18th Dec2017

Horror-On-Sea 2018 Interview: Chris J. Miller talks ‘Mortuary Massacre’

by Philip Rogers

Mortuary Massacre is a new anthology style horror from writer and director Chris J. Miller, which has been selected to play at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival on Friday 26th January. I got chance to ask Chris about how the anthology came together, undertaking multiple role to get the film finished and overcoming several obstacles to get the film finished.

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What can we expect from Mortuary Massacre?

Hopefully a bloody good time! It’s an anthology in the vein of the Amicus films, Body Bags (1993) or Creepshow (1982). So, expect a lot of practical makeup effects, some T & A, cannibalism, facial skinning, and even a Nazi zombie shows up to say hello.

How did the ideas for Mortuary Massacre come together as an anthology?

Back in 2011, my writing partner Sean Stearley and I wanted to make a film about a zombie cowboy, but we could never get past the 30-page mark, so we shelved it for a later date. Soon after I finished directing 2035: Forbidden Dimensions (2013), my friend Brian Hendricks offered to give me some dough to make a horror film. We both have a love for most things 80′s and really wanted to do something in the vein of Creepshow and Tales from the Darkside. Even though I had already directed several horror films, they always had strong elements of absurdist surrealism and I wanted to do something more structured and less abstract. I also knew that one of my actors Todd Brown was moving out of state and I wanted him to reprise the role of Detective Giger one more time (Carrion and 2035: Forbidden Dimensions being the first two). So, I dug up the zombie cowboy script and started putting a screenplay together with my ex-wife Lydia (who actually plays the zombie cowboy). Mark McGarrey and Kyle Morris came up with the basic story structure for the other two tales and after a few weeks of rewrites and edits we were ready to start filming.

What were your influences for the look and style of the film?

I collect film prints, and sometimes you get one, and it’s so trashed that it makes a terrible film more fun to watch. One time I had a print of a Paddington Bear short where he was on a train and out of nowhere a bad splice occurred and 20 seconds of a 1930′s western, the Terror of Tiny Town (1938) started playing. So, when it cut back to Paddington, he was already in the midst of causing a panic on the train and it made no sense. I love that kind of random insanity with film, so the look was based on those beat up looking super 8 and 16mm prints that I watched as a kid. Stylistically, I’m always inspired by Italian horror film directors, especially Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento and Claudio Fragasso. The tone of the film was inspired by David Lynch, David Cronenberg and Ken Russell.

You have experience doing various roles on the film set and in Mortuary Massacre you were also doing the special makeup effects artist. Do you think this experience helps you as a director?

It’s important to know everything about the process of making a film and have the ability to do it all yourself in case of an emergency, However, it hurts you as a director when you’re doing multiple jobs on set because you’re not giving 100 percent to the actors and technicians. Making a movie is exhausting enough when you’re just doing one job, but when you’re doing three or four things on a small budget with little time to shoot, eventually you get burnt out. Whenever I write a screenplay I never plan to do anything more than direct and compose the soundtrack, but it’s never quite worked out that way.

Did you experience any issues whilst shooting the film?

Quite a few actually. Before we started filming I was already dealing with a muscle condition called Myofacial pain syndrome and had to take medication which at times had unpredictable effects. While I was doing principal photography on this movie I was also doing make up effects on Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015). On the weekends I would edit footage and score the soundtrack. I was constantly exhausted and after we wrapped, I got even sicker. I was in the emergency room at least once a month for all kinds of bizarre pain. As I edited the film, my marriage was crumbling, and I had a hard time doing make up gigs, because on some days I couldn’t stand up for more than 20 minutes at a time. So, after 10 years of marriage, my wife and I separated and even though I was in severe emotional and physical pain I pushed myself to finish the movie. After putting together, the rough cut and showing it to some of the cast, I got into a terrible car wreck. I Flipped the car three times and wound up in the hospital. After a full body scan, they revealed that I had no damage from the car wreck, but I did have cancer. It was stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and I had a year to live if I didn’t start chemotherapy right away. The rough cut had already attracted several distributors, and my producer and I signed with Wild Eye, but I still had to do a final sound mix, re-edit some scenes, and finish the score. I spent two weeks in a severely weakened state, finishing these elements and shipping the deliverables out to the distributors. I started chemo a few days later and that was another 8 months of terror. I’m in remission now and still have some health problems from the intense therapy, but I beat cancer and still got my movie out there for people to “hopefully” enjoy.

Were there any elements in the finished film which were different your original script?

Oh yeah. At one point I actually threw away the script and told the actors to wing it. I think improve comes across more natural sometimes, and I tend not to care if actors stick to their lines, as long as the performance is interesting. Mark went a step further and re-wrote all of the dialogue for his character and it was much more intense than anything I had written. Also, the original script had Krampus in the third act, but that was removed because another movie was coming out about him.

What was your favorite scene in the movie?

That’s hard to answer. The move doesn’t feel 100% done to me, because I was too sick to really clean it up properly, but I did an homage to Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) that turned out ok. It makes me laugh, but most people get pretty grossed out.

Do you have any other projects which you are working on at the moment?

Currently I’m working on a three-part project: I’m going to release a book of my artwork called Chemobrain and I’ve been filming a surrealistic docudrama called, Utopia Means Nowhere. For the soundtrack to this new flick I started a Synthwave group with Jamie Lawrence called The Justine Connection and we’re planning on releasing an EP on vinyl in the near future.

What advice would you give to someone looking to direct their first film?

Make a short film using your own money and do everything yourself. If you succeed and love it, go get someone else’s money and make your masterpiece.

Mortuary Massacre will be playing at the Horror-on-Sea Festival on Friday 26th January at 7pm.
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For more information on the event and to purchase tickets for the Horror-on-Sea please see the website for details: https://www.horror-on-sea.com

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