Damien Leone is a writer/director known for his work on Terrifier (2011), The 9th Circle (2008) and All Hallows’ Eve (2013). His new feature is Frankenstein vs. The Mummy is out on Feb 10th.
Plot: The mummy of a cursed pharaoh and a reanimated corpse terrorize a medical university. Only an Egyptologist and a college professor, the deranged Dr. Frankenstein, may be able to stop the creatures before it’s too late.
Damien chats with us about the movie.
You wrote and directed Frankenstein vs. The Mummy; I was surprised that we haven’t seen this idea before. How did you come up with the concept?
I was approached with the idea by my producer but it was a 30 page found footage treatment. I wasn’t interested in directing a found footage movie so I asked if I could scrap the entire idea and rewrite my own version. Thankfully, he agreed and that’s the movie we have here today. It was a challenge to have the monsters cross paths in a “realistic” way so I came up with the idea of having it all take place at a university. Since Victor was so intelligent in the fields of medicine and science I could have him be a college professor and quite often archaeological specimens are delivered to universities for studying so it all seemed practical. Plus, the budget was so low it helps to keep the setting in as few locations as possible.
Have you always been a fan of the classic Universal Monster movies and were they a big influence on the film?
Absolutely. Frankenstein, Creature From the Black Lagoon and Phantom of the Opera were my favorites as far as the classic monsters went. Obviously, I love Dracula and The Wolfman but I liked later versions of them better. First and foremost, this film was a chance for me to make a Frankenstein film. It was really fun to create my own version of the monster. I went back to the source material and used as many details from the original description of the monster as I could. And, yes, he is described as having black flowing hair!
One of the best things about the film is the practical make-up effects, the look of The Mummy is more of a modern twist rather than looking like Boris Karloff. Was it a deliberate move to keep everything practical rather than using CG? I always find practical is better…
Thank you! Oh, it was absolutely deliberate. I’m a practical make-up FX artist and for a film like this, even if I had $150 million, I’d be using practical effects.There’s no essential reason to use CGI for these monsters. They’re both just rotten corpses. Unless your vision of Frankenstein is the one from Van Helsing where he’s basically a CGI King Kong then it’s pointless and inferior. If The Walking Dead has taught us anything it’s that practical effects are alive and well and audiences absolutely love it.
I’m a fan of CGI when it’s used right. I always go back to Forrest Gump. That movie is over 20 years old now and I think it had the best use of CGI ever. I had no idea how they removed LT. Dan’s legs or how Tom Hanks became such an expert ping pong player. The best use of CGI in my opinion is a combination of practical and CGI. Guillermo Del Toro has that down to a science. We used this “marriage technique” for a couple of shots in the film. When Carter’s corpse is shown with his missing scalp, that was a combination of both. I created the bloody wound on his scalp with practical effects over a blue bald cap that was later removed digitally. We also did this when Walton gets his nose chopped off. I think those fx came out flawless.
How long did it take to get the actors in costume and did you come up with the designs?
I created the designs myself and it took anywhere from 4 – 6 hours a piece. It was the most difficult part of the shoot. I’d have to be there at 5am, make up a creature, direct them for 12 hours and then help clean them off which took another 2 hours. Both monsters were only on set together for one day. This was for the fight scene. It was a 26 hour day from the time I woke up to the time I got home and passed out lol I’ve never been more delirious in my life.
Brandon deSpain who played The Mummy, had the hardest job. He was completely encased in that makeup and because of the special dentures and the bandages, he couldn’t eat all day nor could he go to the bathroom. There was an emergency slit in the costume but he never used it. He was very disciplined. While filming the fight scene, because he hadn’t eaten all day and was fighting for hours, he almost passed out. That was a day I never want to re-live.
What kind of challenges did you face in creating the special effects?
The biggest challenge you face is time especially since I was doing mostly everything on my own. It’s really hard to do fx and direct when you don’t have a big crew helping you out. Some days I was lucky enough to have and assistant or two but they weren’t highly skilled in special effects make-up so I couldn’t just let one of them apply or paint a prosthetic on their own.
The Mummy was the hardest makeup to achieve technically. I did not want him to have a nose and I wanted his teeth and gums to be exposed but move with his real jaw movement and have depth. You can’t take away an actor’s face so you must build up and create the illusion that pieces of it are missing. Back in the day you’d just glue teeth onto the actor’s lips but that’s not really acceptable anymore so I made these dentures that clipped onto my actor’s teeth and came out of his mouth and over his lips. It creates an awesome illusion but it also ensures that my actor couldn’t eat for the entire day. Also, since the teeth came out so far, it made it easier for me to create the illusion that The Mummy’s nose was missing. I’m pretty sure KNB invented this technique but I could be wrong.
Do you like to wear many hats during the filmmaking process like writing, directing and make-up or is it more due to budget constraints?
I actually do like wearing all those hats. I love the entire filmmaking process from start to finish. We’re a new generation of filmmakers that grew up doing everything on our own because equipment has become cheaper and technical knowledge has became more accessible due to all sorts of books and videos.
I would, however, prefer to just write and direct and hire Rick Baker or KNB to create my monsters. That would be a dream come true but that’s probably not going to happen any time soon. In the meantime I’ll just continue toughing it out through the 26 hour days. lol I won’t let that stop me from putting on the screen what I think people want to see even if it means I’m on the verge of passing out.
Now that we have The Mummy and Frankenstein facing off against each other, are you interested in doing other spin-offs like Dracula, The Wolfman, etc?
Believe it or not, this actually isn’t my type of horror film. I would rather create stand alone monster movies but I should never say never. If people like my take on Frankenstein Vs The Mummy and I get enough feedback from fans saying they want me to do another one with different monsters, I’ll consider it. But if it’s a total letdown, I’ll gladly let someone else take a crack at it.
How would you describe your directorial style?
I don’t think I have a distinct style yet but I like to keep my films sort of classy and old school looking. I’m not into getting too flashy with the camera and I really don’t like hand held movement. I prefer static shots or smooth dolly moves. I’m also such a huge movie fan so I certainly have knowledge of many different directors’ styles. The advantage of being such a movie geek is that I have so many of their techniques at my disposal which I can use whenever I think it’s appropriate.
Is horror your favorite genre or would you be interested in branching out in to others?
Horror is my favorite but I’d also like to direct crime, action, sci-fi and thrillers. I’d like to slowly branch out at some point but everything I do will most likely be twisted or violent in some way. I guess that’s the horror make-up effects artist in me always being prevalent.
Is there a dream project you’d love to work on or are working on behind the scenes?
I have an epic zombie screenplay (who doesn’t) that is so awesome. I really think it would blow people away. That’s my dream project. I would certainly need a crew of experienced make-up artists on that and a much bigger budget. Time will tell. Unfortunately, I think by the time I can actually get that movie off the ground, the zombie genre will be dead and buried once again — pun intended.
What else do you have coming up?
I am in pre-production on my next Art the Clown film called Terrifier. Art the Clown got such a positive response from All Hallows’ Eve. Fans really want to see more of him so I’m going to deliver the ultimate killer clown movie. It will definitely be the most violent film I’ve made up till this point. There’s even a few scenes that I question whether or not I’m going too far but I’m doing them anyway! lol Art is just so sick. I think people are going to flip out over it.