An Exclusive Interview with writer/director/monster-maker/artist James Sizemore [aka Loup'Rah Garomore]
In the lively [irony intended] history of zombie movies, the 1980s was a gala decade for the demonic brand of undead. This was the time of classics such as Sam Raimi’s pre-Hollywood The Evil Dead (US-1982), Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (It-1980) and The Beyond (It-1981), and Lamberto Bava’s Demons (It-1986) — in fact, pretty well the entire Italian school of gruesome zombie carnage. Characterised by extreme make-up FX, gore-drenched mayhem and unapologetically gaudy, and grotesque, visuals, these movies combined the standard shambling ghouls of Romero with a more exuberantly malevolent type of demonically possessed undead — often to startling effect.
Filmmaker James Sizemore is currently working to re-create that in-your-face effect with a new, contemporary feel, in a movie titled The Demon’s Rook. He and his collaborators at Black Rider Productions have been working hard at the independent project for some time and are still in the midst of production. With about 35% of principal photography done, they have reached at stage where the film is starting to take shape. Check out this newly released and very impressive “first look” teaser:
Enthused by the authentic and high-quality look of this low-budget production, Undead Backbrain (in the person of Robert Hood) approached James Sizemore (pictured below with undead fan) and soon found himself knee-deep in gore and demon muck.
Undead Backbrain: Thanks for talking to us, Loup’Rah. Perhaps I can start by asking how you’d characterise The Demon’s Rook for the uninitiated?
Sizemore: Hmm, it’s like the witches from Suspiria and the mouth of Sauron gave birth to a wizard mystic inside the Evil Dead cabin at spring time. It might be hard to wrap your head around at first, but that’s probably the most concise way of summing it up for everyone.
UB: So Argento, Tolkien’s Mordor sequences and early Raimi are influences. From the trailer, I’d add Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, Lamberto Bava’s Demons and even some fairly inevitable Romero for the zombies — perhaps more Day of the Dead than anything else. Heavy emphasis on late 1970s/1980s horror, especially of the Italianate kind? Is this the general landscape that most causes your heart to bleed?
Sizemore: Yeah, you hit a few nails on the head. Keep in mind that the teaser we have is only representative of a fourth of our total shooting (which is mostly the zombie sequences). We’ve just begun shooting the demons, and hope to have more of them in our next teaser, and we haven’t even started filming our werewolf-inspired manbeast. Demons is a classic inspiration, especially when referring to their style of practical fx. I’ve always preferred the Fulci “flower pot” zombies over any others — although Day of the Dead does have a pretty excellent selection. Believe it or not, I kept the image of Grandpa from Texas Chainsaw Massacre in my head to give me inspiration while making the silicone masks for my zombies. And to confirm your time period inquiry: yes, the 1970s and ’80s are where it’s at for my kinda horror.
UB: I was particularly reminded of Day of the Dead by that scene of frenzied zombie gut-mangling in the trailer! I take it The Demon’s Rook will feature practical and make-up FX rather than CGI (the results of which are always less visceral in this sort of context). I’m sure there will be many horror fans that will applaud that approach. What is your take on the use of CGI and digital effects in horror films?
Sizemore: Visceral… yes, visceral is such a fantastic word, Rob. And you can bet your bottom dollar that we’re going practical with this. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, unless you have the WETA Team doing your CGI, why bother. And when you’ve got the budget of roughly $15,000 to work with, you’d be a fool not to go practical (unless you want your film to be filled with dog-ass cgi). Although, I will say our practical special fx have used up the majority of what little budget we have. Creating the silicone prosthetics we use on the featured zombies, lead demons, and the manbeast has been especially expensive, since I’ve decided to follow the Neill Gorton method of mold making. It’s a very rewarding process, but an expensive one for us.
UB: Neill Gorton? The Doctor Who guy, right? What are the characteristics of his “method” that attracted you to it?
Sizemore: Among the special fx community, Neill Gorton is regarded as one of the most meticulously detailed kings of prosthetic work. Specifically, Neill Gorton works in fiberglass molding to create life-like silicone appliances. From concept to sculpting to molding to casting to painting and finally applying, Neill does it all himself. And in being a wonderful teacher, he has no hang ups about passing on his wizardry to other artists. His method rings well with me in that I’m working from concept to application myself, with only a couple of assistants occasionally to help me through the time-sensitive moments. Just to give you an idea of the work involved, it takes me about three solid weeks of work and roughly $1,000 in materials to create a demon. But it’s well worth it. The detail from the original sculpt is captured spot-on through the intensive mold-making process, and the finished appliance moves with the actor’s facial muscles perfectly. I’m actually currently in the works of putting together a detailed “Making-Of” for our lead demon, Dimwos. I’ll hopefully have it up by November.
