S.O.V. (shot-on-video) horror took off in the 1980s. With films like “Woodchipper Massacre”, “Video Violence”, “Blood Frenzy” and “555″ cluttering video shelves it was obvious just about anyone could pick up a vhs camcorder and make a quick buck. But hidden within the tireless bad “quickies” and amateur hack jobs lied a few golden gems. There are a select few that to this day, are remembered by fans as either fun, inspirational or the movie they watched getting drunk with their friends last weekend. The production value of VHS isn’t very good. Most films come off naturally “bad” because of the quality in the image and the low-fi sound. It takes a certain finesse to make something not only watchable on that format, but entertaining and memorable as well. Todd Jason (Falcon) Cook is probably the most prolific Director in the S.O.V./D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) realm. He has a plethora of releases that rode the 80s S.O.V. boom, spanning throughout the early 90s now considered cult classics by fans. Just recently, his notorious “Evil Night” got the remake treatment in the same D.I.Y. fashion as the original, even utilizing the original mask.
Retro Slashers had the pleasure of sitting down for a little chat with Mr. Cook. He sheds a lot of great insight into early D.I.Y., as well as making low budget slasher films in a world over saturated with the mainstream franchise killers.
RS: Hey Todd! A very special thank you for taking the time to sit down with RetroSlashers! Given your filmography and all your horror memorabilia present in your movies it’s obvious you grew up a big Slasher movie fan. What are some of your favorite films and why?
Todd: My top favorite horror films of all time includes: Friday the 13th 1-5, Halloween 1-8, especially Season of the Witch, Elm St. 2, Madman, The Burning, Terror Train, Evil Dead, Frightmare, My Bloody Valentine, Graduation Day and pretty much every slasher film from the 80′s! That was an amazing era to be in as a fan turned child film-maker! Friday the 13th is my favorite of ALL time because it was the first horror film that shocked me with very realistic gore and the whole atmosphere of the film captivated me. I was instantly obsessed and to this day nothing has changed. Even right after Part 1, I knew there would be 13 Friday the 13ths and started telling kids in grade school that right away as I was constantly doing Friday the 13th drawings in class. The mere mention of Friday the 13th paves my real life backstory because that one film changed my life!
I became a director at 8 years old just weeks after seeing part 1 on cable. I was literally shooting and directing silent Super 8 Friday the 13th fan films a few weeks after seeing Part 1 in 1980! I HAD to make Friday the 13th films, period! While the other kids in school played with G.I. Joes and He-Man figures, I was making as many Friday the 13th Super 8 films as I could from 8 years onward and I immediately had a sense of what parts to shoot so the result were edited reels with kills and a final chase scene.
So Friday the 13th is #1 for me because I knew immediately after seeing part 1, that I wanted to act, direct and make horror films forever! I was so Friday the 13th obsessed that I shot over half a dozen Super 8 Friday fan films and over 50 short films, kill scenes and random Friday scenes over the early years. Then, I put upon myself for the ultimate challenge…my FIRST feature length film! In 1989, I wrote Friday the 13th Part 13. Then I went right into making it happen! I directed, acted in, did special fx, scored, edited and recruited all of my friends to be victims and my best friend at that time played the survivor. It took a year and a half and lots of re-shoots of the climactic finale (which involved fire, 4 hockey masked killers and all out practical fx). It was sometimes a challenge but when it was done and shown around it was an amazing feeling…especially having my first feature done at 18 years old! I’d love to remake this film some day! Then I turned around and did Friday the 13th Part IX because Paramount had stopped at Part 8, so I was going to do Parts 9-12 and complete the series hehe!!! In 1991, I shot Part IX and it came out really good! I was always experimenting with things that were immediately accessible and available at all times, and we were able to crank out my second Friday the 13th fan feature without a hitch. This film took a year to shoot. After that, I knew it was time to write, produce and direct an original film. I had over 10 years of learning the various aspects of film-making and had acted in other films and been on sets of all sizes, so I was ready for my first original film.
RS: Your first (official) film was the 1992 independent shot-on-video “nerd gets revenge” Slasher “Evil Night”. What inspired you to make that film, and what were some of the challenges you faced during your first production?
