Director Edward Douglas kindly steps into the closet to talk about his upcoming film, The Dead Matter, which tells the story of a vampire relic with occult powers that falls into the hands of a grief-stricken young woman who will do anything to contact her dead brother.
What makes The Dead Matter a horror film that fans will want to see?
My favorite horror films are the ones that incorporate all the visuals and atmosphere with a strong script and story. That’s what we have with “The Dead Matter.” This movie has lots of twists and turns along with some unorthodox takes on traditional horror themes. Mix that with the FX guys at Precinct 13 doing their thing, 70’s horror buff DP, Alex Esber, crafting the look, and some great performances by our cast and you got something special.
The icing on the cake for me is that although there are very few original themes out there, we do manage several memorable moments that I think will stick with audiences for a while afterwards. Music is one of the most important elements for me so Gavin Goszka and I (Midnight Syndicate) will be working overtime to make sure the score is something really special as well.
I love horror films. Between Midnight Syndicate and Midnight Syndicate Films, it’s not only my job but my hobby as well. Although I always find something enjoyable in each film I watch, I’ve been disappointed as of late – often it just comes down to the script. Especially with the larger budgets, it just doesn’t feel like enough time and effort is being put into that area of the production. Co-writer Tony Demci and I spent a lot of time tweaking “The Dead Matter” script into the kind of horror movie we would like to see made. It’s a film that I think will resonate with a lot of horror film fans – a good time.
You did an earlier version of The Dead Matter in 1996. Did you approach this version differently? If so, tell us how and why you made those changes.
My goal from the beginning was to use the original version as a springboard for a remake with an actual budget. The upside to it taking this long is that we’ve had over ten years to think about what we liked and didn’t like the first time around. I’ve had ten more years of life experience, ten more years of watching even more horror films, reading and writing more stories, and co-producing all of the Midnight Syndicate horror music CDs. It’s all had a positive impact on how I approached the new version of the “The Dead Matter.” The production concept hasn’t changed drastically; it’s just executed a lot better in the script.
Having an actual budget allowed us to work with a talented cast and crew and achieve a look that wasn’t even fathomable for us in ’96 when we shot the film for $2000 on Super VHS tape. One of the biggest decisions was to shoot the new version on film. In the end I wanted to see “The Dead Matter” looking the way I remember movies looking while I was growing up. Even with all the post-FX available there’s just something about film. Alex and the lighting crew really delivered the classic look I was going for.
What challenges did you face during production, and how did you overcome them?
In our second week, Mansfield, Ohio (the city we were filming in) got hit with a storm so large that it flooded everything and rained us out for one of our nights of filming. When we woke up that next morning the entire lower part of the city was underwater (including part of our backup set). It even made the national news. It was the most rain the city had seen in over 20 years and one of the rainiest Augusts in Northeastern Ohio history (about a third of our film is exteriors so we had our backs to the wall). Producer, Gary Jones and UPM, Philip Garrett assembled an incredibly talented crew, though, that did what veterans do – make things happen in less than ideal situations. We pulled together, switched scheduling around, made up for the lost time, and got back on schedule that following week. It was challenging but we got all the scenes covered and I didn’t have to compromise the script at all.
As far as other challenges go, shooting on film always presents a fun and exciting array of potential disasters and challenges. I’ll leave it at that for now.
Now that you're in post-production, what are your plans for distribution? When will we get to see The Dead Matter?
I think we’ll be ready to begin screening “The Dead Matter” next summer. Although I don’t have a fixed release date, one date that is set is August 1st. That’s when Midnight Syndicate’s soundtrack to “The Dead Matter” will be available in stores. The movie will be released afterwards.
Music is an important part of your life. You composed the scores for The Dead Matter, Sin-Jin Smyth, and The Rage. You also founded the band, Midnight Syndicate. What similarities and differences are there between composing music and directing a film?
In both directing and composing you are telling a story, only you are using different canvasses. The composer uses music and the director uses more visual elements. If you are handling both those elements I think you have the opportunity of achieving a special cohesiveness between the two.
There aren’t a lot of similarities. As a composer, it’s your job to try and get into the head of the director so that you can use your music to accentuate and elevate their story. You are only a part of the machine – and the focus of your work has to be what’s best for the movie and the director’s vision.
As a director you are running the machine - controlling, in varying degrees, all the facets of the production, including music. The end-product is in your head. The challenge is communicating what is in your head to all the different parts of the machine so that it can become reality on screen.
Why direct? Aren't you busy enough?
One of my main goals has always been to direct motion pictures, starting with “The Dead Matter.” Whether its music or film it’s all about telling a story - horror and the supernatural has been the way most of my creative endeavors have drifted towards.
I combined my love of filmmaking and music with the first Midnight Syndicate concerts I produced in ’98. The concerts were a blending of a live band scoring original films that I made along with live actors and animation. It was a rewarding and learning experience but not the same as producing and scoring a full-length feature. Midnight Syndicate does keep me pretty busy, but what I’m doing with Midnight Syndicate Films directly relates to my work with the band, so I see this as all one big intertwined project.
What are your favorite horror and non-horror films? Why?
That’s always the toughest question. I guess I’d say among my all-time favorites that I can think of now are: “Aliens,” “Exorcist,” “Shining,” “Night of the Living Dead,” “The Old Dark House,” “Black Sabbath,” “Jaws,” “The Ring,” “Sixth Sense,” “Dracula (1979),” “Pet Sematary,” Coppola’s “Dracula,” “Evil Dead,” most of the Hammer catalog, “House of Usher,” and “Psycho.”
As far as non-horror films go, a lot of my theatrical training centered in comedy. I enjoy slapstick so I really love everything from the Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker team, from “Kentucky Fried Movie,” to the “Airplane”s and “Naked Gun”s. “Ghostbusters” is one of my all-time favorites too: great concept, great script, and Sigourney Weaver.
What's the one thing you really love about the horror genre?
There are so many directions you can take the genre in. Whether it’s providing an audience with strong visual elements or leaving it up to their imaginations to fill in the blanks, it’s a genre that sparks something inside of all of us creatively to some extent, I think.
Now what's the one thing you really hate about the horror genre?
More of a recent phenomenon, same thing I’m hearing a lot – all these remakes of the classics. For me it points up my problem with mainstream horror and that is there is little to no focus on the script. In my opinion, strong visuals are part of great horror filmmaking but not the only part. Unfortunately I’m not in a position to say anything. “The Dead Matter” is technically a remake. Additionally, I’m helping fuel the “remake machine” since I’m a huge fan of Rob Zombie and can’t wait to see what he does with “Halloween.”
What movie and music projects are you working on now?
It’s “The Dead Matter” 24/7 right now. I’ll begin editing this November, by February I’ll be starting on the score.