Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Sunday, May 10, 2009
J. J. Abrams has clearly touched a significant segment of the populace with his paean to the adventures of the Starship Enterprise. Whether it's just a filmmaking fluke, or something more significant, remains open for debate.

Someone posed an interesting question to me the other day. “Why,” they asked, in classic essay intro parlance, “are audiences and critics going so insane over J. J. Abrams’ new Star Trek film?” The question wasn’t one of contempt but pure curiosity. You see, Hollywood offers dozens of entertainment options every year, and few if any resonate with elements both inside and outside the industry like this one. Of the 221 members of Rotten Tomatoes who’ve reviewed the film, only 10 have disliked it - and outright dismissals are rare amongst even the contrarians. Similarly, the film was projected to only do about $50 to $60 million at the box office over the 8 May weekend, and yet managed to rake in close to $77 million.


But my friend wasn’t quite finished with his inquiry. “Could it be,” he sniped, a small amount of sarcasm creeping through his typically serious demeanor, “that J.J. has done the impossible - that is, made a really good movie in a current realm of unmitigated mediocrity? What I mean is, could Star Trek‘s popularity in whole or in part be chalked up to the fact that, when inundated with junk for 364 days a year, the movie-going public will take a good old fashioned well made ‘movie’ any time?” In essence, the argument is this: Abrams hasn’t made a masterpiece, just a highly sophisticated and expertly helmed piece of pop culture eye candy. It was/is specifically created to please the widest majority of the populace, and will keep the Star Trek name on studio heads minds for sequels to come.


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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

They say it takes all kinds. That’s definitely true of a Summer blockbuster. Movies like The Dark Knight or Transformers don’t just ‘happen’. Their success is not the by-product of niche audiences constantly returning to the box office to reload the coffers. No, a big fat mainstream hit has to cross several demographical boundaries, affecting the committed and casual film fan in more or less the same way. If you can tap into that kind of creative universality, if you can get your movie to resonate with all members of the disposable income crowd (not just teens and college kids), you just might have a major monster on your hands. That’s what every producer is hoping for. It’s what most movies fail to generate. After all, if a success was simple, everyone would be able to make one.


In that regard, SE&L returned to Star Trek this week for a second screening. Our goal - find a few people willing to discuss their investment (or lack thereof) in the classic science fiction series and give us some pre/post opinions. For the most part, the six people questioned (four individuals and one couple) were aware of the franchise. At least two didn’t care about the previous mythology or motion picture entries. Many had not seen the original ‘60s series in many, many years, and at least one admitted that the only reason she was there had more to do with lust than a longing for to see her favorite Federation members up on the big screen. Since it was a press screening - tickets were a hot commodity and several dozen people were turned away when the theater filled up quickly - there was a predisposition in place. But for the most part, the subjects were open and honest.


What’s clear about the concept, outside the movie being shown, is that a blockbuster has to lurch way beyond its fanbase and those who might favor it. It has to tap directly into the sadly conformists mindset of a society that cops to a sheep-like sense of celebration. We don’t want to be left out if something is spectacular, but we also have a tendency to bail when the rest of the citizenry makes a commercial determination. So will J.J. Abrams have a massive hit on his hands, or will his reboot of Star Trek only speak to a certain segment of the movie-going public? Perhaps the following perspectives will clarify its potential popularity.

#1 - Earl and Peggy (older couple, both in early 60s)
Before the screening:
“He wouldn’t let us eat if Star Trek was on,” Peggy said, her now sightless eyes showing the slightest glint of sarcasm. “He’d come home, sit down, and if Trek was on, dinner had to wait.” If you listen to the former military man, someone who survived two terrible tours of duty in Vietnam, Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi social allegory was a reason to hope. “We’ve been married 45 years,” Peggy beams, “and Star Trek has always been a part of our life. I often joke that he loves (it) more than he loves me.” Earl just looks away, smiling. “It is a fine show,” he sighs, before settling back in his seat. “It was filled with wonderful ideas. I hope they don’t screw it up.”


