises in panic management.
Mostly though, Mike and I were extra hands helping out on the movie. So, for instance, when the “Orb,” the malevolent ball of light that hunts down the various investigators in the film, is trying to bust in this door that two of the actresses are trying to keep shut, it’s either me or Mike or both, pounding as hard as possible on the “Orb” side of the door, hopefully making the action seem more believable. We had another cool filmmaking moment when we were shooting Noel Francomano’s scene, when she, as the character Nessie, is busy freaking out and racing down this dark, dust and debris-filled hallway. David Kann wanted a shot of her from behind, with the camera chasing after her down the hall and then another shot of her running towards the camera, the camera running ahead of her, essentially going backwards.
Running after Noel was easy enough. There was Matthias on camera, David K. following him, Eugene the sound assistant on boom mike, and then me trailing all three of them, chasing after Noel, because I was hanging onto the extension cord(s) we needed for the light and dragging it behind us. The real trick was when we had to run backwards away from Noel running toward us.
Way at the end of the hallway we had as many people as we could to gather up the extension cord as we ran to them. That way we wouldn’t trip over the gathering slack of the cord. We had a few people holding onto the cord behind the main three, with me leading the way. We held on firmly so the people taking up the slack wouldn’t accidentally get ahead of us and actually yank the equipment by mistake. This also kept the cord from tangling in Matthias’, David’s and Eugene’s feet as they all ran backwards.
The first take of this went awesome. It went very smoothly, and it was very exhilarating. C’mon! How could it not be! You have a girl screaming her brains out, racing frantically down a dark, dismal scary hallway, while a small network of people are working in the dark just as frantically like energetic moles to make this scene work technically. David decided to do one more take for insurance coverage, understandably.
We set up again. And then, we were off. As I got to the end of the hall, I remember seeing like two or three people running off carrying slack extension cord, with another bunch of coils of it waiting on the floor to be carried off as well. As I turned to see the others arrive down the hall, I witnessed the main three tumbling, stumbling all into each other and landing in a dusty, probably asbestos-y, pile in front of me. As the three dusty dudes later recounted, Eugene’s mike boom accidentally struck the fragile ceiling while they were running, dislodging a bunch of ceiling debris, which tumbled to the ground in front of Noel as she ran.
Without hesitation, the screaming redhead cleared the falling crap like a skilled hurdler, but Eugene’s balance was thrown off and as he tried to compensate, he kind of crashed into the other two, resulting in the pile-up. But Matthias protected the camera when he fell, and he said he caught the whole spectacle on video. I’ve yet to see it, though. That was a fun moment. So basically, Mike and I were the technical crew guys and were also utilized as extra hands when needed.
In the movie we watch Melantha Blackthorne cut her arm and then start to move/dance around the room she is in. Suddenly the door opens. An orderly pops his head in and then rushes in quickly followed by another orderly. That first orderly is Mr. Kimmel himself.
HS: How did you manage to get on screen?
TK: Well, when you see us rush Melantha in the room, the actual shot of us in the room and physically taking her, that was our first day of shooting. They were only shooting us (the orderlies) from behind and they only needed a couple guys in orderly costumes to get the job done quickly. So, Mike and I were available and we were just plugged in. Both Mike and myself are both hams and were willing to do whatever (usually), so it really wasn’t that big a deal.
The shot of us busting through the door was actually shot near the end of the shoot, when we were shooting the Orb scenes with Susie and Demona trapped in the little room. After that Orb sequence was done, they just needed an insert shot of the orderlies busting in the “hotel room door.” So we used the same door the Orb was trying to bust through, shooting it at a different, tight angle. We put our costumes on and Matthias and David K. waited in the room and yelled "action". I improvised a little by pausing as soon as we busted in the door, so that there was a moment you could actually see my face, otherwise if we just tore past the camera, we'd both be a blur. I just did it and waited to see if David minded. After the first take, he and Matthias both cracked up because I had stopped to do a “take,” but they thought it was fine, so all the following takes we did the same way, stopping briefly after entering the room, and then we continued on quickly. There were also takes where we tried some dialogue, like, we’d bust in, stop, improvise something, like yell, “You bitch!” and then continue on to supposedly tackle Melantha and hustle her away. But, mostly, Mike and I were available bodies.
HS: Did you get nervous at all before hand?
TK: No, it was fun and I didn’t have dialogue. I was mostly nervous about my knowledge of technical stuff, which I really have a very limited amount of. Mike actually went to school for this. I’m just a guy with accumulated experience, enough to get me into trouble, I guess. But the performance thing was no big deal. Of course, if I had dialogue to memorize, that would’ve been different. When I did a short monologue as Ed Sullivan in a production of BYE, BYE BIRDIE years ago at Artpark in front of a live audience of several hundred people, that was more nerve wracking because I start the scene alone on stage. But that was fun, too.
