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July 16, 2010

Interview: Special Effects Artist Marcus Koch

by David Hayes

Marcus Koch is a special effects wizard that has leant a gooey, drippy hand to some wonderful genre films, most recently H.G. Lewis' The Uh Oh Show and Vito Trabucco's Bloody, Bloody Bible Camp. He is also an award-wining director and the auteur responsible for 100 Tears, Rot (my personal favorite) and the upcoming Fell.

Marcus took a bite out of the Head Cheese and we were lucky enough to get a few words with him.

CHC: It is a definite pleasure to be talking to the director of ROT! I am unashamedly a huge fan of the film. Being your first film, can you comment on the experience itself and if there are any updates on a new presentation?

MK: The Days of ROT, fond memories indeed, I liked the word ROT and decided it would make a great title for a movie. For what exactly I didn't have a clue. However, I wanted to center the movie around the circle of friends I had, and kind of play off the people I met in high school, a combo of the punk/Goth kids. And of course, I loved zombie films, but really wanted to make a different kind of zombie film. So ROT was born, my zombie film with out being a zombie film. Just people rotting alive. Of course, my warped sense of humor had to throw in a bout of necrophilia, and a mad scientist (played insanely over the top, by Joel D Wynkoop).

I had a great friend of mine, and front man for the punk band the SCAMS, Billly Scam (yes 3 L's) who just had a great look and a great personality, he was cocky, yet funny, and down for anything. I wrote Muzzy for him and Tiffany Stinky (her real last name is Steinke), but high school cruelty and name calling garnered Tiff an inescapable nick name, also it was rumored she went a month without showering. Anywho, the name stuck and I cast her as Sarah the Goth/Necrophiliac and Muzzys' girlfriend.

From there Billly and I bounced ideas back and fourth and came up with a rough outline, and I wrote a small script, but left it open for improve. To me this is the best way to work; I prefer actors to just do their thing and see what develops but follow a guideline of things that needed to happen along the way.

I cast Joel D Wynkoop, because I had seen some films of his when he worked with Tim Ritter (Creep, Truth or Dare) and decided he had this ultimate level of camp that cannot be topped. So, I got the three of them together, on nights and weekends, threw them in pretty horrible conditions, awkward situations, gross make up, disgusting fluids, and many long hours.

We shot for 6 months, and it took me 2 months to edit (keep in mind this was actual deck-to-deck tape editing). Viva low fi! We had a big premiere in truly the most punk rock fashion.

We screened it at a Punk venue that the SCAMS would play often. On five or six different TV screens all piled together, onstage in different hues and contrasts, and sizes. We packed the place out, I had seen some big shows there during those days, but nothing compared to the amount of people crammed into this place. All sitting quietly, actually watching it, laughing in the right places, gagging in other spots (heh, vomit kiss).

It was great! We knew we had something on our hands here.

It was the first film I had that had been picked up and distributed nationwide through E.I. Cinema. I think you can still find copies on to this day.

Now going on 13 years later, I think its ready for a new DVD. What do you think?

CHC: We have a common fascination with clowns, in the most depraved way. What can you tell us about 100 Tears?

MK: I love clowns, in an unhealthy sick sort of way. I think clowns used to scare the shit outta me as a kid. So naturally, I wanted to do a film with a scary clown.

100 Tears came out of nowhere, blindsiding me. I was trying to
(and still trying) to get my script Babydoll off the ground, when Elmar Berger, contacted me and asked, do you want to make a crazy gore film? Fuck yes I wanted to, he said it can be what ever I wanted to do, as long as it was fucking crazy gory. DONE!

At the time I was roommates with Joe Davison, an improv comic and a writer/actor. I told him I want to do a clown film. We bounced around some ideas, set up some basic rules to follow: the clown couldn't speak, would not kill in a clown-y sort of way, like no pies to the face, or strangle anyone with a balloon animal. More or less, we wanted to keep the clown scary and violent and would allow the humor in the film to come out through the main characters and the absurd situations, while keeping the killings gruesome and over the top.

After this, Joe wrote the script in 4 days (non-stop!). That motherfucker was a machine. Once we got the first draft, we spent the next 2 months tweaking the story, and starting pre production.

The entire shoot really went smoothly and gallons of blood were spilled almost nightly. It was a gory good time.

Once it was finished we sent it out to the MPAA to get a rating. I had never done this before and just wanted to see what would happen. Three months of waiting went by, and we got a phone call.