After the screening:
“I was actually crying there for a bit,” Earl offered, his face registering the embarrassment of a generation not used to showing their emotion. “When (Nimoy) showed up, and he told the new Kirk about their friendship, I lost it.” While she was unable to see most of the movie (legally blind, she still has some limited vision left), Peggy concurs, but for different reasons. “I could tell how much he loved it,” she says, grabbing her husband’s arm. “It was everything he hoped for…and more.”


The consensus:
They’ll be seeing it again, sometime after the opening weekend.

#2 - Pauline (early 50s)
Before the screening:
“I’m dreading this,” the well turned out woman said, hands wringing a napkin that came with her popcorn, “I’m all Shatner.” Indeed, as Pauline explains, the reason she loves Star Trek has little to do with its solid stories of space existentialism. Nor does it have anything to do with later incarnations of the franchise. “I couldn’t stand Next Generation,” she confesses, eyes narrowing as if to accent her disavowal. No, for this widowed mother of four, her love of Star Trek revolves around her admitted sexual fascination with the original Captain Kirk. “William Shatner was just so sexy back then,” she murmurs, “it’s easy to see why he got all the girls.” Dragged by her son to see the new film, she appears disgruntled and uncomfortable. “I just don’t buy this new guy,” she asserts, “he can’t beat my Kirk, and that’s that.”


After the screening:
“WOW! That (Chris Pine) is cute!”, Pauline gushes, her face forming what looks like the first hints of a new school girl crush. “The movie itself was amazing, but I never thought they could find someone to play my Kirk as a young man. But they did.” In more candid terms, she expresses a small amount of disdain for the “hyper” filmmaking and editing, and she clearly only cares about one character here. “Everyone else was okay. But my Kirk…”, she drifts off. Reclaiming her thoughts, she adds, “I can see why it would be popular.”


The consensus:
They did a good job”, Peggy states, enthusiastically. “I might see it again.”

#3 - Will (just turned 40)
Before the screening:
“I’m too young to remember the first series,” he shrugs, glasses poised precariously on his slightly puffy face. “I was born in ‘69, and it was cancelled that year, I think.” Will is a typical screener ‘rat’, someone who makes it his goal to see as many free films as he can on the studio dime. “And frankly, I couldn’t care less about Star Trek.” It might seem shocking to hear someone who is about to spend 130 minutes with a movie dismiss it’s subject matter so, but that’s the standard when it comes to these studio-funded freebies. “I come to hang out with my friends (people who also habitually attend press previews), maybe get a prize.” Trek is just not the draw for him. He’s not sheepish about being so mercenary. “Hollywood makes this crap,” he winks, “but I ain’t going to pay for it.”


After the screening:
“Fantastic…just great.” In some ways, his reaction resembles being born again. “Is this what the whole Trek thing has been about? No?” When it’s explained that, for most, the franchise has been faltering and on creative life support for many years, he seems even more excited. “They did a damn good job then.” He cocks his head as if to tell a secret. “If they can get me to care about this, they can get anyone to.”


The consensus:
He’ll be back - and he’s telling his friends to check it out as well.

#4 - Jeri (24 year olds)
Before the screening:
“Why would they revive this thing?” It’s an honest inquiry from a truly perplexed young woman. “I mean, who gives a **** about Star Trek, really?” In several more incomplete thoughts, a clear judgment is formed. “I’ll give it a shot, but I’m not sure it’s my cup of tea, you see?” In many ways, Jerry is Star Trek‘s biggest hurdle. She’s a female unfamiliar with the intricacies of the series who can’t see herself liking something that doesn’t have “lots of funny stuff” in it. She favors the standard RomCom (she “adored” Ghosts of Girlfriends Past), Twilight, and was particularly impressed with the Sex in the City adaptation last summer. “That’s how you make a TV show into a movie” she barks, her voice confirming her obviously cemented opinion. 


After the screening:
“It was actually pretty good, yeah” she offers, her voice not enthusiastic or overly dismissive. “I don’t know why people were clapping at the end. Who claps at a movie? But it was good.” Before she can chat more, her cellphone goes off and she’s instantly involved in a deep personal conversation that has nothing to do with the film she just saw. A wave of the hand and she’s gone.


