[interview by Justin Kerswell]
Alex Pucci is the director and Draven Gonzalez the screenwriter of the upcoming slasher flick from the Screamkings stable, CAMP DAZE. A homage to '80s slasher fare which follows a group of young people who break down while driving through a remote forest, and come across a place called Camp Hiawatha. Both the camp and the teenagers inhabiting seem trapped in 1981, with the attendant styles, attitudes and lingo-and a psycho killer stalking and murdering them. The campers have been cursed to re-experience the bloody night over and over again, and the modern-day newcomers try to help them break the cycle.
Both of them were kind enough to talk to about their new movie, inspiration and the emergence of the Scream King.
Q: Would it be fair to call CAMP DAZE a cross between THE BURNING and GROUNDHOG DAY?
DG: I don’t know if THE BURNING is the correct movie to compare it to. Not even FRIDAY THE 13TH for that matter. Both of those films were driven by revenge. This one is driven by one of the most basic human instincts—survival. Sure, those films take place at a camp, but I’d be more inclined to compare it to WRONG TURN and GROUNDHOG DAY.
Q: Everyone I know who's heard the premise has been struck by its brilliant simplicity. Oh, and they've almost universally asked “Why didn't I come up with that?”. How exactly did you come up with the idea of CAMP DAZE?
AP: My love of camp slasher films began as a high school student in 1981. Over the years as I've watched the genre change and evolve with the times I longed for the simplicity of the early films. A few years ago when I watched the horrid Jason X I was inspired by the one scene where they send him into a hologram deck recreation of camp Crystal Lake. The audience reacted to that recreation of earlier times.
I worked on it for over a year until I felt sure that that I had a story idea that people would love. Take a group of morally questionable young adults from the early 21st century and send them back to the days of tube socks, bongs hits and short shorts, throw them in a quiet summer camp full of blood and watch the fun unfold.
Q: Do you envisage a BRADY BUNCH MOVIE style culture-clash when the kids from different eras come face-to-face?
DG: The clash I had in my head was more like dropping SID & NANCY in the middle of Donna Reed’s living room as she’s vacuuming the carpet.
AP: In CAMP DAZE these unfortunate campers are stuck reliving the same day over and over again. The massacre occurs every night and every morning they start the same day over. They are trapped in 1981. They need the kids from 2005 to help them out.
The whole story is about trying to find a way out of that hell, and the juxtaposition between attitudes of people in 1981 to people in 2005.
The language barrier is fun as is the cultural references. Much of the film’s humor grows out of these misunderstandings. For example the open, coarse language and attitude of kids today, raised on MTV and HBO is contrasted with a right wing Christian counselor from 1981 steeped in the words of Anita Bryant . The modern and open attitudes about sexuality rub up against 1981 teen counterparts whose closeted programming has them reeling from the encounters. The big theme of the story is, if you put those people together, despite how things have changed, they have to work together to solve the problem.
Q: Everyone's aware how notoriously difficult it can be to pull off a horror/comedy. What balance are you going for?
AP: We are going for horror, gore and scare as our primary target. Humor is used to break the tension and to keep the audience engaged and the plot moving.
DG: Exactly. Horror and suspense are most important to me. But you can’t have absolute terror without a little humor thrown in at the right spots.
Q: I regard 1981 as the golden year of the early 80's slashers, with such subgenre classics as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, MY BLOODY VALENTINE and many more. Presumably you do too?
AP: Exactly...it was the year. My high school friends and I saw every one of those and even began making our own. That’s why I set the film in 1981. It is the most reflective year of that genre. 1981 is the last year before the cultural explosion of "the 80s". It still retains the simplicity of last few years of the 70s.
DG: Looking back now, I can see how it was. At the time I was only 6 years old and all I knew was that I had to sneak into the living room after my parents went to sleep so I could catch HALLOWEEN 2, THE OMEN 3, THE BEYOND and a few earlier films showing on a rerun.
Q: I understand you have hired someone to recreate the hairdo's (and presumably 'hair-don'ts!) from 1981 for the film. What other steps are you taking to set the ambience just right?