On a related note, that whole hotel room sequence is shot in a room that doesn’t exist. It was shot in an empty space in the terminal that Emil dressed up to look like a hotel room, with lots of cluttered props and set pieces, a window frame and a curtain disguising a larger Terminal window in a crumbling wall, plus judicious shooting of the dressed area, so that you imagine the rest of the room. The doorway we enter as orderlies is in another area of the Terminal entirely (not to mention a week later). The exterior shot of the hotel was actually shot in Los Angeles by someone David K. knew.
Melantha’s bathroom sequence is actually an old tub placed in the room where the bloody operation scene takes place. There’s no actual working plumbing connected to it. There’s no actual water in the tub, it’s reflected light on a pan of water. So the whole hotel room sequence was an illusion of smart editing and audience imagination, which is very cool, especially in these days of CGI where you see everything.
HS: Is there a chance we will see you in another movie? Maybe even one where you get to say something?
TK: Oh, heck, yes! I’m afraid so! The last few months Emil’s been directing a script of his for a horror film called Banshee, which is being produced by him for his film company Buffalo Nickel Productions and with the additional cooperation of Mike Bohatch’s Nightmare Kinetics (Mike B. did the opening credit sequence for POTPD).
I play a creature in Banshee (no dialogue but I get to make animal noises and eat people). I also appear in some very small roles throughout. So, no real dialogue yet, but more screen time. The last major scenes for the film are being shot this weekend actually (July 21-22) and then the film will be in post production with just a handful of other shots to be done. Melantha Blackthorne makes an appearance in this film, too, but in a supporting role.
And Emil and Mike B. have other horror film plans in the works. Plus, David Williams continues to make movies through Red Scream Films. Hell, Troma Entertainment actually came to Buffalo to shoot Poultrygeist recently! So, I’m sure I’ll be appearing somehow in some capacity in somebody’s film.
HS: I noticed something in the scene where you were pretending to be a ball of light. I expected the Orb would have been able to pass through the door and not bang on it. I assume there was some movie magic going on there so we couldn't see you. Do you know how that was done?
TK: Well, when we were pretending to be the Orb, specifically I meant Mike and I were trying to get through the door that Susie and Demona were struggling to keep shut. David K. figured it was easier for them to act terrified that something was trying to get into the room if something was actually trying to get into the room! The close-up of the Orb itself, when it looks like the Slime Guy from Ghostbusters, floating in the hallway, turning the corner, and then, more malevolently in close-up with the different tortured spirits in it as the Orb flies towards us. That was all optical effects done by a company that David K. had worked with before.
But the scenes where you see the actors running away from the light, that’s just a spotlight chasing them from behind, mostly balanced on the top of a step-ladder. It’s a ridiculously simple effect but I think it’s very effective in context. When we pound on the door, we’re just out of camera sight and then the light floods the door behind us, so that’s just pounding and yelling and a lot of light. When Melantha’s in the bathroom, hiding from the light, I was holding a spotlight by hand and acting like it was searching for her through the various cracks in the wall. That was one of the few times we tried to “act” with the lightsource, like it was a dog sniffing around for the characters instead of merely chasing people. But the actual special effects shots were done elsewhere.
HS: One last question, what do you see in the future for Terry Kimmel?
TK: Well, if my personal experience tells me anything, I’ll be making lots of plans for things and starting lots of projects. But I have a hideous track record in terms of actually finishing anything I start. Which is why it’s good that I’m working on other people’s projects, because they seem to finish their stuff.
But seriously, I’m working on a screenplay right now, really my first one, and I’m just trying to see if I can tell a story in the screenplay format. Having said that, the screenplay, when finished (he said optimistically) may be too involved, or, well, too racy for me to be able to shoot as written. Although, I have been thinking of possible ways to film it, at least hypothetically. If I actually finish this screenplay, I plan on fine-tuning it in a second draft, and then I’ll probably start another screenplay, something I’m calling BLIND DATE WITH THE BEAST. The one I’m writing now had a great title to start with, if I do say so myself, but the plot and characters have started to change directions on me while I’ve been writing it. So the title doesn’t actually work anymore! But, if I don’t use it, I’ll save it for another plot. Both ideas are in the horror genre, although the first one seems more exploitation/thriller to my thinking.
I also have dreams of writing and drawing a comic book as well. I’m also working on a series of short stories about four high school girls that I’m hoping to pull together into a novel for young adults, I guess. Perhaps there’s a reason why I never finish anything! I keep distracting myself by starting too many projects at the same time!
But of my many plans, I hope to someday write and direct a horror film that will be reviewed in the various horror blogs I read, like Final Girl, And Now the Screaming Starts, Gore-Gore Girl and of course, lovely Heather Santrous’ Mermaid Heather… I'd like to see if I can rate a 4 or 5 out of 5 “Scary as hell because he actually finished what he started!”
HS: I really hope I will get to do that someday Terry. As I said before, I really appreciate you doing this interview with me. I had a lot of fun and I hope you did as well. I will get this posted on Mermaid Heather here soon and I will see you there!
TK: I had a blast doing this and I thank you, humbly, for the opportunity.