The consensus:
Glad she saw it for free. Will tell her friends it’s “good”. Is personally looking forward to other films this Summer season.

#5 - Kyle (15 years old)
Before the screening:
“My friends read on the web that this was good, not geeky” the gangly young man states, his demeanor offering the typical teenage disdain. In between looks that suggest he shouldn’t be bothered, the prime example of marketing demographics offers a gloomy prediction for Star Trek‘s success. “It’s an old people’s thing,” he says, shrugging his shoulders as if to doubt his own thoughts. “My dad likes it. So does my uncle.” The look on his face suggests that he thinks that both men are idiots. When pressed, the desire to speak more or less stops. Kyle returns to his seat and starts shooting odd glances at his interviewer. Clearly, he’s never had to think about a movie as much as he did during the three minutes he was required to speak about it. Once it starts, he is instantly lost in the visuals onscreen.


After the screening:
“Cool…cool” is all he will offer. He seems dazed, as if he just exited an intense thrill ride at a theme park and is looking for a place to sit down for a second. It’s hard to tell if it’s the reaction to the film, or the response to seeing some stranger walk up to him and ask for another opinion. He doesn’t look unhappy. In some ways, his reaction can best be described as “breathless.”


The consensus:
Impossible to gauge specifically as he got lost in the crowd and literally disappeared.

It’s hard to say if these five entries are typical. The first screening of Star Trek, which occurred early on a Saturday morning, was barely full. This one was overflowing with people. The reaction the first time was enthusiastic but rather reserved. This time, the audience clapped, cheered, and audibly followed the film every step of the way. As they were leaving the theater, the local studio rep couldn’t keep up with the comments, almost all of them extremely positive. One person even blurted out SE&L critical consensus about the film - “It’s going to be hard for any other film this Summer to top that.” And perhaps the surest sign that a film had made its point? In the parking lot, conversations and discussions a’plenty. People arguing over plot points and character beats. Couples reminiscing about the parts that they thought were the “best”.  So Star Trek certainly has a chance of being a massive mainstream hit. The trajectory from popular to phenomenon however, will have to remain a marketing mystery - at least until the weekend.


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Thursday, Apr 23, 2009
Troma will be releasing The Last Horror Film as part of its Tromasterpiece Collection of classic titles. More information can be found on the company's website, with pre-order information now available at Amazon.com

It’s a shame when otherwise capable performers fail to get their due. No, not like Anvil, who have spent the last 35 years rocking in the free world of undeniable talent and missed opportunities, or Jeffrey Combs would could definitely defend himself against the A-list big boys but continues to wile away in low budget b-movies. In this case, the conversation turns to one Joe Spinell. Recognize the name? If you are a sleazoid horror fan, you probably remember the imposing actor’s turn in the classic ‘80s slasher epic Maniac. Or maybe you’ve seen him trading paisans with fellow Italians Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino, and Robert DeNiro in Rocky, The Godfather, and Taxi Driver respectively.


Yet ever since the tough guy archetype passed away under mysterious circumstances in 1989 at age 53, his celebrity has been subverted, replaced by a reputation based solely on an exploitation-like effort and an inability to step out and defend himself. Home video has a habit of turning journeymen into jokes, emphasizing one or two titles without putting a specific performer into a realized perspective. Spinell was much more than his frequent freak show parts. He was an accomplished stage actor, parlaying his size and outward ethnicity into a stint alongside some of the great post-modern filmmakers of the ‘70s. He worked with Coppola, Scorsese, and Friedkin - he even lost a part in Jaws thanks to a friend’s ongoing relationship issues.