Todd: The inspiration for Evil Night was pure camp horror films. Specifically Slaughter High, Carrie and Friday the 13th. I was a huge fan of camp and B films like Ghoul School, Boarding House, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Blood Lake, Slaughter High (“From the Makers of Friday the 13th”), etc. I had also seen other SOV films coming out and I was already doing them since 1984, not even knowing that SOV was going to become a recognized style of film-making. It just seemed natural to go ahead and shoot on the format I had been using. I loved the films where the underdogs got revenge. When I shot my film, I wanted it to be a straight ahead slasher with some original twists and concepts melded into the film. The killer having telekinesis is a Carrie element and his kills are like a Friday film but with more humor and spoofing thrown in to make it campy. I wanted the film to be fun, campy and entertaining without trying to be more than it is.
There were a few challenges behind Evil Night, but none that slowed me down. One was the fact that the lead role decided he was not able to complete the film so we had actor Rik Deskin play “Jimmy” for a portion and I also played him for some kill scenes and insert shots that were added later. We GOOFED one night while filming! I remember the lead actress smashing our only breakaway bottle during one shot and I had asked her to stop once she raised it back for the strike so that I could get a close-up of the smash…but her arm was on the down swing as I pressed the pause button. We laughed it off and I ordered another bottle for $25 and we re-shot the clip a month later. Another problem was the film ran too short (under 1 hour) and I was shooting for 80-90 minutes. I had to go back and add more kills in 1994 and 1995 and finally completed the film which Cemetery Cinema re-released on VHS in 1995. This version is basically my “Director’s Cut” which is the full vision I had anticipated, but still watered down from the original script.
To keep the film quick, we decided not to shoot any of the classroom scenes that had been written. There were scenes with Jimmy being tortured in the bathroom and a little more elaboration on the characters with some pranks. So Evil Night was released in 1992, 1994 and 1995, each with different edits, score, etc.
RS: With “SOV” horror films becoming more popular, did you find it fairly easy to land distribution?
Todd: Distribution was something I transitioned into easily because I was already distributing lots of VHS horror (including SOV horror and indie horror) in the early catalogs…so my films simply went into the same catalogs. I officially named the distribution company Cemetery Cinema in 1992 and just kept adding my films and many other SOV directors’ films into the catalog. We had Chris Seaver’s LBP films, Kevin Lindenmuth, The Polonia Brothers, Todd Sheets and many other SOV directors. I included my films in there with those titles which we were getting from an outside supplier (Tempe Video), so we had a good amount of films.
Cemetery Cinema distributed all of the films world-wide from 1992-1998 and the branding grew for quite a while and maintained a solid fan base. Then DVD came out and became popular so it opened up the need for a new company name and a new look for the original products. In 2005, Cemetery Cinema changed to Screamtime Films to support the DVD releases of a handful of the original films I directed . In 2012, we brought VHS back have enjoyed over 20 years of distribution and support from the fans!
RS: Shortly after, you produced and directed the killer doll flick “Demon Dolls”. It’s my understanding 4 or 5 versions of this film exist. Is that true, and if so can you explain the differences?
Todd: Death Metal Zombies, Demon Dolls and Evil Night all have 4 separate releases and each version contains differences. Basically, I did multiple edits right after the films were done and some versions contain scenes that others don’t have as well as totally alternate scores, etc. On the Screamtime Films website, all of the differences are explained along with run time for each version. Some versions are the original “video” look while most other versions have a film-like appearance. Death Metal Zombies has a version with an alternate ending in one and even a new title (Deadrock Zombies) for a very alternate edit.
RS: The effects are obviously low budget, and the doll itself is being moved by (your?) hands off-screen in most of the shots. Did you ever find this DIY approach to the f/x challenging? If you had a bigger budget would you have executed them differently?
Todd: As far as Demon Dolls, that project was a small film for the most part and mostly needed camera tricks to create visual fx rather than practical fx. Most of the film is experimental and based on a dream-like world. I shot the film and can’t remember who operated the doll in which scenes, but it was hand operated through the entire film for sure. I know Rik Deskin (Evil Night) worked “Punch” for a few shots. No CGI here! It was tough at times…for me, the biggest challenge was hand operating the ventriloquist doll in “The Dummy” (aka “Bloody Anniversary”. If I had more $, I am certain I would have had a greater opportunity and the film would have had a slicker appearance.
