An Interview with Jim Haggerty – By Brian Morton

 A few months ago, I had the chance to watch two movies from new filmmaker, Jim Haggerty. Those movies being, The Slasher and I Dream of Dracula. Both movies were pretty good for first efforts and I could see the progress from the first to the second film, so when I heard that Jim was working on his next movie, Grave Danger, I thought it would be cool to catch up with him, see what Grave Danger is about and find out what’s new with this up and coming filmmaker.

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BM – How did you get started making movies?

JH – Well it really all started when my uncle bought a video camera and started bringing it to family gatherings. I would always talk my cousins into doing little shows so he could film us. I was already directing little films as a kid! Then when I got my own video camera I shot hundreds of really awful 10-minute cop movies. It was kind of what I always wanted to do. But by the time I reached college I had lost the fire a bit. I had a new love – music. But I had no musical talent at all, so that was a problem. Anyway, I finished college with a communications degree and a below-average guitar-playing ability, so I took a job in the music industry. It was great – fun and games, hanging out with rock stars, open bars, the works. But one day I started saying to myself, ‘Wasn’t I supposed to make movies’? So I set about making sort of a campy alien movie. It went okay for a while, but then the lead actress stopped showing up! She was pretty much in every scene, so we couldn’t really finish without starting all over, so I scrapped it and decided to do something different. We were working in a very laid back manner on that. I mean we had a script, but we really were just flying by the seat of our pants. I didn’t think we would ever do anything with it, I thought maybe it would circulate among tape traders on the internet as an underground video or something. So when we scrapped it and started over, I started getting more ambitious. I wanted to do a ‘real movie’, one that would at least be released on video if not shown in theaters. And that was "The Slasher".

BM – Any thoughts on going back and completing that first uncompleted alien movie?

JH – Nah. I don’t even have the footage anymore, to be perfectly honest. And even if I did, it’s ten years ago – the people from that movie I still speak to look pretty different now. And it wasn’t very good – we were really just doing it as sort of a joke. I was shooting it with a camcorder – an old crappy 80’s camcorder, so it looked like shit. Like I said, it wasn’t being made for a real release, the thought was it would circulate as an underground thing. I pictured it would be one of those things that tape trader guys all make copies of and share with each other that circulates in blurry, seventy-generation old versions before DVD. I thought it might develop a cult following or something – back then I wasn’t really trying to be a filmmaker, I was just goofing around. We’d have to start all over again, and really it was a pretty silly movie – it wouldn’t be worth the effort. But at least it did re-ignite my burning desire to make movies, which at that point had been lying dormant for a long time. So everything has some purpose, I guess.

BM – The Slasher (your first film) was part slasher movie, part cop drama. How hard was it to make as a first film?

JH – Well, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be (laughs). Actually, it’s interesting that you bring up the ‘cop drama’ aspect of it because it wasn’t intended to be. I mean you’re right, it certainly is, but I was trying to write a real basic ‘knife-wielding-guy-in-a-mask-slasher movie’. And the reason was I thought it would be the easiest kind of movie to make with no money. If we made a zombie movie or a werewolf movie we’d need special effects that we couldn’t afford. A slasher movie we just needed a knife and a mask. That we could afford. Of course then I started letting my imagination run wild writing the script going to and from work on the bus with a laptop computer every day. I came out with a script that required twenty different people and twenty different locations and I wasn’t sure I knew twenty different people or had access to twenty different locations! So everybody I knew was in the movie – all my friends and co-workers and all their friends too. I mean I would never think to cast actual actors because we were so ramshackle. The good thing about working in the music industry is that you’re surrounded by creative people. If you say you’re making a movie, everybody wants in. My actual boss at the time played my boss in the movie! So, yes, it was harder than I thought, but it made me see that THIS is what I needed to do with my life. We would shoot every Saturday for twelve to fourteen hours. I mean, everybody else took breaks, got food, came and went through the day, I was the only one working straight through and never eating. And then I would heat up some left over pizza at the end of the day and eat it while I watched what we shot until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. And I never felt so alive in my life. There simply IS no better feeling (in my opinion) than having a vision in your head, writing it down on paper and then seeing it coming alive around you. Nothing better.

 BM – I Dream of Dracula is another combo, part psychological thriller, part horror movie, part comedy. How hard is it to put so much into a low budget film?

