h o m e / n e w s / f o r u m s / r a n t s / d v d s / b o o k s / i n t e r v i e w s / o t h e r c r a p / l i n k s / c o n t a c t / s h o p

A Conversation with Dante Tomaselli - Director of Satan's Playground and the upcoming The Ocean
Conducted April 26-27, 2006
Interview Conducted By: Matthew Dean Hill

Dante Tomaselli’s movies are known to consistently blend horror and art to such an extent that many would-be fans are somewhat intimidated to just dive right in and explore what they have to offer. I know. I’m one of those people. Boy, am I glad I’ve gotten into his stuff, though! Really eye-opening, disturbing, and fun all at the same time! Plus, Dante’s a heck of a nice guy, he’s got talent to spare, and he absolutely loves horror movies. Yep. Loves ‘em. So, I was pleased to be able to sit down with Dante recently to discuss his films, his opinions on the genre, and a few of his exciting upcoming projects.

Matthew Dean Hill: Thanks for joining us, Dante! You’ve generated quite a loyal and rabid fanbase over the last several years. To what do you attribute this popular success…even if it’s in specific circles?

Dante Tomaselli: Well, I've just been doing my own thing, kind of chipping away, not paying attention to trends. I'm just quietly making my movies...the films I want to make, with final cut. I think independent filmmakers probably respect that because I am marching to the beat of my own drummer. These movies I'm creating are not about me trying to break into Hollywood or anything. Luckily, the horror community is watching. Although I haven't gotten widespread theatrical releases of my films yet, Desecration, Horror and Satan's Playground are distributed by, without a doubt, the top DVD distributors...I mean pioneers in DVD. I'm proud to be associated... Image Entertainment, Elite Entertainment and just recently, the cream of the crop...Anchor Bay Entertainment. Look out for Satan's Playground coming this summer through Anchor Bay. The film stars Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead) and Edwin Neal (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). It's about a vacationing family lost in the woods, the Pine Barrens, a densely wooded area that covers 1.1 million acres of land in Southern New Jersey. Satan's Playground is an eerie old-fashioned horror picture that strives to capture the feeling of paranoia, of being stalked. It's set in the late ‘70's, early ‘80s. No cell phones. I just recorded the audio commentary and Anchor Bay is putting together a Behind-the-Scenes piece for the disc as we speak. The independent movie was shot on Super 16 mm, in 25 days, with a $500,000 budget.

MDH: So, you’ve got several projects on the horizon, including a film called The Ocean. What can you tell me about that project? Give me some hot scoopage!

DT: The Ocean...it's going to star Margot Kidder (The Amityville Horror), Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos), Judith O'Dea (Night of the Living Dead), Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Tom Atkins (The Fog), Lynn Lowry (Cat People) and John Fallon. I need 1 million to really do The Ocean justice. There's just been a delay in securing all the funding. Aside from that, everything is in place; the locations, the actors, the screenplay is set. With the writing, I collaborated with Michael Gingold from Fangoria Magazine. He brought a lot to the table in terms of dialogue, characterization. I've already chosen my DP, Production Designer, Special Make-up FX Supervisor...just like my other films before I shot them, I pretty much have it all mapped it out in my mind, more or less. Most of the music and sound design has been established for The Ocean. Bizarre, right? The movie hasn't even been shot yet [laughs]! It seems backwards. But with me, the music really inspires...everything. It moves me along in the writing process, shooting, editing. Sometimes, many times, the sound design becomes the dominant force and it actually shapes a scene. It happens a lot. Music has a lot of power. I'm making movies that are trancelike experiences...hallucinatory. I want to push buttons in the unconscious mind. These are ambient horror films. The Ocean is coming. It's coming! It's like I'm pregnant [laughs]!

MDH: You’re in talks to direct the latest “Halloween” movie, right? It’s tentatively called Halloween 9, correct? How is that coming along? Last I heard, you were just one of several directors being considered for that job. How does it feel to (possibly) be involved in that franchise? Are you going to bring some new and exciting stuff to that overcrowded table?

DT: I really shouldn't talk about Halloween 9. I have absolutely no idea what's happening with it at this point. It's in development. Of course I'd love to do it, and I'd try to bring back the spirit of the original. But the ball is in the producer's court now. I'm here, if they decide. I'm on fire to direct Halloween 9. Bring it on.

