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AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug examines EXCISION with Traci Lords! Plus a review of the film!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time I had the absolute pleasure of talking with Traci Lords. The actress has been in quite a few genre films, but the film she is currently in is EXCISION, an extremely devious dark comedy that blew me away. I review the film later on after the interview, but first, here’s what Ms. Lords had to say…

TRACI LORDS (TL): Hi, Mark, how are you?

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Good. How are you doing, Traci?

TL: Excellent, thank you.

BUG: Great, well it’s an honor to talk with you. I’ve seen so many of your films; it’s really cool to be able to talk with you today. How did you become involved in the filming of EXCISION?

TL: My agent sent me the script for EXCISION and I saw the short film that Richard Bates Jr. did straight out of film school and I thought it was interesting. I read the script and I thought “Wow, I haven’t really played that type of character before” and we had several meetings and I screen tested for the role and ended up being cast and began my journey of discovery and trying to convey who this really tightly wound person was.

BUG: As you said, this is not a role that I would think of as you as the first person to be playing. Are you a mother yourself?

TL: I’ve played moms before in film, but never to teenagers. In real life I have a five year old son, but to play a mom of teenagers, I hadn’t done this before and I’ve never really played a character that was as uptight as this person and she’s just very wound up and very much wants her life to be a certain way and I think she probably married the right guy and she had the house with the white picket fence and she was going to have two kids and she ended up having her dreams crumble, because her older daughter is a fowl mouthed unattractive monster and her younger daughter is the perfect child she had always wanted and she’s the one that’s dying, so it’s like nothing has really quite worked out the way that Phyllis has wanted it to. So she tries desperately to fix it and to cure Pauline, to make Pauline behave, and make Pauline dress properly and just put the Band-Aids all over her life and it seems the more that she tries to do that, the more it all just unravels and that’s her in EXCISION.

BUG: Very cool. You said this is a new experience for you, did you talk to other people that have teenage daughter and things like that to get inspiration? What did you use to get into that role?

TL: No, I really just thought about what it would be like to be a parent and have a child… you love your children, but you don’t always like them and “what would that be like?” The closest thing that I’ve personally encountered was that I had two Siamese cats and the one that I was crazy about died and the other one was still alive. I mean that’s a small piece of it, but the guilt of just liking one better than the other. I myself have one child. I have an amazing son, but what would it be like if you were the parent that you did favor one child over the other and all of the nuance that must come with that, not wanting to feel that way and wishing that it were different, yet still having that experience. There’s got to be a lot of guilt with that as well and denial and everything else.

BUG: That’s really interesting. I have a pair of cats myself and I tend to favor one over the other as well.

TL: It makes you feel bad, right? (Laughs)

BUG: A little bit sometimes, yeah that’s true. So let’s talk a little bit about the film. It’s a very unique film. It kind of goes into the realm of teenage female horror. It really is ripe for a lot of interesting stuff as far as horror is concerned. Movies like CARRIE or GINGER SNAPS and things like that come to mind. Was that aspect of it attractive to you when you read the script?

TL: I think really it was the short film that Richard Bates Jr. did in school with his final if you will out of film school. I thought the relationship with the characters in the film was interesting in the way that he presented them and then to take it a bit further before I was cast in this movie he had a very specific vision for how he wanted to shoot it and I liked the fact that here was this young filmmaker that was trying to tell a story that he felt was important to tell. For me it was the fact that I hadn’t played this type of character before and I try not to repeat myself as an actor. In my career I’ve played roles that are similar to the Pauline role and to the Grace roles, so this is just the next step.

BUG: So what kind of help did you offer to this first time director? Did you have any pointers to give to him since you’ve been in so many films?

TL: I think he really knew the story that he was telling. Certainly we collaborated together just in rehearsals and stuff. It was very important to me that Phyllis wasn’t one note and I think that he was really very smart in the way that he cast the movie, because he cast the movie with actors that have been acting for a long time and that really knew what they were doing. Then it was just a matter of shaping it and saying “Here’s a level of things I want to do.” We worked together and went through the script page by page before I ever stepped on set and as an actor I always come to the set with my work done as far as memorization and the script is memorized before I ever even walk on to the set, just because I think it’s then fun.