Seen today, Spinell is indeed special. His work resonates with a kind of unhinged power, an unpredictability that comes from being expertly schooled in your craft. A brief YouTube trek bears this out. From small time scenes in Driver to a full blown supporting part in Nighthawks (where he puts a verbal smackdown on Sly), Spinell more than holds his own. He grabs the audience’s attention, demanding they watch as his characters move between moods with intensity and intrigue. Maniac may be his best remembered turn, but such splatter film histrionics don’t truly illustrate his abilities. No, if you really want to see Spinell unravel right before your eyes, you need to check out an early ‘80s sleeper entitled The Last Horror Film (also known as Fanatic. As wannabe auteur Vinny Durand, delusional and obsessed with actress Jana Bates (Caroline Munro), Spinell puts out a tour de force performance that few in his peer group can match.

The set-up here is key to understanding what he accomplishes. Vinny is a Momma’s boy in the worst kind of way. Middle aged, disheveled, and resembling a porn star gone to seed, we first see Spinell interacting with said matriarch, a mousy Italian widow who plays her part in a perfect combination of disconnect and dictator. She loves her son, but thinks he’s a bum. He reacts by going into fits of bug-eyed rage that have to be seen to be understood. Vinny is not necessarily crazy, just insanely committed to the belief that he’s a great filmmaker. He even travels to Cannes to catch up with Ms. Bates, hoping to convince her that his script for a new Dracula tale is the ‘last horror film’ she will ever have to do. In between psychotic episodes, various members of the visiting Hollywood elite are picked off by an unseen killer.



Of course, the narrative presumes that Vinny is the murderer, and all throughout The Last Horror Film, Spinell is portrayed as being just fringe enough to be capable of slaughter. Applying the kind of dense dream logic that makes David Lynch a genius and shifting wildly between reality and motion picture make-believe, director David Winters definitely keeps us guessing. Even as the blood flows and the organs fly, we are never quite convinced if what we are seeing is truth, falsehood, or a complete fabrication in Vinny’s mind. Spinell is given a chance to confuse matters further by going full bore bonkers in several supposed fantasy scenes. He even confronts himself, Spinell #1 choking Spinell #2 in amazing meta style.


Indeed, it’s safe to say that every moment that this actor is onscreen during The Last Horror Film is sensational. Spinell doesn’t just steal that movie from his various well equipped co-stars: he’s like a cinematic terrorist. He holds the audience hostage and demands they come around to his way of thinking before he even considers setting them free. Nerded up in uncomfortable clothes and greasy hair, he’s like a more tainted Toby Radloff, a savant reduced to savagery by a society that doesn’t understand his hopelessly hidden talents. And when he breaks down, when the truth tears apart his fragile false reality, he dissolves into pools of despair so massive they threaten to swallow up everything in the frame.


Some might call it over the top. Others could confuse it with some manner of amateurish incompetence. But both would be missing the bigger picture. Spinell’s intensity is not a burden, but a shiny badge of indie honor. He was willing to take any part and make it a full blown cinematic experience. As he did in Maniac, Spinell found the evil inherit in all men and made it flesh. He also discovered their nobility, their need, their all consuming passions and their implausible relationships with others. Spinell’s mother also elicits nothing but smiles, her pinched faced fierceness matched only by her complete lack of affectation. She’s just like her son. Both are genuine. He’s just more skilled at applying said sincerity to any and all situations.


That’s why it’s such a shame that Spinell died when he did. Now, in the glare of DVD’s redefining laser light, he could become the celebrated superstar his work ethic demanded. He’d be first on the list for any homage heavy filmmaker, from Quentin Tarantino to Paul Thomas Anderson while continuing to find favor with previous collaborators from the ‘70s and ‘80s. He might be a little slower and a lot older (he’d be 73 this year), but his powers would not be dampened by age or physical limits. When he commanded a role, no one was as domineering as Joe Spinell. He stands as a forgotten giant in an arena which barely acknowledges its current crop of talent. Here’s hoping that, as time goes on, he’s rediscovered by a messageboard nation ripe to turn him into an obsession. His legacy deserves it.