MDH: You’ve got a considerable talent for incorporating surreal elements into your films, and treating your subject matter with originality and flair. Now, we’ve all got influences, so who or what are your biggest influences as a filmmaker?

DT: Thanks. My cousin's film, Alice, Sweet Alice really influenced me. Also the original Halloween. All of John Carpenter's early films, The Fog, The Thing...Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre...Let's Scare Jessica to Death...The Exorcist...Carrie...David Cronenberg's The Brood... Videodrome... Rabid.... Scanners... Shivers... the Coffin Joe movies. Recently I've gotten into Italian horror films. I can definitely see why even though I'm American and from New Jersey, people sometimes compare my work to Italian horror films. I mean, I'm Italian American; there must be something in the blood. It's just instinctual. I like for my images to be electrified, glowing. The truth is, really, I'm most influenced by my own nightmares. I've had reoccurring nightmares that look and feel like Desecration, Horror and Satan's Playground.

MDH: You’re obviously a genre fan, but how often do you get out to the theater to watch new genre flicks? What do you think of the recent Hollywood trend of remaking classics and/or the “flavor of the month” Asian horror films? Do you see these trends as being potentially harmful to the genre?

DT: I haven't been to a movie theatre in many years. I really don't like most modern films anyway. I almost avoid all new films. I just do. I don't care. I saw the remake of The Amityville Horror on DVD and it looked like a TV commercial. Seriously, it was shot exactly like a TV commercial! Yuk! The remake craze is a double edged sword. On one hand it could give horror filmmakers like me a chance to work on a fairy large budget. On the other hand, there's something whorish about it. I don't know. I have mixed feelings about it all. The Fog, come on! Don't touch it! Certain films should never be remade. And they are...and they will be. So it's kind of depressing. Actually, I wouldn't mind doing a remake of [Tobe Hooper’s] The Funhouse. I love and respect the original and feel I could bring something unique to it. So I'm contradicting myself. It's a messy subject and as a filmmaker trying to make a living it's something I have to wrestle with.

MDH: Horror, as a genre, tends to carry some socially-relevant aspects with it; that is to say that horror films often reflect the time in which they were made. What films, in your opinion, attempt (if not accomplish) to capture the zeitgeist of the last decade or so?

DT: Well, I can't name other new horror films because I haven't seen enough to comment. I think unconsciously all horror filmmakers are tapping into their fears of terrorism. I get that mood from the non-stop abduction horror movies. I know my films reflect the fear of the end of the world or the end of my world.

MDH: How did you get your start? What were the major contributing factors?

DT: I was a bizarre child, always fantasizing. I majored in Film at Pratt in Brooklyn, NY and then transferred to the New York School of Visual Arts. [It was] definitely a great learning experience, being exposed to artists from all over the world. I lived in NYC for many years creating, pretty much non-stop, a series of "Desecration" shorts. Originally the shorts were titled Mama’s Boy. Finally, one of my “Desecration” shorts got into festivals, and with that exposure I was able to raise money for the full length feature. I met an investor at the IFFM, the Independent Feature Film Market at Angelika Film Center in NYC. Jack Swain. He got together $150,000. I shot Desecration on Super 16 mm film. Image Entertainment picked it up for DVD distribution. It got a lot of reviews and kind of became a cult item. Then Jack Swain and I did my second film Horror. The budget was $250,000. Elite picked it up. Variety Magazine reviewed it pretty favorably. It was polarized in some circles, but a lot of reviews again and overall the horror press liked it. Then I worked with Em & Me Productions, a NY-based production company on my third feature, Satan's Playground. As you know Anchor Bay just picked it up for distribution.

MDH: What, if anything, would be your “dream project”? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do as a filmmaker, but haven’t yet had the chance to do?

DT: I'd love to do a big budget horror movie one day. I don't mind making low budget horror films, but you know, when the time is right...Something epic.

MDH: Have you ever considered doing any non-genre films?

DT: No. Not at all. I'm here for horror. As long as I'm alive, I'll keep doing horror.