UB: Ha! I love your mad-scientist statement “it takes me about three solid weeks of work and roughly $1,000 in materials to create a demon”. Only takes a romantic evening, good wine and some over-excited hormones to create a human… Um, sorry. I have to say that your results so far look fantastic. The quality of the make-up fx far outshines a lot of the zombies and demons we tried to be convinced by during the ‘80s (not those mentioned above, obviously). Generally the production quality of what we’ve seen of your film so far (including cinematography) seems stellar for such a low budget. How on earth have you managed it? In fact, how did the project itself come about?
Sizemore: It’s still hard for me to believe how wonderfully all of the elements of this project fell into place from the beginning. I wrote the screenplay in the Fall of 2010. Once I put it out there for my friends and peers to read, people just started appearing to me out of the woodwork, showing interest in wanting to collaborate with me to make it come to life. Tim Reis (my cinematographer, co-producer and assistant director) is largely responsible for making this thing happen. He bought the camera and crane we’re using out of pocket, not to mention all of the manpower he has brought along with him. Josh Gould (lighting director) has also played a huge part since the beginning. He bought all of the professional film lights we’re using out of his own pocket as well. And I could go on about the many others that have come forth and brought a great deal to the table. Basically, in answering your question on how I’ve managed it: complete volunteer basis, very little sleep, and a good number of talented connections.
UB: Okay, we’d best get to the obvious question: what’s The Demon’s Rook about, story-wise and thematically?
Sizemore: Well here’s a quick run-down of the story… A young boy named Roscoe finds a portal to another world where he is taught magic by an elder demon known as Dimwos. Dimwos raises the boy into manhood, revealing to him many secrets. Though, there is one dark secret that Dimwos keeps from Roscoe. When Roscoe discovers what his master has been keeping from him all these years, he revolts against him, inadvertently unleashing three malevolent demons. Through desperation, Roscoe is forced to escape the demons’ wrath by way of the portal leading back to our world. Unbeknownst to Roscoe, he leads the demons to discover the portal for themselves. Once the demons pass through, a nightmarish foray of summoned monsters are unleashed. One demon possesses the minds and will of all whom she crosses, another transforms a man into a murderous beast, and the other summons an army of the dead to do his bidding. And there you have it in a rather large nutshell.
UB: It certainly sounds as though it has epic-scale potential. What about the title of the film? The word “Rook” has several meanings, any or all of which may be relevant. There’s the bird from the Corvidae family — a type of crow. Crows are often seen as having a significant role in escorting the dead into the afterlife — as in The Crow comic/film. They are also carrion scavengers. Then there’s the rook or “castle” from chess, with its unique movement and role in the game. It’s also a card game. “Rook” is used in ear-piercing, too, and to “rook” someone is to swindle them. So which are relevant to your film and how do they relate to the story you’ve outlined?
Sizemore: Good question. It refers to the chess piece. Dimwos and the other demons in this film are very powerful characters. I would equate them to queens in chess, in that they have a huge range of abilities and are able to command others to do their bidding for them. I see Roscoe’s character as a rook. The rook holds more power than most of the other chess pieces. But he is still under the queen, unless he is accompanied by another rook. Two rooks are worth more than a queen. This plays in with Eva’s character, the female lead that accompanies Roscoe on his aim to destroy the demons. Plus, I also just love the way it sounds.
UB: Does all this represent a mythology that’s been part of your work previous to this or was it one you developed exclusively for the film? Do you have plans for this to be something ongoing?
Sizemore: This particular mythology was written exclusively for the film — although I have been working with my Black Rider brothers over the years in creating our own personal mythology of the universe, how it all began, how it will all end, so on and so forth. But the story for The Demon’s Rook I’d like to see end with this film. I definitely have no plans for any sequels.
UB: Black Riders? I know your Loup’Rah pseudonym relates to that group. Could you explain to us what it is and what role it plays in your creative efforts?
