Search the Cinema Head Cheese Archives!

April 21, 2011

Interview: Eric Stanze

By James DePaolo

1. What was your childhood like?

As a kid, I didn't go through any tremendous hardship or suffer through any major tragedies - so I'm thankful for that. My family was not well-off financially, but we were not dirt poor either. There was always food on the table and presents under the tree - so again, I'm thankful. I was a very energetic and adventurous kid, inclined to ride my bike all over town or play wiffle ball until the sun went down more than I was inclined to sit quietly in my room all day.

Find Eric Stanze on

I don't think my parents and I ever really "got" each other. I wasn't horribly abused or anything - it was more like my parents and I learned early on to stay out of each other's way. I just never got close to my mom and dad. I bonded much more with my dog Luckie and with my grandparents. My grandparents were wonderful people. I assume my parents are too - I just never really got to know them. To this day, I am rather uncomfortable in traditional family gatherings, with my own family or any other.

I spent my grade school years in a company town that had a lead smelter at its economic center (where my dad, and I guess almost every other adult male, worked). This town was about a half hour south of St. Louis, MO. Our house was on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River - which, though I took it for granted as a kid, was a pretty cool thing. At night in bed, I could hear the bellow of the barge horns as they made their way up and down the river.

From my sixth through tenth grade years we lived near Pittsburgh, PA. Then we moved back to the St. Louis area. When I moved out of my parents house, I moved to the city. I've been living in good ol' St. Louis - America's Most Dangerous City - ever since.

2.What was the one film that made you realize you wanted to do this?

It was probably THE EVIL DEAD. Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD made quite an impact on me too - the city of Pittsburgh really embraced Romero and these films, and being exposed to that while living there certainly struck a chord.

When I was a little kid, long before I started watching horror films, I often watched Jim Henson's "The Muppet Show". One day I saw some behind-the-scenes footage of Henson, Frank Oz, and others operating the puppets from beneath the stage - and I found this absolutely fascinating. Suddenly, "The Muppet Show" was not nearly as interesting to me as the engineering and performance that was going on beneath the stage. For a long time after, I was interested in how puppets were designed and how puppeteers brought those characters to life. I'm pretty sure this began my transition - from wanting to just watch movies, to striving to be a participant in their creation.

3.Fans and critics seem to be so hard on an Eric Stanze, Ryan Nicholson, or Fred Vogel as being so called smut directors, or pushing the boundaries too far. But, when you hear or see interviews with any of the three of you, you come across as very intelligent men, and very open about this slippery slope - that there should not be a boundary line in film. Do you think your films are made to "toughen" people up? Or is crossing boundaries and being confrontational not the point?

The point of cinema is to give the audience an experience that might be physically or emotionally detrimental in real life. Film is entertainment, yes, but it is also cathartic. It's healthy. Every human being has darkness, fear, anger, vengeance, lust, and hate inside them, to some degree. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It is human nature. But it is not safe or proper to display these attributes in society. It is not responsible to let these attributes influence your actions in day to day life. Fiction, whether it is in the form of a movie, book, video game, stage play, or song lyrics, offers a release for these socially unacceptable elements of our selves, and that is important. Any high school science student can tell you that increasing internal pressure without venting will result in an explosion.

So, the more you establish boundaries that films should not cross, the less venting occurs, and the more explosions you get. This concept is evident in Greek tragedy. They believed that the more suffering, violence, and bloodshed they saw on stage, the less they would experience such things in real life. Maybe without fully understanding why, they were right.

When our movies provide the cathartic release, it isn't because Ryan, Fred, and I set out to provide this valuable service. We make movies because we are driven to do so. But the fact that our movies do provide that release is a positive thing - not something we should be apologizing for.

4.What is the status of RATLINE ?

