Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time around I’m talking with James Sizemore, a man of many hats who directed, wrote, edited, did the effects for and starred in his new film THE DEMON’S ROOK which is being released through Tribeca Films On Demand and on iTunes this month. Below is the conversation Mr. Sizemore and I had about how he put together THE DEMON’S ROOK and the trials and tribulations of low budget filmmaking.
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Can you explain the concept of THE DEMON'S ROOK for the readers?
JAMES SIZEMORE (JS): That's a tough one Mark. I had so many ideas running through my head when starting up. I wasn't sure if I'd ever get the chance to make another movie after this, so I just tried to fit in as much shit as possible. But I'd say the central concept was to create something that weirdos like myself could appreciate and enjoy. Pretty simple really. I love monsters. I love magic. And most of all, I love it when shit gets weird. I know there's a lot of people out there that dig those same things, and I just want to connect with those people through this medium.
BUG: Were classic fables an influence to this story? Which particular ones?
JS: Not that I know of. I'm sure there are some unconscious influences going on there. Mostly it comes from a personal mythology I've been creating for a long time. I co-founded an art collective years ago called The Black Riders, and ever since we've been collaborating on ideas for our own mythos, creation stories, gods, goddesses, demons and beasts. We have fun with it.
BUG: You wore multiple hats in making this film doing the writing, directing, starring role, and even the fantastic makeup effects for the film. Why so many roles? Are you a glutton for punishment, a control freak, or was it due to budgetary reasons?
JS: Budgetary reasons. It was hard for me to find the right people for the jobs sometimes, being that it was pretty much a no-budget movie. There was no money to pay any of us on the crew. It mostly went to my makeup effects materials. So I just had to step in and do the job myself often times. And it wasn't just me. Everyone had to wear a few hats. You'll notice a lot of the same names rolling through those credits. My fellow producer, Tim Reis, wore a ton of them as well. And just about every single person on the crew had to act a part in it. I ended up getting stuck with Roscoe, but I'm glad I did. Acting alongside my wife brought about some real genuine moments we might not have gotten if it had been anyone else. Although having said that, I don't think I'll ever act in another one of my movies again. I have more fun behind the camera.
BUG: Is there one of these roles that you enjoy the most?
JS: Directing is where my heart is. I've always had a blast assembling people together and pumping up their spirits in order to make something bigger than ourselves. And with it being such a collaborative process, I really like having a hand in all the departments. When I get stuck in one department for too long, I start to feel stagnant and the fun slips away from me. Although Special Makeup Effects is something I have a ton of fun doing too. Making monsters is about the closest I've ever felt to pure wizardry. I don't think a lot of people know how much sorcery goes into practical effects. It's an extremely intense but rewarding process.
BUG: Effects wise and story wise, what inspiration did you have for THE DEMON'S ROOK? I sense a NIGHTBREED influence in there somewhere.
JS: Yeah, funny thing is that I had never seen NIGHTBREEED until halfway through making THE DEMON’S ROOK. I felt a real connection to it after watching though. Barker is definitely a kindred spirit. I'd say most of the inspiration for me came from a large handful of colorful 80s horror films: INFERNO, EVIL DEAD 2, FROM BEYOND, DEMONS, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, lots more. Also a big love for surreal storytelling seen in films by Bunuel, Lynch, Jodorowsky, and Cronenberg.
BUG: This was an extremely ambitious project on such a budget. Was there ever a moment where you thought this was too big for a first feature?
JS: Oh yeah, but once we realized that, it was way too late. Not having a proper budget was intensely stressful, but it did force us to get creative. I've never done so much problem solving in my life. And I never went to film school, so I felt like this was just something I had to do in order to earn my stripes. If you're gonna go for it, might as well go all the way. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.
BUG: Were there moments or scenes cut due to these limitations?
JS: We filmed everything in the script. It took us a little over two years, but we did it. We definitely ended up having to cut some of those scenes, but that's mostly due to my script being way too long. Our first cut ran two hours, which is pretty ridiculous for a horror movie like this. We're going to include the deleted scenes on the DVD and BluRay though.
BUG: There are always the wildest stories that occur on indie sets. Care to share any with the readers?
JS: About half way through production on an off-day, like the day before Christmas I think, a tornado actually came through our property and ripped the roof off of the house I grew up in. I was upstairs when it happened. It came out of nowhere, and we were the only house in the county where it touched down and hit. Totally insane. I thought I was going to die. What the tornado didn't destroy, the onslaught of hail that followed obliterated our roofless house. We had to put off shooting for a little while and demolish everything, but I got this idea half-way through demolition to use it as a set for our manbeast transformation scene. So in the movie when Josh is saying "Still can't believe we were the only house in the goddamn county to get hit. Just came down and buzzed me like god ringing a fucking doorbell" that's real shit right there. True story.
BUG: This also feels like it could be the tip of the iceberg for a much larger story. Are we going to see elements of this film in future films?
JS: In a way, yes. Like I said earlier, I've been working on a larger mythology, and there are pieces from that mythology sprinkled in here. The language, the demon's origins, the gods and goddesses that rule them, the expansive underworld they reside in... so much I want to tackle in the future.
BUG: What are your plans for the future?