JH – I always like to describe it as a horror/comedy/soap opera, but your version makes it sound like a much smarter movie (laughs). I don’t think the budget really impedes your ability to cross genres. I mean, it’s very different from "The Slasher" because that was intended to be a straight horror movie which of course, organically branched into a police thriller – there were a few quips and little bits of humor, but I don’t think you could call it a comedy. But I have a real good sense of humor, so I guess that comes through, so I did put some comedy elements in there – most notably that the two cops are not particularly smart. I mean, that lent it some humor, but I also felt it gave it a bit of realism. I mean, in cop movies we tend to get these superhero cops that do everything right and are always virtuous and one step ahead. But in real life , everyone has flaws and makes mistakes, so I wanted to show these guys as not being perfect and always knowing what to do next. I thought it made them more human and true-to-life, and yes, allowed us to give some comic relief to the movie. ‘Dracula’ I wrote shortly after I finished shooting ‘Slasher’ and threw it in a drawer and forgot about it. That was the basic skeleton – it was a short film called ‘Vampire Nightmare’. One day a few months later I came across it and read it over and thought it was shit and threw it back in the drawer. But a few months later I read it again and realized it works more as a comedy that there were a lot of comedy elements in the story and I should play those up. Of course I had to expand it to a full feature, so I did. I think it works because it’s an odd movie – I think it has a nice surreal look. The colors and costumes are very bright and a little cartoony, the performances are all very over the top, but it still plays like a horror film. We actually were going to throw in a musical number at one point, we just couldn’t get it together in time. But that’s what I was going for was a very ‘we threw in everything but the kitchen sink’ kind of movie, and I think we succeeded at that. What I really find interesting is that people have told me they think it’s funny but that they really like the story so much and think it’s actually a very original take on a vampire story that they wish I would have just played it straight. Maybe someday we’ll remake it seriously (laughs).

BM – Tell us about Grave Danger, I’ve seen the trailer and I have to say, the ventriloquists dummy is very creepy.

JH – There’s something inherently creepy about ventriloquist dummies, and that one in particular is especially creepy! That’s Phineas -my fiancée’s mother made him up for me and she was having nightmares after she made him up, so I knew we were onto something. Wait until you see the actual film – he gets even scarier! "Grave Danger" is an anthology of three stories connected by one wrap-around segment. It had actually been a couple of years since I’d made a film. The last movie I made is called "From The Inside" and we wrapped shooting in 2004. It’s been on the verge of completion for awhile, but the editor is sort of holding it hostage so I got tired of waiting to start something new. And when we finally got a distribution deal for "The Slasher" and "I Dream of Dracula" I felt so excited and invigorated I just wanted to do something new. But since it had been awhile, and I was working with some new actors and crew I thought it would be good to do something simpler, so I approached it like a series of four short films. Each one was shot over a weekend and it was a quick in and out. Nobody had to keep coming back, not that many people to have to keep track of, it was very nice. I think it really came out great. I found a really talented cast – Kaitlin Owens, Bud Stafford, Charlie Parshley, Laura Parrella, Kate Webster, Debbie Kopacz, Jonathon Holtzman, Kaye Bramblett, Jeff Cusimano – I know I’m forgetting people, but believe me; a lot of these people are really going to set the world on fire. And for the first time we had the opportunity to have a real headliner onboard – Cathy St. George, the legendary Playboy Playmate stars as the psychiatrist in the ‘Phineas’ segment and she’s really good – very classy.

BM – Is Phineas the thread that connects all four stories in Grave Danger together?

JH – Um, not telling. (laughs) Actually, no, the wrap-around segment is a different story. Phineas is the star of one of the three segments and I think he may have a life of his own. Beyond the movie, I mean. There’s something inherently creepy and scary about ventriloquist dummies. I don’t know what it is because I’ve never seen it that way, but it’s probably the second biggest phobia people have, right behind clowns. I’ve met more people that are creeped out by dummies – and Phineas is pretty creepy! My future mother-in-law Kathryn made him up and he’s everything I’d hoped he’d be! He’s the second best thing she made for me. (laughs)

BM – Any idea on when we might get to see From The Inside?