RATLINE has been slow in surfacing. We hit many financial snags making that movie, especially in post-production, and that slowed things down a lot. There were times when RATLINE post-production shut down entirely for a month or two while we went out and did other things to bring more money in. The movie was finished mid-October, 2010. Since the day we had a finished movie to show, we've been working on a distribution plan - but that means we've been at the mercy of the companies we are negotiating with. I really, really want to get this show on the road. But when the front legs want to run fifty miles an hour, and the back legs want to run five miles an hour, guess what - the beast is only gonna move five miles an hour.

5.Is there anything you ever regretted about anything film wise you ever did?

When I'm having trouble paying the electric bill, yeah, I have regrets about certain business decisions. But that sort of problem can seldom be traced back to a single decision I regret. Multiple decisions (including both bad and good ones), plus some bad people you cross paths with, plus some bad luck, all swirl together to create big problems. Anyway, regret is a time-waster and it does nothing to improve your future. Learn from your mistakes, but don't wallow in regret.

On a smaller scale, there have been a few times that I think I've made people unhappy, and I regret those moments. There are many aspects of my job that come with a lot of pressure. When we get it right, it's a big team celebration - and when we get it wrong, I am usually stuck with the blame - and the consequences - alone. Part of my job is to not show the stress this causes me, to keep the team's morale and productivity up. Being direct, telling people when they've fucked up - that just comes with being in charge, and people need to be grown-ups about it if I call them out on their errors. However, once or twice on each production, there's been a lapse in communication, or someone's made a mistake, and I maybe chose words or actions that were a bit too harsh - I was not as respectful as I should have been. And I don't like that. I regret that.

I know many people think a director is supposed to be abusive, yell at everyone, throw tantrums, etc. But that just isn't me. Plus, I know the quality of the work we do will be elevated by enthusiastic collaboration and mutual respect - not by me being an abusive prick to my cast and crew. I am comfortable being in charge and demanding a lot from everyone I work with. But there is no reason to let that bleed over into mistreating people just because of the pressure I’m under.

Sometimes, instead of it being something I did or said, some other form of miscommunication makes someone on one of my productions unhappy. I regret that too. Human beings are more important than movies, and I regret those instances where something I've said, done, or set in motion, makes someone feel bad. I put a lot of effort into making sure those instances are as rare as possible.

6.David Hayes, who works on our site, has been in a ton of stuff. He has an awesome resume on He says it is a dream to work with you some day. Can we get this nice gentleman his dream?

When I get my next feature off the ground, I am going to be overwhelmed, pulled in a thousand directions at once, and have a million things spinning through my head - so I guarantee I will forget all about this moment… HOWEVER, when you guys see I'm getting ready to launch into my next project, get hold of me - find me and tackle me to the ground if you have to - and remind me of this moment. Yes, David, if at all possible, it would be an honor to have you take part in my next movie.

7.Jeff Dolniak on our site is a die hard fan of SCRAPBOOK, and I am a die hard fan of I SPIT… of all the films in the library of Eric Stanze what is your favorite and why?

There are favorites for different reasons. SCRAPBOOK is a favorite because my collaboration with Tom Biondo, Emily Haack, and producer Jeremy Wallace was such a completely positive experience. DEADWOOD PARK is a favorite because I'm proud of the epic story, the creepy atmosphere, and the beauty of the film. RATLINE is a favorite because the creative risks we took were exciting and they made for a very unique movie.

( before we go to the next question, the upcoming questions are about the 10 year anniversary of I spit on your corpse and piss on your grave.)

8.It has been a decade since SPIT was originally released... in the making-of segment, you do not come across as too happy about this film, 5 years later (the interview was 2006). Do you still view this film the same way, or have you grown to appreciate it more?

That was a very chaotic, exhausting, and often dark and unpleasant time in my life, so for those reasons, it's hard to appreciate the movie. Plus, the combination of terrible circumstances and my inexperience in dealing with those hurdles resulted in a movie that is so far below my standards I will likely never learn to love it. But I know that SPIT represents the best I could do at that time, under those circumstances. And, I have to admit, the film has found its audience. The people we made it for - the hardcore exploitation fans - have, over time, discovered the movie and really like it. It is a film made for a very, very niche audience - meaning for every one viewer that loves it, a hundred other people are going to hate it. And that's okay… that's the whole point.

