INTERVIEW WITH BRUCE G. HALLENBECK
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself...
BRUCE: I was born (and still reside in) a little town called Kinderhook, New York, which shares with Tarrytown the distinction of being the home of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. With a background like that, how could I write or film anything else but fantasy and horror?
I was raised by my paternal grandparents, in particular my grandmother, who was the last of the angels. When I was very young indeed (from age five on), she took me to see movies like HORROR OF DRACULA, THE FLY, CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF and all the other great genre films of the late fifties and early sixties. Hammer Films were my biggest influence growing up, closely followed by AIP (especially Corman's Poe films with Vincent Price) and Universal. So classic horror became my special interest.
Q: How did you first get involved with the horror/sci-fi genre of filmmaking?
BRUCE: When I was ten years old or so, I read in Famous Monsters Magazine of amateur filmmakers (such as Donald F. Glut) who were making their own movies literally in their own backyards. I decided that was what I wanted to do; when I was 13 years old, I was given my own movie camera as a gift and promptly set out to make my very own fantasy and horror films. My first silent short was a claymation sequel to SON OF KONG; I followed that up a few months later with THE CREATION OF FRANKENSTEIN, a cross between the Universal and Hammer styles. In the next year or so, I made a spy spoof, a science fiction film, two vampire movies and many, many other silent 8mm films. Eventually, I moved into Super 8mm sound movies (including a vampire spoof called LORD RUTHVEN and a 46-minute "music video" based on Jethro Tull's album SONGS FROM THE WOOD), video (including a Dracula film in which I played both Dracula and Van Helsing!) and finally 16mm, in which I filmed a promo for a movie called CANNIBAL CHURCH, which never got made as a feature.
Q: How long did it take you to complete the first movie you produced, from
when you first started shooting to when you had the final edit.
BRUCE: The first professional feature that I produced was VAMPYRE, a remake of the Carl Dreyer surrealistic classic of 1931. My partner Antonio Panetta (who was the cameraman) and I started shooting the film in 16mm in early April of 1988 and completed filming in November of 1989. We shot mainly on weekends and through the night. During the middle of the shoot, we were picked up for worldwide distribution by Panorama Entertainment, who asked us to shoot some additional scenes featuring nudity. At first, we were somewhat averse to doing this, but they convinced us that they couldn't distribute the film unless it had certain commercial elements. As we were new to this game, we agreed to their requests, which is one reason why the shoot took so long. The final edit was completed in New York City in July of 1990 and the film was released on video by Rae Don Video in early 1991.
Q: Lately you've been writing a bunch of scripts for E.I Cinema. Tell us
about those stories.
BRUCE: EI Independent Cinema re-released VAMPYRE on their label in 1998, along with my "shockumentary" FANGS, which was hosted and narrated by former Hammer starlet Veronica Carlson. Mike Raso, the head of EI, liked my "classical" style and asked me to write three screenplays for his upcoming Seduction Cinema label: one would be about vampires, one about witches and one about a mummy. The screenplays I came up with were titled CARESS OF THE MUMMY, THE WITCHES OF SAPPHO SALON and THE BRIDES OF COUNTESS DRACULA. They're all in the "erotic horror" category, with a lot of in-jokes and references to Hammer Films, Universal, you name it. THE WITCHES OF SAPPHO SALON was filmed in Los Angeles in June of 2001 and will be released on video and DVD by EI early in 2002. Recently, I was asked by EI to write a short take-off on TOMB RAIDER starring their in-house actress Misty Mundae, which was titled MISTY MUNDAE MUMMY RAIDER. Obivously, it's a spoof, and will be one of several stories included on a Misty Mundae video/DVD. Mike just asked me to write a JEKYLL AND HYDE variation, to be produced in Los Angeles this coming December. I'm very grateful to Mike for all these opportunities to get my name out there on screenplays that are produced by others; it's a new experience for me. And getting paid for my scripts is even better!
Q: You've also been working on some other projects, such as BLOOD OF THE WEREWOLF and LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. Tell us a bit about those movies.
BRUCE: LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is a very ambitious project that began in 1997. It's a cross between THE X-FILES, THE AVENGERS and H.P. Lovecraft, with scores of actors and locations. We took our time filming it (on video) on weekends over a two-year period. The story is about a man and a woman who investigate the paranormal and find themselves battling a cult that worships the Lovecraftian deity Shub-Niggurath. The film will soon be in post-production at Brimstone Productions and will hopefully be completed and ready for release in Fall 2001.