Then you just go and play. You’re not trying to worry about words coming out or whatever, you get to go and you get to look into these other eyes and you see what comes up and that’s the exciting part about acting and so Ricky and I collaborated at the very beginning and I knew what he was looking for and I knew what I wanted to do as an actor, not to play her as… It very much could have been a one note performance in that she’s a tough mom, but that’s not who this is. This is somebody that I think is really wound up, really expected her life to turn out a certain way and wanted the house with the white picket fence and the two kids and instead she feels that she got a bad batch, that the perfect daughter that she has is the one that’s dying and the other one is the foul mouthed unattractive brat. It’s just really too much for Phyllis to bare, so as she tries desperately to solve it, to fix it, to somehow put Band-Aids on the whole thing and make it okay. It becomes less and less okay and then you’re just surrounded by performances like that with Roger Bart, which I think he’s delicious as the dad, because he really is a nice contrast to everything else that’s happening with the whole family. You have that little bit of lateness, which I think the movie really needs. Somebody said to me earlier that they appreciated the darker comedy in the film and I think that that’s an astute observation, because if you look at it, there are things about it that I think are really funny, which makes it that much more twisted.

BUG: Definitely, yeah. You said this cast… there are a lot of talented cast members in it, let’s talk about any specifics. I know you’ve worked with some of them in the past, so what was it like working with the actors playing your daughters in the film?

TL: Well I think Ariel Winters is brilliant on MODERN FAMILY and I think that Ricky was really smart, he really did cast against type. I think John Waters is hilarious in the movie. You don’t expect him to be the priest. You don’t expect the lovely AnnaLynne McCord to be this ugly unattractive pimple faced girl in this movie either and I think that she really did herself proud in this role. She’s got some really nice moments in it and she showed that she is certainly much more than just another pretty face in Hollywood. I think the women in this film are amazing and I’m just so happy to see these female leading roles in movies, because there are so few of them.

BUG: Very true. Speaking of John Waters, you have a long history of working with him. Was this just nice as him not being a director in the film and you guys just kind of playing roles? Did you ever have time to just hang out during this film?

TL: John Waters and I are very dear friends. I had dinner with him not even a week ago. The reason that he’s in this movie is because I called him and I asked him to be. I put him and Richard together and he thought the film was twisted, but he liked what Ricky was doing and he said yes. If anything, that was my gift to Ricky. Ricky absolutely loved and adores John Waters and he just mentioned casually that he would love to have him in this movie and I said, “Okay, I’ll call him.” So it was something that was my pleasure to do, because I think that Ricky is a talented young filmmaker. I think he had a really exciting vision and I knew that John would get a giggle out of it. When the movie played at Sundance in January, when he comes on the screen the audience was just delighted. They were absolutely delighted by it and it was fun for everybody. We always have fun hanging out together. I would never ask any of my friends to do something that I thought wasn’t cool or they wouldn’t have a good time doing, I’m just not that person, plus you can never call them again after that. So it ended up working out really well for everybody.

BUG: Great. Any collaboration between you and John coming in the future any time soon?

TL: I don’t really know. John doesn’t really make movies any more, so that’s really unfortunate, but it’s true. I think he would if he could get the kind of budget that he would like for a movie, but he’s not going to make any more tiny little movies. I had this conversation with him not even a week ago. The fact of the matter is he’s already made his couple hundred thousand dollar movies and his four million dollar movie and whatever. He wants to make bigger movies or not at all. He has a very successful speaking career. He’s all over the place speaking at colleges and doing things and he’s out there writing a new book, which is going to be out… I don’t know if it would be out by Christmas or early next year, but the man doesn’t stop. I think he has sixteen speaking engagements in December, so he’s not exactly at a loss for work. I wish Hollywood would take its head out of its ass and actually let some of these really talented filmmakers have some money to make good movies.

BUG: Amen to that.

TL: (Laughs) Excuse my bluntness.

BUG: No, I totally believe in what you’re saying. So what else do you have coming up here after EXCISION?

TL: Well actually my new album M2F2 (available on iTunes here ) was just released last Thursday on iTunes and I’ve been doing some promos for that and I’m working on shooting a new series that starts filming next week called ALL NIGHT LONG with Jenn Malincki, who I did… EARTH with 20 years ago, so that’s very, very cool and I’m continuing to make music. I’m adapting my book, my life story, UNDERNEATH IT ALL into a screenplay and I’m doing more writing and directing and just more moving and shaking.

BUG: Very cool. Well it sounds like you’re keeping busy, definitely.

TL: Absolutely.

BUG: Well thank you so much for taking the time out to talk with me today, I can’t wait to have more people see this film, it’s a great, great film. Do you have a video coming out for your new album?

TL: I would love for you to include it in this interview.

