Today, we are interviewing the director of the indie horror-comedy The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu, recently released on DVD. Hailing from San Antonio, he describes himself as someone who designs “all the fake stuff that usually no one sees in the background for television and movies.” He has directed music videos and is currently wrapping post-production on Bounty Killer, which stars Christian Pitre, Branton Box and Barak Hardley, who played Paul in Last Lovecraft. Michael Tavera is providing the score.
IFP: The title sequence and the animated portions are really fun. Who is responsible for those?
HS: Thanks, I did the opening title sequence and the animated portions, although in truth, they’re more Monty Python-esque, moving cutouts than real animation.
IFP: Correct me if I’m wrong, but this was your feature debut, right?
HS: Yes, couldn’t you tell?
IFP: How did you become involved with the film?
HS: A while back, Devin, Kyle and I worked on a pilot for a tv show and we’ve all been friends for a while. We had a lot of fun making the show, so when Devin had an idea for doing a Lovecraft movie, it was just a matter of getting the band back together.
IFP: As a director, how do you tackle a production with a small budget so you get the most bang for your buck?
HS: The first answer is to borrow, rob, cheat, and steal as much as possible. We used the old phrase: “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” almost on an hourly basis and often to each other. I was also lucky enough to have a lot of friends in the business who let us pillage their prop houses, use their equipment, even score the movie for the low price of nothing. And all of us asked our families and friends to give us anything they could, from their time to their houses, toilet paper, anything. The second answers is to just go at it head-first, with blind optimism. There’s no money, the train has derailed, it’s on fire, and it’s headed for a cliff, and you just have to keep making the movie and have that energy that will encourage the cast and crew to go on the ride with you. The third answer, which is something I wish I had known a little earlier in the process, is truly never take ‘no’ for an answer.
IFP: Who was responsible for the design of the creatures?
HS: I sketched up the original designs based off some of Lovecraft’s descriptions. I then worked with Kris Kobzina and Kim Graczyk, who both just ran with it and designed them further to bring them more to life and sculpt them around the fact that people would be inside them. A funny thing you never think about is people’s noses. I kept asking if we could just cut off Ethan’s nose and poke his eyes out to make his Star Spawn look more menacing, but I guess actor mutilations come with bigger budgets. An odd inspiration was Pito, my good friend’s bulldog, who always came in to slobber on me when I was sketching. His ugly mug was where I started the design for the Deep Ones, with his nasty underbite.
IFP: What’s harder: making people laugh or scaring them?
HS: In the case of this movie, I would say scaring them. With a low budget, it’s easier to make a fun creature like our sucker fish and just let it be funny at how ridiculous it is. The biggest problem lack of money brings on a movie with 13 or so locations is a lack of time, so we kept finding we would run out of time everyday to shoot our big kill or suspenseful scene. I’d be running with Devin some storyboards and a bucket of blood, and Cameron, the DP, would be running with lights and, just as we set up, the sun would come up or somebody would be throwing us off their location. But we kind of knew that going in, so we tried to plan to lean more to funny over horror. Originally, Devin wanted to do a take on “At the Mountains of Madness” and we both quickly realized: A. we’re really gonna piss fans off and we only have $1.50 to do it (About $1.46 Canadian for your local readers) B. I’d rather wait for Del Toro’s (which could’ve been forever, as at the time, it wasn’t quite a reality yet) and C. Let’s just be smart and go for the funny.
IFP: So, who did the score?
HS: Michael Tavera. He’s been a good friend of mine for a couple of years. I like to razz him as the King of Straight-to-Video Animated Sequels: Lilo and Stitch 2, Cinderella 2, Land Before Time 2 through 12. Last Lovecraft is straight-to-video and has animation in it, so I think that’s something that appealed to him as an artist. All kidding aside, he’s done incredible scores for a lot of movies and television, and we were very luck to have him compose for our movie. One day, I’ll have a movie as grand as his scores.
IFP: Were there parts of the script you had to change due to budget or time constraints?
HS: Plenty, for sure. Originally, the council scene was a room filled with very old statesmen, and it went more into the lore of Lovecraft and was really funny, because it was all these grumbling old men, who were literally dying of old age in front of Lake, so it was really no choice but for him to take the relic to Jeff because there was no one else. We were scrambling to get actors, anyone, to play these roles, but no one of that age was wiling to work for next-to-nothing. Even the gentleman who owned the house we shot in wouldn’t do it, I was begging him just to sit in the background, anything, and he was very sweet, but had “been burned by Hollywood before.” Our two-person crew gave him the impression we were big-time. So, in the end, we just had Charles and Eddie in this large, empty hall and were just changing the scene on the fly. The Deep Ones were supposed to appear earlier in the desert, as Paul sees them when he’s lying in the bathroom, but they weren’t ready when we were shooting. The paint on the Star Spawn was literally still drying when we started shooting and there was no chance to see what he looked like until we started rolling. The camp scene was supposed to have this wide aftermath scene of all the dead campers, as a silhouette of Leah, (the girl in the tent) was just getting mauled in the background, and then the second Deep One rears his head up into frame, but we had no money or time for that. There’s a pretty unintentionally hilarious clip somewhere of one of the actors flailing around in the tent, with just the head of the Deep One, because the costume had withered away to nothing, at this point, and it’s almost as awesome as Lugosi rolling around with the rubber octopus in Ed Wood. But a lot of the horror we wanted to put into the movie, that Devin wrote or I storyboarded, just got axed. The ending, again, the sun was coming up and we were at the end of everything – money, time, everyone’s rope – and it was like, Just keep shooting until we get thrown out of here! Fuck it, just shoot the dynamite! That’s a wrap! What the hell just happened?! The biggest loss was that we wanted to at least make the head of Cthulhu so when the relic pieces are connected, we would get to see him. That was something we were trying to make happen up to the final edit, but it just wasn’t working and any CGI just looked awful. There was no more money to even make his eyes.
IFP: How did you obtain distribution?
HS: We were selected into SlamDance, which is the Sundance Film Festival’s wilder, dirty cousin who lives across the street. Representatives from MPI/Dark Sky saw it there and picked us up for U.S. and Canadian distribution, and a company called ‘Cinevault’ picked us up for foreign distribution.
IFP: Will there be a sequel?
HS: Devin has written a loose outline for a trilogy. Depending how well Last Lovecraft does will determine if there’s a sequel. Due to the great response of Captain Olaf at our festival run, I’m pretty sure Captain’s Olaf’s salty twin brother, who’s been lost at sea, will make an appearance.
IFP: What do you think keeps fans returning to Lovecraft?
HS: The easy answer is that all of his stories are just incredible – and obviously so in just being such a great influence on all the horror writers that followed him. But I think, deep down it’s because, for whatever reason, he really taps into our fears and our dark psyche, and invites us to ride that fine fringe of unconsciousness and reality. He has this way of writing that truly gets under your skin, very nightmare-ish, and you just get lost and deeply immersed in these dark worlds and characters he creates, and almost start to question your own sanity. And we’re obviously all sick enough to want to keep going back for more.
IFP: If you could be a Lovecraftian creature or character, who would you be and why?
HS: Can I say Herbert West, but the Jeffrey Combs version? I’ve always had a strange love for Shoggoth, ’cause they’re nasty and can change form and roll over penguins at will, but I guess they’re ultimately just slaves, so to hell with it, I’d have to just say, “Cthulhu.” Cthulhu because he’s the ultimate badass and I’ll rule over this land on high, and maybe one, Cartman will ride me around. Or Jeffrey Combs.
The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu is available through Amazon.com.