JH – Ha! Good question. The editor is sort of holding it hostage at this point, so it’s a little bit beyond my control. It’s about 98% completed, but to get it to that last 2% done is the thing. It’s like the lost Jim Haggerty movie (laughs). I actually just recently found this really terrific song for the movie by this great singer from New Jersey named Roberta Lipp. I’ve been looking for the right theme song for a long time and I finally found it. Now I just need the movie to put under it! (laughs) Seriously, though, it’s very frustrating because I’m so proud of it – it’s really good, it really works. Its very gritty and suspenseful, the acting is terrific – really good cast. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever done. And I feel really bad for the people in it – really talented group of people that are still waiting to see the fruits of their labor. ‘Grave Danger’ will be out very soon and there seems to be a bit of a buzz growing on that. I want to try and somehow get ‘From The Inside’ out between that and ‘Witchmaster General’. But I must say – not to sound arrogant – but it will be worth the wait. I’m really proud of it.

BM – What’s going on with Witchmaster General?

JH – Well, "Witchmaster General" is going on now. I’m getting married in September to the woman of my dreams and after "Grave Danger" we were supposed to not make any more films until after the wedding. But after we had such a great experience working on "Grave Danger" I talked her into letting me do just one more. I promised her we’d have it done by June – and actually it looks like we’ll have shooting done before May! "Witchmaster General" is a really cool idea I had about a voodoo doctor who runs a sort of ‘murder-for-hire’ business. He’s sort of a voodoo Don Corleone, only you don’t owe him a favor, you owe him your soul. We’ve got an incredible cast this time. A lot of the great people from "Grave Danger" are back again. We’ve also got the gorgeous B-movie scream queen Suzi Lorraine and another gorgeous and well-known Playboy Playmate – this time around it’s the beautiful 2003 Playboy Playmate Colleen Marie making her feature film debut. This is the first acting she’s done and she is amazing. I barely had to give her any direction at all – she completely got the character and just came off so natural. She didn’t make any of the mistakes that a lot of first-time actors tend to. Of course the real star of the film is Phil Lewis – the lead singer of L.A. Guns – as the evil Dr. Gorgon. I’ve always been a huge fan of L.A. Guns growing up and I’ve actually been able to spend a bunch of time with Phil through the years, but somehow the thought of putting him in a film never crossed my mind. We wanted someone of note – a big name to play Dr. Gorgon. We had someone in mind, but it seemed like that was becoming less and less of a possibility as we got closer to shooting. As fate would have it, I went to see L.A. Guns around that time and the entire time I’m wondering who I could get that would be right for the role and give the movie some credibility? It was a day or so later when it hit me that the idea was right in front of my face. So I contacted Phil though his management and he was totally interested – he loved the script, he loved the character and it worked. And he really is perfect for it. Phil really understood the character and played it to the hilt. And again, this is a guy that’s had hardly any acting experience and yet EVERYBODY on set kept asking me if he had done this before because they could not believe he was only a singer and not a full-time actor. He was great to work with, and a perfect gentleman to everyone involved. So when the movie sees the light of day – probably at the end of this year or the beginning of next year (after "Grave Danger"), I really think this is going to be a new beginning for Phil Lewis. I think he’s really going to become an overnight horror film icon and I can see the acting offers pouring in. I just hope he’ll still have time to do the L.A. Guns stuff because I’m still a fan!

 BM – A Voodoo Don Corleone?! I LOVE that idea! It seems that each film follows a new path, slasher, then vampire, then (if I may call it this) a Twilight Zone-ish anthology, now voodoo mafia. Do you intentionally move to a totally different sub-genre with each film? Would you ever do a sequel to one of your movies?

