Director? Artist? Auteur? I’m just a guy who loves movies.
As we’ve seen many times of late, the best way to make a micro-budget sci-fi horror film these days is to make a homage to low-budget monster flicks from the 1950s and 60s. At least that way, the poverty-row ambiance can be seen as deliberate.
Daniel Lee has been busy spending as little money as possible making two films that draw heavily on low-budget scifi horror films of the past, while keen to ensure that potential viewers will have as much fun watching the results as he had making them.
The films are Ocho: Arachnid From Hell and It Came from Beyond Beyond.
Daniel Lee told Undead Backbrain’s Avery Guerra about these projects.
Daniel: The two films share most of the same actors and a lot of the same main characters and same setting. In Ocho: Arachnid From Hell, a scientist working on a matter enlargement ray (he wants to solve world hunger) accidentally enlarges a spider. In It Came from Beyond Beyond, he is working on matter teleportation (if he can get the food to the hungry, he can solve world hunger a different way), and it accidentally opens a portal through which a monster from another dimension enters.
Ocho: Arachnid from Hell (US-2008; dir. Daniel Lee)
Why did you make Ocho: Arachnid From Hell?
I never really intended much of anybody to see the movie, and it was just a labor of love and way for me to pay homage to all the great horrible movies I loved.
How did you create the giant spider?
Ocho the giant spider was made by sawing a body shape out of plywood, covering the top with some black, stretchy fabric, which was thumb-tacked to the underside of the plywood. I stuffed it with the fiber stuffing used in plush teddy bears and such. Then I made legs out of one inch PVC pipe and joints. I used metal brackets to hold electrical conduits to the wall to attach the legs to the plywood.
And how did it work out?
Well, it didn’t really have to look good. It just had to be as cheap as possible due to my financial constraints. In fact, the worse it looked, the funnier and therefore better!
The name of the spider, and the film, is a nod to Manos: The Hands of Fate [US-1966; dir. Harold P. Warren ... considered by many the worse film ever made -- Rob], which by the way was shot in my sometimes-summer-hometown of El Paso, TX.
How did the production go?
We shot the movie over several weekends and tried to get it done in time to submit to the Tupelo Film Festival in the hopes of a hometown screening. We did meet the deadline, but they rejected the film! The upside was that during the filming, my earlier short, The Picture, was part of a different film festival and actually won the Best Student Film award. That fest was a very positive experience and definitely convinced me to keep making films after Ocho. In fact, the entire three-month period was definitely the best time of my life. There wasn’t one day we were making Ocho that I didn’t at least once literally fall on the ground laughing.
Where did it premiere? Is it available?
We threw our own premiere at the local Malco theater and drew like 120 people without spending a dime on advertising. I sold DVD copies of the film literally out of the trunk of my car.
People constantly ask me for more copies, because apparently what happens is they loan it to their friends who never return it. It gets passed around so much that I have even run into somebody from Maine who walked up and quoted the movie to me. I never expected it to get a cult following, but strangely, people love my silly backyard B-movie.
And after Ocho?
The inevitable demand for a sequel prompted me to make It Came From Beyond Beyond.
It Came From Beyond Beyond (US-2009; [55 min.] dir. Daniel Lee)
How did you approach this follow-up?
There was a lot of pressure to live up to the fun cheesiness of the first movie, and I wasn’t entirely sure I could do it. So I just went for broke and made everything bigger, crazier, more ridiculous and more over-the-top.
The monster of Beyond is your classic guy-in-a-suit monster. I bought some coveralls from a thrift store, monster hands from a Halloween shop, monster-feet-slippers from Wal-Mart…. the head was a paintball mask, welding goggles, and an ace bandage. It think it’s kind of a cross between a Star Wars Tusken Raider/Sand Person and Ro-Man from Robot Monster. I think six different people of absurdly varying heights/weights played the monster.
So how did the audience respond?
