Vampire Clowns, Buckets of Blood and ’80s Cult Movie Mayhem: An Interview with Mitchell Altieri, Director of THE NIGHT WATCHMEN, World Premiere at Buried Alive Film Festival Thursday Nov. 17

Posted on: Nov 16th, 2016 By:

night watchmenTHE NIGHT WATCHMEN (2016) Dir: Mitchell Altieri. Starring James Remar, Matt Servitto, Tiffany Shepis. Opening Night Feature, Buried Alive Film Festival. Thursday Nov. 17. 9 p.m. 7 Stages. $12. Trailer here. ]]

Put together vampire clowns, buckets of blood, four bored security guys and their corporate gal crush and a trippy ’80s-sounding soundtrack set in Baltimore and you have THE NIGHT WATCHMEN, which has its U.S. premiere Thursday night at 7 Stages as the opening feature of the 2016 Buried Alive Film Festival. Which is to say that we enjoyed the hell out of it.

We caught up with director Mitchell Altieri to go behind the coffins and see how something this crazy and retro got made in the 21st century. Oh, and what it was like working with James Remar of THE WARRIORS!

ATLRetro: How did you guys get the idea to mix clowns with vampires?

Mitchell Altieri: Hello Anya, thanks for having me at ATLRetro. When I was hired to direct the film, the script was already written. Ken Arnold and Dan DeLuca came up with the story and Dan and Jamie Nash wrote the script. The script went thru a few different drafts and incarnations and when I came on board there were no clowns in the script, but during pre-production Dan and Jamie mentioned that they had a version with clowns. And I was like, “yes, please.” It just really fit with the fun story we were filming!

Anything else you’d like to add about THE NIGHT WATCHMEN’s genesis?

Go see it! It’s a real fun ride, with lots of action and scares but I’d like to let the movie to speak for itself.

The movie has an ‘80s horror movie vibe down to the soundtrack. How intentional was that, and do you have a particular affinity to ‘80s horror movies, and maybe some favorites?

Yes, it was definitely intentional! I love those ‘80s horror films that you rented on VHS from the local video stores, films like THE NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984), FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) or KILLER CLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988). And that’s what I wanted to do with our film, make it super fun and scary, even silly at points like those ‘80s films.  

Loved the soundtrack. Can you talk a little about it?

Our composer Kevin Kerrigan out of London, ate it up… he had a blast scoring the music! He was so excited to do such a retro score. And the guys who wrote the original songs, Fake Figures, loved it just as much. They are an actual band that wrote and recorded these songs while on tour, so it was a fun break for them. I really wanted the score and soundtrack to make you instantly get that 80s feeling, even though it’s a film set in present day, I want the audience also think that it can easily take place in the 80s.   

Mitchell Altieri with Tiffany Shepis, Diona Reasonover, Cheryl Staurulakus, Rain Pryor & Donald Imm. Photo credit: Herbert Mann.

Mitchell Altieri with Tiffany Shepis, Diona Reasonover, Cheryl Staurulakus, Rain Pryor & Donald Imm. Photo credit: Herbert Mann.

There’s a hell of a lot of blood in this movie. How much did you go through?

Let’s just say we ran out of blood like five or six times. We used a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever run out of that much blood before.

Hopefully this isn’t too spoilery but the main five characters could have just been stereotypical, they had little touches to them that both defied the usual tropes and enhanced the humor. And you scored a great ensemble with a real chemistry who seemed to be having a great time. Anything you’d like to share about that?

Yeah, I agree. I really value strong characters in films. Even if it’s a straightforward film, you can never go wrong with interesting, bold characters. I was very pleased with the cast. Ken, Dan and Kevin Jiggetts all have worked together many times before so it was dynamic when they worked against Kara Luiz who plays the journalist and Max Wilbur, the young rookie. I challenged them and they challenged each other and had a great time with it.

Again without giving too much away, the film is full of fun scenes. What was the most fun to actually film and why?