JS: I'm currently in the middle of producing and making the monster for my partner Tim Reis' directorial debut, BAD BLOOD, which we're filming in October. I'm also in development with another feature I'll be directing about a witch cult. I wrote and directed a short film as a proof of concept for it called GOAT WITCH. I don't want to say much about it right now, but Katarina Gligorijevic is collaborating with me on the feature script. She's fantastic. I'm loving the direction it's going right now. Hopefully there will be more to say about it in the near future, possibly early next year.
BUG: What other indie films out there in the indie film community do you want to bring people's awareness to?
JS: MUJER LOBO (SHE WOLF) was one of my festival favorites this year. I also really enjoyed THE CURSE OF STYRIA which was absolutely beautiful. Just saw ALMOST HUMAN recently. Damn cool. Really looking forward to seeing what all those folks do next. I only had time to watch one movie while at Fantasia this year, a documentary on slime mold called THE CREEPING GARDEN. Very interesting. Oh and WHY HORROR is going to be a fun documentary that's still in the middle of production. Can't wait for that one to get completed and available. I can't think of everything on the spot, but I know there's more.
BUG: What advice would you give other do-it-yourself filmmakers out there trying to do what you've done with THE DEMON'S ROOK?
JS: If you're not an insane workaholic, I'd advise you to become one. No sleep, no money, no social life, relationship trouble, graying of hairs, loss of hairs, these are just a few things you can look forward to when directing a movie. Having said that, if you're seriously passionate, I say go for it. It's an adventure that trumps all other adventures.
BUG: Last chance, why should folks give THE DEMON'S ROOK a shot when it arrives On Demand September 30th?
JS: I got two words for all the 80s horror fans out there that sincerely miss the days of colorful practical monsters... It delivers.
New this week on iTunes and On Demand from Tribeca Films!
THE DEMON’S ROOK (2013)Directed by James Sizemore
Written by James Sizemore and Akom Tidwell
Starring James Sizemore, Ashleigh Jo Sizemore, Josh Gould, Melanie Richardson, John Chatham, Sadé Smith, Dustin Dorough
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
THE DEMON’S ROOK is a throwback SFX jamboree gorefest made as if it were back in the day and age before anything like CG was even invented. The skill and artistry put into the effects and costumes in this film are absolutely astounding--so good that it makes me look past some of the film’s more rough edges.
The story follows a young boy named Roscoe, who has a special imaginary friend and a real life friend in Eva, a young lass from the farm next to his. The two kids play all sorts of games in the summer, but Roscoe’s nights are filled with nightmares and temptations in the form of his invisible friend. One night, Roscoe is called out into the forest and falls into a hole and emerges years later fully grown. Behind him emerge three demon creatures who wreak havoc on anyone who crosses their path. When Roscoe (now played by writer/director James Sizemore) returns looking like the lead singer for a jam band with a thick beard and hair down to his back, he seeks out the now fully grown Eva (Ashleigh Jo Sizemore) and sets up to do battle with the three demons let loose on the world with powers he learned during his time spent in the demons’ infernal realm.
Combining elements of fantasy and horror, THE DEMON’S ROOK feels like a world that Sizemore has put a lot of time and effort into developing. The demons have their own language, which sounds pretty real, and though most of the background actors are amateur, the Sizemores do a pretty great job speaking in this demonic dialect. Sizemore has created a whole mythology here that is quite impressive in its scope.
The story itself is pretty simplistic once Roscoe emerges from the hole in the woods, as the trio of demons encounter a group of people and make them tear each other to shreds then move on to the next group of people, who in turn tear themselves to shreds too. While the same actions seem to be happening over and over in the film, what makes these scenes stand out from one another is the stellar effects that occur during these sequences.
The effects are some of the best I’ve seen in a low budget film in a long time. Completely practical, some of the full body make-up rivals those seen in films like NIGHTBREED, and I’m sure this film sees that one as an inspiration. The demons and their zombie minions are each fantastically rendered, and if you’re a fan of SyFy’s FACE OFF and are frustrated that some of the coolest designs never show up in horror films anymore because lazy filmmakers would rather have them be rendered by a computer, THE DEMON’S ROOK is a fresh breath of latex. On top of the costume designs, there are some amazing kills here as zombies bite and tear through flesh in ways you haven’t experienced since the golden days of Savini and Romero. Sizemore is a gorehound, and his camera soaks up every bloody drop spilled and splattered throughout this film--and there’s a lot to absorb.
As far as faults for the film, I’ve already mentioned the rather light story. There are elements of fantasy quests and even a little STAR WARS use of a Force-like power going on, which are fun nods to those films, though rather breezy. The most noticeable flaw in the film is the use of lighting, as normal daylight and indoor lighting seem to be used which doesn’t do any favors for the outlandish costumes. Occasionally neon and flood lights are used with some smoke billowing around, and that’s all well and good. But if this were more dramatically and maybe theatrically lit, the creatures would be all the more terrifying. As is, the creatures seem somewhat out of place in their naturally lit surroundings.
Despite all of that, if you’re a fan of real effects made by real people, THE DEMON’S ROOK is something you have to experience. James Sizemore brings big ideas with him, and the effects represent every one of those expectations perfectly. With a beefier script and a few more things for the leads as well as the monsters to do rather than run into one person after the next and then mutilate them, THE DEMON’S ROOK would have been more of a solid film. Still, the creativity injected into this world Sizemore came up with and the creatures mauling everything in their path make this a monster mash to marvel at!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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