 


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Monday, Apr 6, 2009

Has it really been ten years since Chris Seaver, the savant of homemade horror comedies, first introduced us to the world of Low Budget Pictures? Has it really been that long since we first laid eyes on that simian lothario TeenApe, that hate crime in the making known as Mr. Bonejack, or the demonic delights of Filthy McNasty? Over this decade of decadence and debauchery, we’ve come to understand the wonders of womanly bits, the hilarity of excessive gas, and the greatness that is John Stamos. Why he’s not more well known will remain a Comic Con conundrum for eons to come. Still, this fascinating fringe maverick continues to amaze us with his growing canon of exciting, eclectic schlock.


Thanks to Sub Rosa Studios, we are getting the opportunity experience more Seaver sensations. This time around, it’s the one-two punch of Terror at Bloodfart Lake, and the sword and sandal spoof Deathbone - Third Blood Part VII: The Blood of Deathbone. In each case, Seaver relies on a recognizable type - the former is a slasher satire, the latter takes on everything from Rambo, The Lord of the Rings to the entire Conan legend. Sprinkled in between is the director’s own unusual fairy dust, including shout outs to favored rock and ska bands, nonstop motion picture trivia, and just enough toilet humor to keep things comically crude. While the latter loses something in the wizards and warriors translation, the slapstick slice and dice could give Apatow and his gang a run for their frat farce money.



Terror at Bloodfart Lake


When a group of teens head to the legendary Bloodfart Lake for a little late summer R&R, they are totally unaware of the horror they are about to face. Seems a horrific crime some years before continues to haunt the vacation spot, and our motley crew of metalheads, Goth chicks, wannabe actors, and dim bulb losers are destined to face the wraith’s wrath. But it turns out that creepy groundskeeper and all around killjoy Caspian will be a bigger threat to their mini-vacation than some psychotic corpse in a scarecrow costume who suffers from a severe case of talking villain’s disease. If they can live through his party pooping fey ways, they might just survive a few days of random bloodletting.





The Terror at Bloodfart Lake is indeed one of the best things Chris Seaver has ever done - and this is the dude who delivered the remarkable masterworks Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker, The Karaoke Kid, and The Film Crew. It combines the most memorable parts of his past perversion epics while continuing to strive toward a more mainstream maturity. For someone who used to utilize a point and shoot style of filmmaking acumen, this is a very accomplished picture. The visual element is exceptional and Seaver experiments with framing and angles like never before. Even better, his writing has become smarter and more assured. Instead of going for the gross out gag every couple of seconds, he relies on characterization, repeated riffs, and pure situational set-ups to fuel his funny business.


In fact, watching how he’s grown over the years, it’s comforting to see the kind of polish and professionalism he now shows. In the past, Seaver could be criticized for being the most insular of moviemakers, gathering together his high school friends to make private comedies that few could follow or fully comprehend. Now, as humor has come around to his way of thinking, the oddball asides and direct dives into genital juvenilia work wonderfully. Even better, for those of us who stayed the course, the depth of his slightly skewed world view is obvious. This is not just some geek who spent too many hours in front of the TV, soaking in everything his VCR had to offer. This is someone who has absorbed all of popular culture, from Star Wars to Star Search, from random rap rhymes to epic fantasy metal and manages to make them his own.


Oddly enough, when he tries to mimic others, he sometimes comes up short. While not as drop deal hilarious as Terror at Bloodfart Lake, Deathbone is another triumph for the talented auteur. Yet since he is using a wealth of recognizable films and types for his translation of the macho Middle Earth actioner, the farce doesn’t seem so fresh. Still, this story of an elfin girl who goes on a dangerous journey to seek the help of her kingdom’s mightiest warrior is a wonder to behold.




Deathbone - Third Blood Part VII: The Blood of Deathbone




You see, despite his rather doughy physique, Deathbone is the fiercest, most ferocious conqueror in all of Mucklark. He even has his own nubile assistant and freelance troubadour. When a young elf asks for his help in rescuing her friend and freeing the valley from the ruthless reign of the Goblin King, he can’t refuse. Along the way, they will face all manner of hideous beings, including trolls, monsters, and a fat friar with revenge on his mind.