There were a few scenes I remember just laughing out loud and not being able to stop laughing. It was mainly when the actors just started riffing off each other, adlibbing, etc, The entire crew would be in stitches from laughing. Well, you can really laugh out loud during a take, so you would look around and people’s faces would be buried in their jackets or whatever they had in their hands so they wouldn’t ruin the scene. That was always fun. I personally ruined a scene or two from not being able to stop laughing but it comes with the territory I guess.

(L to R) Kevin Jiggetts, Dan DeLuca, Kara Luiz, Max Gray Wilbur, Ken Arnold. Photo credit: Robert Neal Marshall.

(L to R) Kevin Jiggetts, Dan DeLuca, Kara Luiz, Max Gray Wilbur, Ken Arnold. Photo credit: Robert Neal Marshall.

Did you face any challenges while making the movie?

A film is a challenge from beginning to end. It is exhausting work! But for this particular set, the most challenging thing I faced was I got sick. We shot in Maryland and it was their worst winter in 76 years. I never have been sick on set but I guess the cold got me this time. But as a director on set you don’t really get sick days, so I had to push through. It was brutal. I was very thankful for an amazing crew that helped pick up the slack those few days.

OK, being a big THE WARRIORS  fan, gotta ask James Remar shared any anecdotes on the set?

I’m a huge fan of THE WARRIORS as well, so yes it was very cool to have him on set. I mean he was Ajax! He would tell great stories about different films, and how the sets were, or working with different people. We all got a good kick out that.

What’s next for you?

I’m attached to a couple projects right now that I can’t really talk about, but I also did five feature films in a row, one a year basically, so I’m also enjoying taking a little time off, traveling and just plain relaxing!!

 And finally, your favorite flavor of cannoli? 

Question should be which flavor don’t I like. Thank you for the interview. I appreciate it.

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The Horror! The Horror! Our Top Eight Retro Reasons to Go to DAYS OF THE DEAD 2015

Posted on: Feb 4th, 2015 By:

pinheadWhat are we doing this weekend?! We’re heading down to the fourth annual Days of the Dead at Sheraton Hotel Atlanta, Friday-Sunday Feb. 6-8.

1) HELLRAISER REUNION! The sinister Cenobites may be masters and mistresses of inflicting a puzzling kind of pain, but we’ve met the actors who play them and can attest they are nastily nice. See Pinhead himself Doug Bradley, Valentina Vargas, Barbie Wilde, Nicholas Vince and Simon Banford together on one stage at noon on Saturday and signing all weekend.

2) ANGUS SCRIMM! Yup, it’s PHANTASM‘s one and only Tall Man. Hear him talk at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

3) RIFF RANDELL! Don’t tell Principal Togar but the one and only P.J. SOLES is back. Yeah, she’s been in HALLOWEEN, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS and other screamin’ festures, but to us she will always the rebel with a Ramones of a cause of ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979). Oh, wait what the hell, Togar herself is going to be at Days of the Dead, too–yes, the amazing Mary Woronov. We are not worthy! Please send us to Detention now.

Rock_'n'_Roll_High_SchoolPoster4) THE DEVIL’S REJECTS!  Sid Haig, one of those rare B-movie icons and character actors whose career spans the decades from Jack Hill’s blaxploitation films of the 1970s to the chaotic, creepy Captain Spaulding. Quite frankly you and Bill Moseley scared the sh-t out of us in Rob Zombie‘s best neo-exploitation flick THE DEVIL’s REJECTS and since we’re not easily scared, for that we salute you both! Together again with fellow REJECTS William Forsythe, Leslie Easterbrook, Ginjer Lynn, PJ Soles, Mary Woronov, Duane Whitaker, Dave Sheridan and in his first son appearance Michael Alcott all on one stage at 1 p.m. on Saturday and signing all weekend.