RS: You acted in that film as the lead character. You were also in “The Dummy” a couple years later. Do you prefer acting or directing more?
Todd: I actually started making films as a child because I really wanted to be an actor more than anything. I just wound up directing and making films so that I could be an actor. I wanted to act, so I made films. When it comes to my own films, I prefer directing because I have a very specific style and vision I have to deliver to the words I have written. I am very particular about the atmosphere and look of my films.
I prefer acting when I am a cast member of another director’s film. This way, I can focus strictly on my acting and nothing else. I love keeping my acting muscles sharp and trying different roles. In 2011, I played “Tommy” and was also the double for Michael Biehn (Terminator, Aliens) in the ghost horror film “Jacob” (Directed by Larry Carrell). I recently completed a role in an upcoming slasher called “The Good Friend” (Directed by Marcus Sabom).
RS: Lisa Cook (your first wife) starred as the supporting lead in most of your early productions. How did you meet her and how did she become involved in your work?
Todd: Lisa was one of 100′s of actors seen at an all day audition for Evil Night. We had placed ads in the paper and got an overwhelming response so we took a couple of days to hold auditions in order to select our finals. Lisa was selected for the role of “Shannon” in “Evil Night”. We hit it off and worked well together and eventually tied the knot and continued to make films together. Lisa was a huge Linnea Quigley fan (as was I) and she loved the campy style B horror films as well, so it was natural to work toward the goal of solidifying my brand of camp horror with a familiar face in each film. She had the ambition and energy to do many films with me so I wrote and directed as much as I could between 1992-1998. We did several films a year and appeared at conventions over the years.
RS: According to information on your Facebook page it would appear you made several other features that aren’t listed on imdb, such as the “Lisa Cook Horror Workout” tape. Could you shed some light on that?
Todd: Deadly Workout is actually available on www.screamtimefilms.com. It was released in early 2014 in a new pink clamshell edition. As far as other releases, many were only available through Lisa’s fan club as an exclusive and have sense become collectibles. Some titles, I simply retired to focus on marketing the more popular titles. We are going to do some new special editions and other releases down the road of some older stuff (some never before seen)!
RS: You continued to make S.O.V. horror films throughout the 90s and are still doing it today, but you made the switch to shooting on DV and HD. When approximately did that happen, and what was your last official S.O.V. horror film?
The “SOV” era ended with “Night of the Clown” (1998). That was my last horror film and last micro-budget SOV for a while. For the next 8 years, my career as a pro skateboarder took over. Falconskates produced 5 full length DVDs and a team was created in 2007. We toured and did public demos, etc. and then I went back to horror in 2009 when I began writing my film “ZOMBIEFIED.”
RS: Do you find indie filmmaking and distribution easier in today’s day and age with the advancements in technology and reach on Facebook?
Todd: I think that the social media sites play quite a role in distribution because of the personal way that it connects everybody. It allows fans direct contact, which is great for us indie diorectors! I love getting all the fan emails and being able to get to know them! Without social media, many indie companies might not otherwise have enough support to continue in the business. Screamtime Films has enjoyed longevity because we started when SOV was relatively new. For marketing and promotion, we placed advertising in Fangoria and other genre related magazines. Those ads reached a lot of readers and we wound up with a solid and consistent customer base which we were lucky to have.
RS: How can newcomers find your work? Are you currently selling copies yourself?
Todd: My films are available at www.screamtime films.com (Official Site). Our VHS and DVDs are only $10 each (except for Zombiefied which is $15). The titles come in the original clamshells with full color artwork and we have many alternate box art and editions available! There is even a “Screambox” 10 Tape VHS set with color art that spans across the spines of the VHS tapes (18 choices of spine art available).
Thank you Retro Slashers for the opportunity to discuss my films and for continuing to run a badass website that I visit often for my retro horror needs! THANK YOU to the fans who have kept Screamtime Films alive since 1992!!!