We played Beyond Beyond at the Malco again near Halloween. That time, it was a double-feature with A Zombie Movie made by my friend Glenn Payne. We sold out and had to open a second screen to accommodate the overflow! Shockingly, it made money — therefore being commercially successful! The opinion I keep getting is that Beyond Beyond topped the first film. The overwhelming spirit of love that I get back from people who like these silly things we make is far more rewarding than scads of money could be.
Are the films going to be available soon?
We’re still sorting out getting an on-demand DVD thing going through CreateSpace or a similar program. And I eventually want to load them on the net for just anybody to watch for free.
“A little bit about myself”
I was born in Ohio where I lived on a farm until I was 8. Then my family (sans my dad) moved to VERY rural Alabama. There was a lot of culture shock to deal with and I had kind of a bad childhood because of racism (I’m bi-racial) and sectionalism in that town. During summers, I lived with my dad in the barrios of El Paso, TX (where I became a devoted fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000). After I graduated high school, I moved to Tupelo, Mississippi — where I’ve been since.
By day I’m a blue-collar factory worker. In my free time, I act semi-professionally, having appeared in over a dozen projects, including stints as a rotted corpse, an actor playing a zombie in a bad movie, a Nazi on a U-boat, a sadistic mafia torturer, and a dim-witted redneck thug.
I also perform and record in multiple music projects, including Dr. Daniel & The Rockabilly Vampires, Astrocasket, and a new band called File Under Fire.
My main hobby is competitive video gaming, where I frequently break world records (and subsequently have them broken) on the Twin Galaxies website — made famous by the King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters documentary.
I grew up watching great horror classics, kaiju films (mainly Godzilla and Gamera flicks), Ray Harryhausen movies and schlocky B-movies that would play on a couple of local horror hosts’ shows in Ohio — Superhost and Big Chuck & Little John on WJKW (later WJW). Monster movies have always kinda been my first and only love. All the songs I write tend to be about monsters or murder.
Music led me to the movie biz. This eccentric guy, Solomon Mortamur (see the Undead Backbrain article “B-Flick Invasion”), has been working on an epic B-movie in Indiana for years called It Came From Trafalgar. He had contacted me about using some of my music in the soundtrack. He would tell me all these funny, crazy, or just plain bizarre stories over the phone about him making this movie and we became friends. He said that my band, The Rockabilly Vampires, could come up and be extras in the film and he would give me a death scene. So we made the drive up, and based on that experience of working with Solomon and seeing his hardware store lighting (which by the way, is what George Romero started with), and the way he would use his ingenuity to get around having no money really inspired me.
I made a short film called The Picture without really knowing how to make movies and it turned out pretty well. After that, I decided to make an intentionally bad B-movie. My theory was that since I was a beginner just trying to learn how to make movies, any mistakes I made would actually help the cheesiness of the movie rather than hurt the project.
I wrote a cliche, formula plot that’s a bit like The Giant Gila Monster, cast all my friends, and fabricated some props. Thus began Ocho : Arachnid From Hell.
Apart from embracing cheesiness, what is the appeal to you of B-flicks?
The liberating thing about B-movies is that you don’t have the nagging problems of production present in serious films. Every time somebody would ask about bad sound, or some prop/location not working right or lighting or continuity errors, my answer was always, “Fuck it. It’s a B-movie.”
Since the first film, I went on to work on lots of indie films (usually as an actor) of varying levels of budget/production/professionalism. Some experiences were good, some were just plain bad. But nothing was ever as fun as the making of Ocho (not even the sequel). More than anything else, I have my friends like April, Sabrina, Scott, Rob, Isaac, Bran, and everybody else in the cast to thank for that.
Edward D. Wood Jr. just kept on making movies despite persistent commercial/critical failure because it was the one thing he loved most. That’s the same spirit we made these movies in.
Director? Artist? Auteur? I’m just a guy who loves movies.
Thanks to Daniel Lee for his time.
Be sure to check out some of Daniel’s short films in a special Daniel Lee Weekend Fright Flick Festival, right here on Undead Backbrain.