5) BUTCH PATRICK 50Th ANNIVERSARY APPEARANCE. Yes, it’s really been 50 years since THE MUNSTERS debuted on American TV. Little Eddy Wolfgang Munster himself is back.

6) DAVID NAUGHTON! KANE HODDER! TONY TODD! COREY FELDMAN! JAMISON NEWLANDER! JOHN DUGAN! JOHN KASSIR! MORE! The guest list just seems to go on and on with Retro-horror goodness including the original AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, our favorite Jason Voorhees, the man who mixes it with love and makes the world taste scary, the Frog Brothers that sucked it up to THE LOST BOYS, a certain “Granpa” with a Texas chainsaw, and the man whose voice creeped us out so many times hosting TV’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT, and more stars of horror now and then.

6) SPOOKTACULAR SHOPPING  Horror cons are the perfect place to stock up on both macabre movie memorabilia, cult classics on DVD and creepy clothing, costumes and accessories. Vendors include Kool Kat Kyle Yaklin, master of the Creature From the Black Lagoon mask and suit.

the_devil__s_rejects_clown_by_emomickeymouse-d33m0007) MACABRE MAKE-UP, CREEPY COSTUMES, CREEPY CARNEY ACTS AND PHANTAMAGORIC PARTIES!! Check the schedule for make-up demonstrations, VIP parties, Monsters Among You Wicked Costume Showdown Saturday night at 10 pm followed by the Monster Ball. On Friday night, learn SFX make-up and costuming from elite level costumers at the 9 p.m. Monsters Among You: Origins panel, followed by a frightening Friday Night Party featuring Circus Envy and the Deadly Sins, the sideshow antics of Captain and Maybelle, karoake with celebrity guests Felissa Rose (SLEEPAWAY CAMP) and prolific scream queen Tiffany Shepis, who also recently starred in ATTACK OF THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER, made by Kool Kats Jayson Palmer and Chris Ethridge.

8) FRIGHTENING FILMS! Lead actor Dave Sheridan hosts an exclusive sneak preview of zombie comedy THE WALKING DECEASED with cast & director Q&A and free giveaways at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Throughout the weekend from 5 p.m. Friday through 4 p.m. Sunday, the JABB 48-hour film festival  ranges from a shorts block on Friday to 1980s Saturday morning cartoon favorites to acclaimed, hard-to-see indie horror features such as Ryan Lieske‘s ABED (Sun. 3 p.m.), awarded 2013 Best Feature at Atlanta’s Buried Alive Film Festival and based on the Elizabeth Massie zombie short story.

Days of the Dead main con hours are Fri. Feb. 7 from 5 to 11 p.m.; Sat. Feb. 8 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sun. Feb. 9 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with parties going late into the night on Friday and Saturday. For more info, visit http://www.daysofthedead.net/atlanta/.

 

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Kool Kats of the Week: Atlanta Filmmakers Jayson Palmer and Chris Ethridge Raise THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER, World Premiere at Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Jan 9th, 2014 By:

THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER, a new locally produced independent horror film, will have its World Premiere at the Plaza Theatre on January 14 at 7  pm and 9:45 pm. Both screenings will be followed by Q&As with filmmakers Jayson Palmer and Chris Ethridge, as well as cast members Nicholas Brendon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), Robert Pralgo (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES) and Amber Chaney (THE HUNGER GAMES). Tiffany Shepis (THE FRANKENSTEIN SYNDROME) and Cat Taber (STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS) are also in the movie.

Georgia’s tax breaks for film production not only have attracted Hollywood shoots and high-profile TV series, but also have created a vibrant environment for local independent filmmakers including horror. Jayson and Chris’s previous collaborations include a video for the band Fader Vixen and the short film  SURVIVOR TYPE, based on the Stephen King short story of the same time. This time, however, they are finally going full feature with a suspenseful yarn about a series of ritualistic murders which rattle the small town of Morningside, NJ.  Without revealing any spoilers, the Sheriff and his deputy embark on a desperate race against time to catch the killer, pitting them against friends, enemies and even each other.