As he did with Mulva 2: Kill TeenApe, Seaver once again relies on a recognizable film type to foster his wicked wit. Unlike the previously mentioned movie, however, he is far more successful here that in past attempts at parody. Maybe it’s the type of film he’s fooling with - the hero vs. evil conceit is rife with its own sense of implied ridicule - or the performance of a puffy and bloated Billy Garberina that seals the deal, but whatever it is, Seaver is rock solid. Sure, he lets the movie go on for far too long (at almost 100 minutes, this is like his Gone with the Wind) and indulges in elements that don’t fully payoff (the cliché contest). But unlike his Tolkein trip-up Quest for the Egg Salad, the combination of Stallone stupidity and a hip-hop Magic: The Gathering really works - even if the action scenes are more chaotic than well choreographed.


Again, Seaver flawlessly utilizes the camaraderie of his cast, and their chemistry really shows. Especially effective is longtime LBP player Meredith Host, who has to carry most of the exposition and audience identification. She also is the brunt of Deathbone’s many personal putdowns, and she takes them like a trooper. Elsewhere, the always engaging Travis Indovina makes a wonderful wandering minstrel, especially when wielding an “axe” (read: electric guitar) as part of the mayhem. This is also one of the best looking films Seaver has ever helmed. There’s a lot of location work (including mostly outdoor and exterior scenes) and a real sense of scope. With professional level make-up F/X and lots of ludicrous gags, Deathbone - Third Blood Part VII: The Blood of Deathbone is a cut above his other purposeful parodies.


As he enters his next ten years, as marriage and fatherhood have radically altered his priorities and his proclivities, one wonders what Chris Seaver will dream up next. He already has something entitled I Spit Chew On Your Grave making the convention rounds (can somebody say redneck revenge splatter film???) and he promises to continue cranking out the LBP product as long as the audience wants him to. Judging from his continued growth as a filmmaker, as well as the overreaching talent on display, Seaver should have several more decades in the limelight. Anyone who doubts that need only check out Terror at Bloodfart Lake and Deathbone - Third Blood Part VII: The Blood of Deathbone to understand why. 


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Saturday, Mar 14, 2009

For film critic Paul O’Callaghan, life has always been a ‘movie’. Ever since graduating from NYU Film School, he’s been pursuing a dream to be a director. Of course, that goal got sidetracked when his self-professed “labor of love” - the Tampa, Florida cable access show entitled Your Life is a Movie, led to an association with local shock jocks Ron Bennington and Rob Diaz. As the “movie guy” on the nationally syndicated Ron and Ron Show, O’Callaghan (who goes by a shortened nickname, ‘Paul O’, on-air) became something of a celebrity.  Yet in the back of his mind, he still wanted to make movies. “I’ve never given up on the goal,” he repeats during a recent interview in his adopted hometown. “I just needed the right motivation to move forward.”


That drive came from his current gig as part of the Ron and Ron revamp, The Ron and Fez Show on XM Satellite Radio. “Here am I,” O’Callaghan says, “spending an hour or so a week talking about what I love (movies),” and so naturally, the conversation would turn toward his own aspirations. “I talked about it a lot,” he offers, “but what I really wanted to do was something big. This secret project I had that I knew no one would finance.” O’Callaghan is alluding to a mystery script that he has “squirreled away in a bottom desk drawer somewhere”, a possible blockbuster that he refuses to discuss. It’s one of several he’s written over the years. But when the time and opportunity came to actually get behind the lens and make a movie, O’Callaghan had to set his sights - and his scope - a great deal smaller.


Thus the small indie horror film Gap was born. “It’s about aging, about the state of the world”, the first time filmmaker confesses. In the movie, O’Callaghan plays a nameless man who, frustrated by what he sees around him, has decided to videotape a multi-victim killing spree. Speaking directly to the camera (with some intercut montages and title cards to suggest his mental state) the character spews an almost non-stop collection of missives, prophecies, edicts, and tantrums. Then the slaughter starts. “I wanted to work in a recognizable type,” O’Callaghan says, “something an audience could instantly relate to.” He also understood the basic foundation of the independent film business. “No one is going to give me, a first time filmmaker, a big budget like on a mainstream movie.” With horror, the movie could be made cheaply, easily, and have a kind of “instant recognizability” amongst the viewers.