We earned an NC-17 (!) for excessive Gore and Violence! Awesome! A true badge of honor! Until it came time to release it. We were asked to cut it down to an R. Fuck no. Its really not that bad of a film, its cartoon violence. and over the top. It would ruin the fun if we cut out the gore, so Anthem (our distributor) suggested instead of cutting it down, just alter the cut, and add some more gore to it and we can release it as UNRATED.

This Unrated vs. NC-17 battle has always struck me as strange. The NC-17 tag was a bad thing since not too many retailers will carry it. Yet, strangely enough, almost anything that was released as an R puts out an Unrated or Uncensored DVD (usually far worse then getting an NC-17) and its a fucking goldmine. Everyone wants the most extreme cut because they sell like hotcakes.

So go figure. All this bullshit over a label.

Anyway, to date its slowly been gaining a cult following. Some people really dig it because of the offbeat mix of humor and gore. Others hate it because they don't like humor mixed with gore, but its' been doing well and 100 Tears opens on the big screen in January 2011 in the UK and Ireland!

CHC: There has been some sequel talk recently. Care to comment?

MK: Our German distributor has mentioned in passing that they would like a sequel, and, oddly enough, I'm not one for sequels. I killed pretty much everyone off to avoid this! HA, I actually got in a mini argument on set about killing off Joe Davison's character. He wanted to live because he's a lead, I said fuck you… Mark takes a dirt nap.

But if there is enough demand, I might just have to swallow my pride on the whole sequel stance and just do it. But that's a pretty tall order to follow because one thing is certain, it would have to OUT GORE the original, and I mean seriously up the ante on the gore and body count level. I'm talking 11 across the board!

CHC: I've had the distinct pleasure of seeing Fell (review coming soon). It's a powerful little film, what can you tell us about it?

MK: Fell was born out of passion for making films, that's an entire article all its own. The how's and whys' this film was forged into existence are long, so I'll try and sum it up in a nutshell. Bear with me...

Kristian Day, who scored 100 Tears, shot a film called Body in a Dumpster, (and I did FX). We wanted to work together again, and came up with Blood Junkie ( actually based on a forgotten film I started shooting after ROT) but the movie fell apart. We dusted off this idea, and got Jeff Dylan Graham involved. and another actress who will not be named (actually I've forgotten her name now). We flew everyone to Iowa ( which is where Kristian lives) and we revamped the story, and started shooting. From day one, things starting going south. I've worked with some Divas' and Drama Queens but nothing could prepare me for the absolute psychotic behavior of this "actress."

With more then half the movie shot, 10 days into a 14 day shoot.
I had to fire her, and let me tell you, I've never fired anyone in my life. This was a very hard thing to do because she was the lead in the film. There was no replacing her now. This film would have to just end here… its celluloid suicide! But I had no choice. she had to go, if I could tell you the day-to-day insanity, I would.

After she was gone, Jeff, Kristian, Katie and I sat there, in a daze, upset and bewildered at what had just unfolded before our eyes. The entire film is now unfix-able, un-salvageable, a waste of our time. Depressed, and defeated, we spent the last bit of money we had on booze and decided to drink far past oblivion. Now, 3 sheets to the wind, tears streaming down our drunken faces, we said, fuck this! We are not giving up!, No way are these last days going to be a loss.

With that, we started brainstorming something that had to be simple. That had to be effective. That had to be essentially one location and then it was like lightning was going off, it was the ultimate think tank! Within an hour, we had a solid story. The only problem was , it was now almost 6 am, and that only gave us 3 days before Jeff and I had to fly home.

So we got some rest, oddly enough I don't think anyone was hungover, and if we were, the passion we had to make this film a reality outweighed everything else we were feeling.

We woke, and went right to work like a well-oiled machine. The 4 of us, like fiends, rabid to make our art and to do what we love the most… create a world of make believe. Everything went flawlessly smooth. We wrote the story to take place over 3 days time, we shot in chronological order, which is rare when shooting a movie, and in 3 days we completed the principal photography.

We planned to regroup in December and try to give Blood Junkie another go (it would have been round 3 for me on that storyline ).

December came, we regrouped, rewrote, recast the lead actress, only to once again have everything go horribly wrong. Starting off on the wrong foot, once again a Blizzard came, and shut us down. Sometimes you just have to accept the way the cards are dealt.

After this, I decided that we at least had Jeff , Kristian, and Katie, so why don't we just shoot a few pick up shots and flashbacks for Fell to help reveal more of their past relationship and what went wrong,

Again, working with them, everything went flawlessly smooth. I couldn't ask to work with anyone more professional and dedicated.

With that I went home to piece the Fell puzzle together and all the pieces just simply fell into place ( pun intended ).