ATLRetro have had our eye on this dynamic duo for a while so we thought it was high time to make them Kool Kats of the Week!

Chris Ethridge/

ATLRetro: What’s the story behind THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER? It’s the first full feature collaboration between you and Chris, right?

Jayson: THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER started out as a short story that I wrote around 1995 for a project my friend Mike was making as a college art project. He took a bunch of my short stories and made these really nice leather-bound books. Only two of those books exist, as far as I know. It was a much different story than it is now.

After Chris and I made our short film adaptation of Stephen King’s SURVIVOR TYPE, we wanted to do a feature. Something good, but that could be done on a limited budget. I told him about MORNINGSIDE, and he said show me a script.

Without giving away any major spoilers, what’s the basic plot and how does it fit into the horror/suspense genre? Any key influences? Movies? Filmmakers?

Jayson: THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER is definitely my nod at my love of slasher films. Although I wouldn’t label it a straight-up slasher, fans of the subgenre will certainly be able to spot the influence. It’s a masked killer disposing of victims in a small town.

Chris: In fairness to Jay, it was probably even more slasher on the page. I pushed it a little bit in the direction of dramatic horror/thriller, because that’s the type of films I like to make.  I think we tried – hopefully with some success! – to walk the line of honoring the genre while also digging into the characters a little more than you might normally see in a slasher flick.

Jayson Palmer.

For an indie, you scored quite a few name actors for this production, such as Nicholas Brendan, Amber Chaney and Robert Pralgo. Can you talk a bit about that?

Chris: It was a little bit of a domino effect.  We approached Rob first, because we knew him from the Atlanta film community.  Rob agreed to come on board the project, and he recommended Amber and Catherine Taber. Through Cat, we met Jeff Hightower, a casting director in LA, who helped us approach Nicholas.  We have another friend who helped us connect with Tiffany Shepis.  We just wanted to find the best cast to fill the roles, and we were extraordinarily fortunate to get the actors we did.

ATLRetro is a huge Buffy fan. What’s your favorite experience working with Nicholas?

Chris: I’m a huge Buffy fan as well.  Nicholas is an effortlessly funny guy, and he is a talented professional.  When the cameras roll, he just immediately turns into his character and delivers an amazing performance, every single take.  It was a pleasure to work with him.

Jayson, you’re from NJ. How did that play into your decision to do a NJ setting? Did you film it all in Atlanta? Or did you do some locations in NJ?

Jayson: Yeah, I’m a Jersey boy through and through. Morningside, the fictional town in the film is totally based on Wharton, the small town I grew up in. Chris is not from Jersey, but he captures the small town look and feel perfectly. There are some scenes that almost make me completely forget it was filmed in Georgia.

We imagine you didn’t have a lot of money to work with, it being an indie feature. Did you use crowd-sourcing or did you go the traditional route with credit cards and investors? What was the biggest challenge on your budget and how did you solve it?

Chris: All of the above.  We had a crowd-sourcing campaign, some traditional investors, and we filled in the gaps at the end with credit cards.  The biggest challenge is finding talented crew who are willing to put in the hours on a small or even deferred salary.  We were so lucky to be able to find some amazing people who just wanted to work on a good project.  We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who spent even just a day on our set to make the movie happen.

A scene from THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER.

What’s happening at the premiere and is there any difference between what you have planning at both screenings? Or will it just be different questions?

Jayson: There is no difference between the 7:00 pm and 9:45 pm screenings. Of course, the Q&A will be different, but that’s only due to different audience, different questions.

What are a few horror movies that really grabbed you as a kid and why?

Jayson: As a child, I hated horror movies – mainly because I had a sadistic older brother and cousin who enjoyed scaring the crap out of me when ever they could. One day I put in THE SHINING (1980) and said, “I’m getting over this fear.” I’m not sure if that was the best film to use as my start on the road to recovery, but it certainly sparked my imagination and got the gears turning. Horror films still scare me, but I feel if I can’t beat them, I might as well make them share in my nightmares.