On the Fourth of July, 2000, Kevin J. Lindenmuth asked me to write and direct a story for his werewolf trilogy BLOOD OF THE WEREWOLF. The story I came up with was BLOOD REUNION, about a horror novelist who returns to his hometown only to discover that a real werewolf is on a rampage there. Some very good actors were involved in this production, including Tony Luna, a professional actor who has appeared on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, among many other TV and film productions. He gives an excellent performance as the novelist. Mary Kay Hilko is also very good as the girl he had a crush on in high school who is now living under the dominance of her grandmother, played by Helen Black. The story is a sort of rural Gothic tale with echoes of the old Hammer style, and is played very seriously and straight.
Q: You also wrote an updated version of CARMILLA. Do you think that will go
BRUCE: Many years back, I wrote a screen treatment for a new version of CARMILLA that would have been the most faithful adaptation of the story yet. In 1996, there was interest expressed in filming it by a company in Montreal. Ingrid Pitt, who played the role in Hammer's 1970 THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, was interested in playing Carmilla's mother in the proposed film, with her real-life daughter Stephanie Pitt as Carmilla. Now that really would have been something! But, alas, the project fell through and is now very much on the back burner. It's something that could be shot on a low budget, though, so there is always the possibility that it will be re-activated at some point. But there are so many projects that I'm working on right now that CARMILLA will just have to languish in her coffin for a bit longer.
Q: What was the weirdest thing that happened during a shoot that you've
BRUCE: My own sets have tended to be pretty calm, but when I acted in my friend Joe Bagnardi's film SHADOW TRACKER (I played the head vampire, Jonathan Stokes), we had a bit of a problem. Joe had thought that he had secured permission to shoot in a very Gothic old funeral home located in a cemetery in Troy, New York. When we got there, Joe started shooting the exterior of the place, which was very atmospheric. But when we got inside, we were quickly met by the owner of the funeral home, who had no idea who we were or what we were doing there. Apparently, there had been a total lack of communication between the person who Joe had contacted and the owner, and so we were asked to leave very unceremoniously. Since then, Joe and I have joked about the fact that we've been kicked out of some of the finest graveyards in the country!
Q: What do you think of the current state of independent filmmaking?
BRUCE: Independent filmmaking is very robust right now, but it remains a question mark as to what the market will bear in the future. Two years after THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, I think it's obvious that that film was a fluke, and it hasn't really had much of a long-term effect on independent filmmaking. Those of us who make films on tiny budgets still have to slave long and hard to achieve any results and pay out of our own pockets to get our films out there in the marketplace. Nevertheless, I believe there will always be a market for low or no-budget horror films; it's much more difficult to get distributors interested in dramas or comedies when you're working on the level that many of us are. Fortunately, I'd be happy to make horror films for the rest of my life, so that's okay with me.
Q: What are the new projects you are planning?
BRUCE: I recently hooked up with actress Kristine De Bell, who was rather notorious some years ago for playing the title role in an X-rated version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND. She later appeared in such "legit" films as MEATBALLS and an early Jackie Chan movie called THE BIG BRAWL. She's been out of the business for several years but now is eager to get back into it. We may work together next year in a project I have planned called DEAD IN THE WATER, a psychological ghost story. In addition, I'm still working on those screenplays for EI. I would eventually like to film GRAVES END, a screenplay that I wrote years ago which has been optioned three times but never filmed. I also have a screenplay called THE MOUND that I'd like to film. Right now, I'm working on whatever projects come my way.
Q: Anything you want to add?
BRUCE: Frustration is certainly commonplace in low-budget indies; witness my experience with BLACK EASTER, a film that I wrote and directed in 1994 that still has not seen the light of day. Starring such actors as Veronica Carlson and Debbie Rochon, the film has unfortunately been "held hostage" by the producer and may never be released. So that was very frustrating indeed.
On the other hand, the fact that I am regularly being commissioned to write screenplays in my beloved horror genre and that I am frequently being asked to write and direct by people such as Kevin Lindenmuth is the culmination of a lifelong dream. It just goes to show that if you hang in there long enough, people start to appreciate you--and that if you put love and passion into all your work, eventually it will pay off for you.
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