O’Callaghan actually had the fans in mind when he made the movie, “It was highly collaborative at first,” he admits. “I got lots of input from the (Ron and Fez) listeners. We run ideas, improvise scenes. Sometimes, I would take on the character and we’d adlib something.” All this material then was filtered into O’Callaghan’s script, though there was room for improvisation on the set. “I gave the actors a basic outline,” he clarifies, “letting them know where the material was going.” But once he got into the character, O’Callaghan felt free to take the scenes toward places even darker. “There were definitely times when people were afraid of me,” he admitted. “I’m a big guy…an imposing guy, figure. It got pretty intense at times.”


Indeed, one of Gap‘s most impressive aspects is its fierce philosophical stance, a painful projection of popular culture’s destructive properties. “Yeah, a lot of the issues raised in the film are beliefs I hold personally,” O’Callaghan explains. “Not literally, but in general. I think society is going in the wrong direction. I think people, especially young people, are influenced by a media that feeds them nothing but garbage.” He points out that, in the film, he only kills “kids” under a certain age because they are the one’s most vulnerable to the corrupting influences around. “They don’t think for themselves”, he chides, “they’re sheep. They believe whatever society and the stupid news tells them.” As a result, in O’Callaghan’s mind, they are unprepared for the real horrors that face them once the truth is told.


But murder? “Yeah, it’s an extreme reaction.” He laughs it off. “My point is…Gap‘s point is…someone has to teach the world. The character (of the killer) sees himself as someone on a mission. School won’t teach them. He’s going to use these tapes, these lectures, as a way of communicating his ideas.” O’Callaghan admits that it’s heady stuff for a horror film, but genre titles are more readily accepted from first time filmmakers than larger than life, epic in scope ambitions. “As a novice director, no one is going to give me the money to realize my dreams,” he says again, realistically. “No, it’s easier to approach a recognizable film type, in this case, the horror film, and then try to inject some intelligence into it.”


Surprisingly enough, the shoot was relatively simple, according to O’Callaghan. “No real problems. Most of the cast came from the Ron and Fez audience.” But there were also elements at play behind the scenes which threatened Gap‘s completion. “While I won’t say the film was cursed…” he trails off, later admitting that there were tragedies all throughout the production. The most difficult of course was the untimely death of his wife Gail (who had a small role in the film). “It really added some perspective,” he admits, taking a long pause for some self-reflection. But it did not defeat him. “I felt I had to go on, to finish. I needed to get this done. It was therapeutic in a way.” Even then, O’Callaghan admits that it took several months in the editing room and post-production to get the film exactly the way he wanted.


“I had a vision for the film,” he explains. “I wanted it to be just like The Blair Witch (Project) . I wanted people to just ‘discover’ it, to think that what they were seeing was real, was happening.”  In the early stages of the idea, O’Callaghan tried to come up with ways where people could just ‘find’ the film (perhaps online or at conventions). “That was the whole premise,” he states, “to put people off guard. To see their reaction to something where they couldn’t quite tell if it was true, or just a put-on.” Of course, any and all publicity destroys that illusion. “Yeah, talking to you, or anyone, about the film really undermines that surprise or shock value. In some ways, the more I advertise, the more I destroy my concept.”


In the end, the final project speaks for itself. “The feedback has been decent,” he adds, “even the negative has been constructive.” O’Callaghan also understands that his first effort will be judged more harshly because of his critical past. “A critic is just asking for it,” he laughs, alluding to the notion that someone who used to derail movies for a living is just waiting to have the same thing done to his own offering once it hits the circuit. Still, by getting the word out, by fueling interest in the DVD currently available, O’Callaghan hopes to continue exploring his muse. “I really enjoyed the experience,” he states, “it was fun finally getting a chance to chase my dream. I have to do it again.” It’s a message Paul O’Callaghan wants the whole world to embrace…embrace, or else.


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