Chris: I distinctly remember sneaking over to a friend’s house to watch A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987) when I was maybe 11. I’m sure it was the first real horror film I ever saw.  I can viscerally recall, even now, how that movie made me feel, the scares and the thrills.  THE LOST BOYS (1987) was another one of those great ’80s horror films I grew up on.

Jayson, you started making movies as a kid with your action figures, German Shepherd and friends. Did you shoot video or super 8? What’s your favorite or funniest memory of that time?

Jayson: My dad had this old video camera from the 1980s that we used. This thing was a beast. You had the camera itself, which weighed about 10 pounds. Then you had to carry around an entire VCR in a shoulder satchel to record onto and this 20-pound battery to power it all.

My friend Andrew and I would spend our summers making movies. ROBOCOP (1987) was one of our favorite movies, and we decided to make ROBOCOP 2. It was just him and I. I was RoboCop, complete with Skateboard Helmet, elbow and knee pads, and I had this big puffy winter jacket for the body armor. God, it was so silly, but so much fun. I still have those tapes somewhere, and they will probably only see the light of day again after I’m dead.

Chris Ethridge and the intrepid police officers of Morningside, NJ.

How did you start making movies, Chris?

Chris: My first experience with filmmaking was a film studies class in college, where I made a really terrible and pretentious short film about a pair of hit men on Super 8.  I did not love the process at the time.  After college in Virginia, I moved to Athens, GA, and had an large amount of time on my hands, so I began watching indie films. At some point, I had the same moment of clarity that everyone else who ever wanted to make film has – “I can do this better.”  This, of course, is a lie, and it took well over a decade of making shorts before I finally got to the point where I felt like I was truly happy with the quality of work I was making.  The work of the last few years is the easily the best, most accomplished material I’ve ever made, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that it has occurred during the period of time I have been working with Jayson.

Jayson, your production company is called Lobster Boy Productions. There has got to be a story behind that name.

Jayson: When I was in high school I sang in a punk band called Hodgepodge. We were getting to release a 7” single and needed a record label. Our drummer had just got back from the shore and was bright red with sunburn, so we started calling him Lobster Boy. Then it clicked, let’s call the label Lobster Boy Records. Since I was in charge of all the promotion and PR stuff, everyone started to call me Lobster Boy. I then began to put on shows for up and coming punk bands in New Jersey under the name Lobster Boy Productions. The nickname stuck and I have been using it since.

These days the company is Blue Dusk, that’s the one Chris and I started. But I will always be the Lobster Boy.

Both you and Chris are big Stephen King reader/fans, so I know SURVIVOR TYPE was like a dream come true for you. What’s up with that film now?

Jayson: Making SURVIVOR TYPE was my biggest geek moment! That was the story that really turned me onto King! So to have the opportunity to turn it into a film was, as you say, a dream come true.

The film was made under Mr. King’s Dollar Baby program, which allows up-and-coming filmmakers to use the nonexclusive  rights to some of his stories. Since they are nonexclusive, you can only show the film at festivals and as part of your portfolio. We did the festival run a few years ago, so unless Mr. King decides to allow the world to see it, most likely it will stay in the same foot locker my old ROBOCOP movies are hidden.

Are you taking THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER out on a festival run? When will it be available on DVD?

Chris: Absolutely, we are in the process of festival submissions right now.  We’ve had some definite interest in screening at some conventions, and we are even looking at potentially doing a small theatrical tour.  We are also in the midst of finalizing a distribution deal, and we are hoping for it to be out on DVD and VOD platforms sometime in the summer, but we don’t have a release date set at this time.

Finally, what’s next for you both?

Jayson: All good things to those who wait.

Tickets to both screenings of THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER are available at the door and in advance at http://themorningsidemonster.brownpapertickets.com/

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