MDH: CGI has pretty much overtaken practical effects in mainstream movies. How do you feel about CGI? I’m something of an idealist on the matter (as my readers are aware), but I will admit that when CGI works, it works…I just hate to see it “replace” special makeup effects or mechanical effects on general principle. Ruminations? Thoughts?

DT: Yeah CGI works when you have a 100 million budget, like Lord of the Rings or something. Otherwise, I think it looks too cartoon-ish. When I want to watch a cartoon, I'll watch one. I like working with a real Special Make-up FX craftsman, not some person with a mouse. Films these days look so processed, so assembly line. They're all like clones. Of course I'm generalizing, there are some good eggs, but overall...

MDH: Is “PG-13” a dirty word to you?

DT: Yeah. Usually. I seem to mostly enjoy R rated movies.

MDH: Where do you think the genre is headed? In what direction would you like to see it go, if you had your “druthers”? Or, where wouldn’t you like to see the genre go?

DT: I think independent filmmakers like me are going to take over [laughs]! I'm really in my own bubble. I don't really go out and see modern horror movies. It's hard for me to comment on that. I have tunnel vision. I'm too in my own fog, making my own movies.

MDH: Now that you’re an “established” genre figure, you’ve no doubt got some perspective and opinions on things. Having said that, who in your opinion are some up-and-coming filmmakers “to watch”?

DT: Chris Garetano directed a great, visually exciting documentary called Horror Business. He's one to watch definitely. Adam Barnick has a stylish, visceral short called Mainstream. These guys have films that are on the Fangoria’s Blood Drive DVDs. They're both friends of mine now too.

MDH: Is there such a thing as “too much violence” or “too much gore” in a film? At what point does onscreen violence become gratuitous and/or unnecessary?

DT: Violence can be beautiful...art. Look at The Evil Dead. I'm all for gore - when it works.

MDH: Here’s a “gun to the head” question: what are your five favorite horror films, and why?

DT: [#1 would be] Halloween. I saw it at my ninth birthday party with my friends on Halloween in 1979. It was SUCH an electrifying experience. I'll never forget the thrill of being so scared and in ecstasy at the same time. The music, mood, excruciating suspense...Jamie Lee Curtis. I am deeply in love with Halloween. There has never been a better horror movie. Really...nothing beats Halloween. #2 would be Alice, Sweet Alice (aka Communion) because it's my cousin's movie. I saw it when I was very young. The doll-like mask gave me nightmares. I was amazed with what my cousin was able to do with such a low budget. I know all those Italian American Paterson New Jersey locations. The Madonna statues everywhere. It's a scary, enigmatic film. Speaking of enigmatic, #3 would be [Nic Roeg’s] Don't Look Now. It's just a beautifully frightening puzzle. Such a mature film. I love that I still don't completely understand it. #4 would be The Texas Chainsaw Massacre because it so blood-curdling and unrepentant. It's straight to the depths of hell with that one. The thought of Sally being chased in those woods gives me the chills right now. #5 would be Suspiria because I can watch the movie over and over and feel invigorated each time. I'm sucked into a vacuum. Dario Argento has created the ultimate nightmare on film here. It explodes off the screen. With art and horror merging, this is the best of the best.

MDH: Other than the aforementioned projects, is there anything on the horizon for you that you can share with us? Just an inkling, perhaps?

DT: Salem. It's my demonic possession film. My first period piece. I'm interested in places where there are reverberations of evil.

MDH: Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

DT: When you're trying your hardest to create your first feature and people around you are dragging you down, jealous, or whatever their reasons are, my advice is to drop those friends. They are energy vampires! Beware! Let the movie dominate...your passion for the movie, let it take over and obliterate everything. There are lots of chattering voices in your mind saying it's impossible. But it is possible. It really is.

MDH: Well, thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions, Dante! We're all looking forward to Satan’s Playground, The Ocean, and your other upcoming projects. You've certainly shed some light on what makes you tick as a filmmaker and as a creative force in general.

DT: Thank you, Matt for the excellent questions. I had a lot of fun.

Relevant Links:

You can learn more about Satan’s Playground by visiting the official Satan’s Playground site!

Click HERE to visit Dante’s web site!

c o n t a c t / i n f o