Kristian Day is an amazing musician, but not in the traditional sense. He creates feelings and emotions and ultimately finds ways to use his sound design to make you feel uncomfortable and disturbed. His score for Fell is absolutely remarkable it heightens everyone's performance and it's the honest marriage between image and sound.

Although I'm known for my extreme gore, and over the top FX, this was a completely different animal. I'm still not sure how everyone is going to react to this since there is no gore in it. Because it's a psychological drama, its dark, its brooding, it's depressing. It has a very deliberate tone and atmosphere and pace that creeps slowly to the end.

I'm not sure how people will accept it yet.

As far as anything I've done, I'm most proud of Fell, for not only the end result. but the triumph over the obstacles we had to overcome to get there. It was an amazing adventure, at breakneck speeds. Three days!

CHC: You had the opportunity to work with Jeff Dylan Graham as well. His performance was outstanding.

MK: Jeff is one of a kind, a true professional both on camera and off. In Fell, I let Jeff run with the character, we all knew what had to happen, and how the story was to unfold, so to me giving an actor like Jeff free reign, and total control was easy.

So much can transpire when you let the actor build their role, and for Jeff, it was a steady decent into madness. You're taken along with him as he slowly cracks, and tries to pick up the remnants of what happened, and make sense of it.

The audience is never let in, or gets to see what's happening. You are right there, in the insanity, witnessing it the way Bill is witnessing it and I don't think it could have worked with any other actor they way it works with Jeff's' performance. he brings a credible reality to it and it leaves its mark on you.

CHC: Your special effects resume is starting to read like a who's who in horror. Tell us about working with H.G. Lewis on The Uh Oh Show.

MK: Herschell, is 83 years old and ultimately the kindest, most laid-back madman! His sense of humor is offbeat, and it's true, he usually shoots his movies with one take. You are damn lucky to get a second take. If an actor asked for a second take his response was : "It doesn't matter, it's going straight to radio," or, "what was wrong with that take?"

If you know anything about his past films, then you know you are along for the ride, and what kind of ride it's going to be. It's going to be over the top. Its going to be wacky and, most of all, the BLOOD is going to FLOW !

This was a dream come true. I grew up watching Color Me Blood Red, Blood Feast and Wizard of Gore. So I was a kid in a very bloody candy store.

My first production meeting with him, I was showing him 100 Tears clips, and showed him some props, and his response threw me for a loop. His words were, "This stuff looks too real, can you make it look fake?" This was a request I didn't quite understand. Shelby McIntyre, who was assisting me, just looked at me and we both had a blank stare. What they hell does he mean?

OK, so now we are totally afraid that if we make everything look fake , we would never get work again. I mean, who would want to hire those guys who made the godfather of Gore, HG Lewis' FX look fake?!

But that's not what its about. Once we got rolling and got a better feel for how he works and his vision that has never been about the gore. He knows it has always looked fake and doesn't intend for it to ever look real. If you watch his films only for the gore you've missed his point. The gore has just always been there as icing on the cake, it's a party favor. Its just fun. not the focus.

So that's what we did. We made things over the top and bizarrely cartoonish and it works. Its just the right way. Watching the finished film, the punchline would be lost if the effects were "real" looking, they would be sorely out of place.

But he's a hell of a man, with a wry razor sharp wit and a kooky way of looking things . It'll be a hell of a show, just the way Uncle Herschell intended!

CHC: What films have inspired our work, both as a director and effects maestro?

MK: Almost anything inspires me, especially the underdog. I like knowing most of the films that inspire me were the true independents and they all had a hard road ahead of them and made it out alive. Films like, Frankenhooker, Evil Dead, Bad Taste, Reanimator, Dead Alive, Street Trash, I love films that are over the top, and have a dark sense of humor and/or are completely gross or gory .

CHC: Give us Marcus Koch's Ultimate 10 Movie Gorehound Watch List. Go!

MK: Hmm, tough one. Like I said, I like humor with my gore so here we go!

10. Street Trash

9. Reanimator

8. Bride of Reanimator

7. Society

6. Brain Damage

5. From Beyond

4. Body Melt

3. Gutterballs

2. Laid to Rest

1. Frankenhooker

CHC: What are you working on now, anything coming up you want the masses to know about?

MK: I'm currently working on Bloody Bloody Bible Camp, directed and produced by Vito Trabucco, and Shelby McIntyre, with Tim Sullivan , Reggie Bannister, and Ron Jeremy. And, yes, the film is equally as offensive and vulgar as it is bloody bloody!

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