Sizemore: I’m tickled that you’ve even heard of our little group. Looks like you’ve done your research! I co-founded a secret art society known as the Black Riders wherein all of the members have an ascribed moniker that we go by, specifically when creating art. Loup’Rah Garomore was given to me by my elder brother Lycanthropus Galleytrot. My friends still call me “James”, of course, but like I said, I do go by my Loup’Rah moniker whenever art is involved (or whenever I travel to other dimensions to fight evil and spread the good word of Gaorok). I can only tell you so much about the society itself, being that it’s secret. But we do obviously celebrate the creation of righteous artwork through many mediums. We also believe strongly that our animal brethren do not deserve to be killed by man for any reason. We can live happily and healthily without killing and devouring them, so why should we? As you might have guessed, we’re all vegan, and therefore it’s a requirement upon entering the group that you vow to remain one ’til death. Our sacred emblem is tattooed on every member as a reminder of this. We also do a great deal of cryptozoological research within the society, and all of us have a huge soft spot for Sasquatch in particular.
UB: So what’s your view of horror as a cinema genre, Loup’Rah? What should it aim for? Apart from those already mentioned, what are some horror films that are, in your view, the most successful in the field?
Sizemore: The horror genre is so unlimited for me. Everything from the tongue-in-cheek Return of the Living Dead to the respected and classy Rosemary’s Baby, I love it all. There’s no way I could ever concisely tell Horror what to aim for. Our moods are so variable, that there’s no predicting what we will be in the mood for tomorrow night. Will we need a nonsensical arthouse movie full of nudity and ridiculous dialogue to get us off, or should we remind ourselves of the horrors that truly exist by watching a sadistic family of serial killers cut through us. No way of knowing, but I can tell you some of my personal favorites: American Werewolf in London — Nosferatu the Vampyre — Cemetery Man — Scanners — The Thing. Those are just a few examples of what I consider solid gold.
UB: Ah, all great choices — and at least one of my personal top 10 there. What’s your background in film production in particular?
Sizemore: Well, this is actually my first feature-length film. Over the past twelve years or so I’ve directed and produced a good number of short films and music videos, most of which I used as an excuse to have a good time with friends. This is definitely the most “serious” production I’ve ever sunk my teeth into, and I’m learning new things every day.
UB: What did you/do you hope to achieve with The Demon’s Rook, both in terms of the film itself and your own career in making more of them?
Sizemore: Most of all, I just want to make an original movie that really grabs the audience. So often in low-budget horror movies, I see moments of badassery scattered about here and there, but mostly it’s just filler material that you can either talk over or completely ignore all together. My goal with this film is to take all of those golden moments and set them back to back, so that you have a feature-length, non-stop bonanza of righteous imagery that will ultimately suck the eyeballs right out of your head.
As for what I’m going for with a future career, I hope this film can act as a golden ticket for me and my crew regarding future film endeavors. We can take this thing around and say “Look what we were able to accomplish with this small amount of money. Now give us a proper sum and we’ll give you gold!”
UB: When can we expect to see the film in its final bloody form?
Sizemore: That’s a tricky question to answer. Hopefully within the next two years. And here’s where I confess that we need more funding: we’ve been maintaining a strong attention to detail throughout the production thus far. But an attention to detail has a price to pay, especially when it comes to special fx production. As I said earlier, our total budget so far has been roughly $15,000. We were hoping to pull it off with that, but we’ve only got about a grand left. With this grand, I will finish the lead demon I’ve started and showcase him. I’m hoping to get the following reaction from various wealthy supporters of the arts: “Wow, look at that life-like demon! Isn’t that just swell. I think I’ll become an executive producer for this project and help them to create four more demons of equal or greater quality!” Having said that, if there’s anyone out there who’s interested in jumping on board this project as an Executive Producer (ie. donating $1,000 or more to the film) they can check us out at www.DemonsRook.com or just contact me at email@example.com. And for those who can’t part with that much, but would still like to show their support, we will graciously accept any donation.
UB: The project sounds awesome, James — and I’m sure the Backbrain’s readers will be keen to catch this one. Hopefully those out there with spare finances for investment and an aspiration to get into the industry at a senior production level — or anyone who just wants to see the film made — will seriously consider contributing to the cause. What you’ve achieved so far is jam-packed with horror goodness (and badness!) and the potential is obvious. Finally, thanks for talking to us — and is there anything you like to add about the film and what audiences can anticipate?
Sizemore: What can audiences anticipate? An original story that will keep your toes twitching with super righteous prosthetic work, special effects, gore, monsters and mayhem. And we’ll even have a little full-frontal to rear nudity for ya. It’s going to be an artistically developed, over-the-top low-budget sensation! I guarantee it, or my name ain’t born out of a werewolf’s bawdy shindig in the bayou.
We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for this one — metaphorically, of course!
- Source: Thanks to James Sizemore for giving his time so freely. Also to Avery Guerra for the initial contact. Written by Robert Hood.
- Check out the official Demon’s Rook website for more information and behind-the-scenes pics.