BUG: I’ll do that. (see below)

BUG: Well thank you so much, Traci, and have a great day. Thanks for talking with me.

TL: Thanks very much. Have a good day. Bye!

BUG: EXCISION is out now on DVD/BluRay. Below is my review of the film.

Available this week on DVD/BluRay!


Directed by Richard Bates Jr.
Written by Richard Bates Jr.
Starring AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, Jeremy Sumpter, John Waters, Malcolm McDowell, Marlee Matlin, Ray Wise
Find out more about this film here!

Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Oh my holy shit…after watching EXCISION and heading straight to my computer to type up a review of it, I am absolutely speechless at the all around horror tsunami/hurricane/tornado/act of god that was this film. This film hit me more than any other film that I’ve seen recently on so many levels. At times it’s hilarious. At times it’s morose. At times it’s graphically disgusting. And at times it’s utterly heartbreaking. It’s one of those films that is most definitely too intense for theaters, but once you’ve seen it, you’re going to wonder why you haven’t watched it sooner.

EXCISION centers on a young outcast named Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord from TV’s 90210) who is the center of ire for her disappointed mother (played by Traci Lords), misunderstood at school by her teachers and principal (Malcolm McDowell and Ray Wise), and loathed by her priest (John Waters). In her mother’s eyes, Pauline should be more like her “perfect” sister (Ariel Winter from TV’s MODERN FAMILY) who is suffering from chronic health problems and will never match up. In response, Pauline has given up trying to be the Barbie doll her mother wants. She slouches, has poor hygiene, and personifies that creepy ass kid in school no one wants to sit next too. Though attempts to reach out and make connections are made, Pauline is completely and utterly misunderstood and alone, so she embraces it and lashes out when the occasion arises.

What she also does is retreat into a dream like world filled with perfect and imperfect bodies lining the floor like a runway where she performs surgery and sexual acts while blissfully bathing in bright red blood. These sequences are filmed in a vivid dream-like manner where almost translucent whites are splattered with bright red plasma and juxtapose a sense of absolute beauty with the stuff of medical horror nightmare.

What distinguishes this film from the herd is it’s sense of humor. Pauline is basically Juno, but with bad hair and without the scripted JUNO-speak that made Juno so fucking annoying. She is smart and sassy, but not trying to be indie cool with one liners and pop cultural references. Pauline is an outcast through and through and McCord does an absolutely fantastic job of distinguishing her as one of the most fascinating characters I’ve seen in ages. With some bushy eyebrows, a pair of oversized teeth, and some shaggy hair in her face, she personifies the unloved puppy of the litter who can’t get a break. The way she closed mouthed smiles over her large teeth is altogether pathetic and creepy and the fantastic thing is that behind those bloodshot eyes, she knows and loves that she is having that effect on whoever catches her gaze.

The rest of the cast is pitch perfect. Traci Lords goes against type as an uptight mom who wants and tries so desperately to make her comely daughter be more like herself. You can see the frustration in her eyes and tone through every movement and line she clucks out. Even her attempts to understand Pauline are awkward and terse. Roger Bart (HOSTEL II) plays the flip side of the coin as Pauline’s father, who is quickly sliding into the apathetic role of the father whose nose is constantly buried into the paper. He still has a little fire left in him as he subtly challenges mother’s sniping, but seems to be to the tipping point where he’s given up hope. The rest of the cast is phenomenal as well with inspired cameos by Malcolm McDowell, John Waters, and Ray Wise.

And boy does this film veer off into pitch black territories. With a wicked sense of humor throughout, but not to the point of parody, I should have seen the powerful closing moments coming, but didn’t while watching. The turn of events that happen in the end of the film is going to turn off those wanting a happy ending, but Pauline isn’t that type of girl and this isn’t that type of movie. The leap from troubled teen to off the reservation is logical and plotted well. Still, I was literally knocked back in my chair at the final moments and I don’t think anyone can prepare themselves for what happens and the dark corners this one sends itself to.

Like Lucky McKee’s THE WOMAN and DONNIE DARKO, EXCISION has an odd and offbeat sense of satire about it regarding the disfunctions of the “typical” family. Like CARRIE and GINGER SNAPS, it delves deeply into the horror of females reaching puberty. This is one of those films that can be picked apart and examined on so many levels from its style to its themes to its performances and all of those parts are done so with absolute excellency. You can look for something more horrifyingly awesome out there today, but you’re not going to find anything that even compares to EXCISION.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in late 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.

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