JH – I think I invented the ‘voodoo mafia’ one! (laughs) Seriously though, that’s actually a great observation – I don’t tend to make the same movie twice. I guess it’s because I have so many ideas and never enough time to do all of them, so I keep trying to do new things. I mean, I come up with at least one idea for a movie every day. Not saying that they’re all good, but the good ones get kept around and I do something with. The bad ones fall by the wayside, I guess. I would actually like to do a sequel to one of my movies. I like sequels – I mean, I don’t generally like them, but we all tend to flock to sequels, don’t we? Even though probably 90% of sequels suck, we usually don’t pass them u
. Why? Because when we like movies, we tend to want more. We want to see what happens next; what happens to the characters? What’s the next chapter of the story? Though very often you see sequels like ‘The Fly 2’ or ‘Another 48 Hrs’ and you decide to pretend that you never saw or heard of them and pretend they don’t exist when you watch the original. I remember wanting to do a sequel and a prequel to ‘The Slasher’ – boy did I have balls!(laughs) But all three movies would have been entirely different genres, even though they were part of the same story. The prequel would have been just a straight cop movie focusing on the two cops on the hunt for the ‘Douglaston Rapist’ who is alluded to in ‘The Slasher’. And somewhere along the line there would be a sub-plot about ‘The Slasher’ starting his killing spree, but still under the radar. The sequel would be a supernatural thriller where it would be revealed the Slasher character was a demon of some sort and his spirit would possess one of the characters in the mob at the end of the first movie and they would go around taking revenge on everyone who led him to his ending. But as it turned out we couldn’t get a distribution deal for years, so we scrapped the idea of doing a sequel and a prequel to a movie that nobody saw! (laughs) But I can very seriously see doing a second ‘Witchmaster General’. I see Dr. Gorgon as such a great horror movie character – like Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees, or even like Dracula or Frankenstein. I think he’ll come back. Not to give anything away, but let’s just say we didn’t completely unambiguously kill him off at the end. He could possibly return… But that’s what I told Phil in the beginning, that this is a character that might really strike a chord with horror fans, and we will likely be doing more than one of these! And it’s totally the kind of horror folklore that can keep stretching out from one movie to the next. Plus, Phil was so ideal for the role – it would almost be wasteful to not go further with him in that role. Beyond that, I can also see maybe doing some sort of a Phineas movie. If he catches on the way I think he will, I can see doing a movie that centers entirely on the Phineas character. But again, let’s wait and see what the consensus is – it is, after all, up to the audience. But if there’s demand, I’m ready.

BM – You’ve used humor a lot in your first films, how big a part will it play in these newest two?

JH – There’s definitely a healthy helping of humor in both of the films. I tend to be a funny guy – at least to hear me tell it! But most people think of me as a guy with a real good sense of humor, so I guess it comes out in the work I do. Really the grittiest movie I made is ‘From The Inside’ because that one is sort of ‘all thriller all the time’, so I actually had to make a conscious effort to not put anything funny in. It was weird, I would read back a draft of the script and catch some quip or zinger in the dialogue and I’d have to take it out because I really wanted that one to be very serious, but I’m not that serious a guy, so I try to make my movies fun. I describe "Grave Danger" as horror/comedy, and "Witchmaster General" – I probably wouldn’t call it horror/comedy, but I tend to think of it as like an old Vincent Price movie on acid. Suzi Lorraine said it reminds her of a Hammer movie from the 60’s. But that’s the sort of things I like. I like a horror movie to be like a roller coaster ride – you jump, you scream, your adrenaline pumps, and then at the end, we feel good and want to do it again. I’m not much for grim, disturbing kind of movies. I don’t make movies all about torture and ugliness, it’s not my thing. I like to have fun and I like my audiences to have fun. That’s entertainment, right?

BM – I couldn’t agree more! So after the wedding, what’s next on your filming agenda? And what role does your fiancée play in the productions?

JH – Ah, the wedding. Well, it’s coming very soon, so I won’t be out of the game for too long. But we’ve got some catching up to do as far as getting the movies out, so it works out real well. I have several big ideas that I need to put pen to paper on. My fiancée Susan is great – she is truly the woman of my dreams. Not only is she beautiful, funny and sweet, but she puts up with all this insanity! Actually, she not only puts up with it, she’s a willing participant. Her whole family does, really. Her brother acts in ‘Grave Danger’ and ‘Witchmaster General’, her other brother helped us a lot in animating Phineas and getting him operational, her mom more or less made up Phineas and has helped us a lot with costuming. They’re really a great family, very supportive, and they get a big kick out of it all. So it’s very cool. Right now, everything is just fantastic. I’ve got all the right actors, I’ve got a real A-team for my crew – Allon Scheyer, Dennis Newman, Anastasia Chater, and of course my wonderful soon-to-be wife Susan – and right now we’re making some really cool movies. I think people will totally dig them. Enjoy!

BM – All those movies to look forward to, I hope you won’t keep us waiting too long! Thanks for taking the time.

JH – Thank you, and you won’t have to wait much longer, promise!

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We here at Rogue Cinema wish Jim and Susan all the luck in the world! If you’d like to find out more about Jim’s movies you can visit his Grave Danger web page or his MySpace page. We can’t wait for Grave Danger, Witchmaster General and (hopefully) From The Inside, and when we get the lowdown on these movies, you know that you’ll hear it here first!