AP: The nostalgia for 1981 is nearly as beautiful as the setting, a summer camp in Maine that more than authenticates the film. Lakeside with a horseshoe of cabins, a mess hall, an infirmary, rope course, and archery. It's the stuff dreams, umpteen films, and the occasional coming of age story are made of.
We have a pretty extensive art, wardrobe and make-up department to make sure that the clothes of the period, the styles, the cars, the girls and the guys are all accurate. We did a lot of work on eBay - you type in 1981 and you'll find all kinds of great stuff. Posters, old albums, magazines, calendars. I graduated high school in 1981, the Costume Designer in 1983, and the stunt coordinator graduated in 1984, so we were able to drag some stuff out of our own closets. To make the atmosphere even more authentic, cell phones and computers were off limits, but it didn't matter - there was no cell service in the area, anyway. It's a fascinating experience for our actors because we have a whole crew of L.A. actors, who, for the first couple days, were wandering around like zombies. They would try to drive to New Hampshire during a break so they could use their phones. But, we wanted it to be authentic. We turned off the Internet service and the only music we had playing was stuff from 1981. Using massive speakers that broadcast through the camp, the camp would wake up to the exact same songs every morning. Playing the top 10 hits of Aug 1981 helped them stay focused on the characters having to live the same day over and over again. We were really trying to create a feeling of being trapped in 1981. All in all, not such a bad thing.
Q: Would you describe yourselves as fans of slasher flicks from this period? If so, what are your favourites?
AP: Total fan. Favorites would be the original HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH. HALLOWEEN II and FRIDAY THE 13TH 2 and 3 are cool as well. And, I must say in a twisted way, there is a soft spot in my heart for the first SLEEPAWAY CAMP. The she-male thing at the end is always a stomach turner.
DG: The first horror movie I saw was WHEN A STRANGER CALLS when I was 4 in 1979. It scared the shit out of me! It was deliberately slow and most of the fear came from what you didn’t see. The first 15 minutes scarred me for life, which is why I’m so in love with the genre today. I then fell in love with the HALLOWEEN series as well as the FRIDAY franchise. The original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is another that I’ll always hold close to my heart. But I think my all time favorite has to be from the mid 80’s: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Wes Craven is my idol. Brilliant writer and director.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the killer stalking the campground – are you basing him (perhaps her) on any famous slashers from that time?
AP: The killer remains a mystery throughout the film. You don't learn who it is until the end. Lots of good killer point of views and stalking. We hope that the intrigue will add to the mystery and excitement of the film. Lots of potential killers in the story.
Q: One of the big selling points of the camp slashers of yore was the way that the counselors and their charges were bloodily dispatched with a variety of garden implements. Can we expect a similar Savini'esque bloodbath in CAMP DAZE?
AP: Oh yes. One of the hallmarks of the early films was they were not afraid to show onscreen deaths. The blood and gore factor is high. We have over 30 on screen deaths and utilized nearly 40 gallons of blood. Campers and counselors were hacked with axes, shovels, ropes, arrows, cleavers, hatchets, garden rakes, pitch forks, machete, kitchen knives and spears
DG: Heehee. There’s one central tool, which I named after our Art Director that makes quite an impression on many campers. The Michelle.
Q: What kind of audience are you hoping to attract with CAMP DAZE?
DG: Anyone who is connoisseur of the genre; horror, the 80’s, slashers, camp films. This story hits so many levels that it can be mainstream.
Q: Am I right in thinking that SCREAMKINGS is the flip side of the 'scream queen'? Those famous (and in some cases infamous) ladies usually had a great pair of lungs, what are you looking for in the male equivalent?
AP: We are using the name to help showcase the fact that the modern horror film should showcase the male actors as well as the female characters and bring a good balance in terms of screen time, death scenes and long loving shots of this great looking cast. Plus some of our guys really know how to scream.
Q: When can we expect to get out hands on CAMP DAZE, and where will we be able to find it?
AP: We should have our first cut ready for sale by spring. You can always go to www.screamkings.com to find out the actual release date and where you can buy a copy of the DVD.