Even when I watch one of my movies that I'm proud of, I can't keep myself from zoning in on the mistakes I made. I have a bad problem with that. I may love 97 percent of DEADWOOD PARK, but I will always focus in on the 3 percent that I think I screwed up.

The positive side of this is that I never ignore my mistakes - I always learn from them. A lot of directors lack the self-confidence to acknowledge their mistakes. I probably acknowledge mine too much. My team has told me that they have a difficult time promoting a movie like DEADWOOD PARK because they're out there telling everyone "DEADWOOD PARK is awesome and you should buy it!" …while I'm always hanging back saying "Yeah, but there's that 3 percent..."

With SPIT, I'm looking at much more than 3 percent that failed to meet my standards. So I'm likely never going to be able to embrace it. It ain't because it's a nasty exploitation film. It's because I wish it was a better nasty exploitation film.

I do know that SPIT, as well as the other super-fast horror flicks I produced for Ron Bonk, honed my skills. I made DEADWOOD PARK right after I stopped working for Ron and the overseas producers. On DEADWOOD PARK, I could tell that I had become more efficient, more sure-footed, and that I could get better coverage in less time - and I know it's due in part to those insane years I spent working as a producer cranking out all those low-budget horror and exploitation films for Ron Bonk and his overseas partners. It all made me a better filmmaker. That I can embrace.

9. Let's be honest about it, when you mention this film... the fans seem to remember two scenes very well. Emily masturbating with a broom handle and someone eating poo. Does it insult you as a film maker that this is what people will talk about?

I'd only be insulted if nobody talked about the movie at all.

I don't think shock is bad. Appreciate it or loathe it, shock is an art form. Political correctness, people who are fake, people who spend more time working on their facades than on themselves - all this causes me stress and stirs repulsion - it makes me feel claustrophobic almost. Shock - when it is in movies, photography, or music - makes me feel better. It vents anxiety. I appreciate it, and I guess a lot of others do to, or else many filmmakers and rock stars would not have careers.

I don't think shock is a required ingredient for every movie I make. However, the whole reason people gave us money to make SPIT was to pack as much shock into it as possible. I take my job seriously, and if we're getting paid to deliver shock, get ready, because it's gonna punch you in the face repeatedly. That said, if we're getting paid to make a family film about a talking dog and a talking duck that become friends and go on an adventure together, get ready, because that movie's gonna be overflowing with warm-n-fuzzy cuteness.

In other words, if I'm hired to do a job, I deliver. I was commissioned to make a shocking film. SPIT is a flawed movie, but nobody can complain that I didn't deliver what I was hired for.

10.Do you think if you had more time with Emily, that the end result would have been different?

Holy crap, yes. Firstly, Emily Haack is an amazingly talented, brave, and dedicated actress. My collaborations with her on SCRAPBOOK, RATLINE, and even SPIT were wonderful experiences. She brings tremendous talent to each project, she is a joy to work with on set, and she is fun to hang out with after the day's work is done. As an actress and as a friend, Emily has only been a positive force on every movie we've made together. Having a longer shooting schedule with her - even just having Emily for more than three of the eight days we shot SPIT in - would have only improved the movie.

Secondly, I went into the project prepared for the fact that the budget was tiny, but I was not so prepared for the time restrictions. Time was my biggest enemy, both during production and post-production.

Not only were my deadlines intense, but I was juggling too many things at once. I was both a producer and director on SPIT, and while that project was in the works, I was simultaneously functioning as a producer on four other feature film projects, all for the same producers in New York and Europe. The workload just about demolished me. But I was in the mindset that such opportunities don't come along often, so I was going to take those opportunities and make the most of 'em. Unfortunately, I bit off more than I could chew.

Time restrictions hit me hardest in post. I really rushed through the editing of SPIT. I was so determined to meet my deadlines and please the producers who had given me the gig that I turned in a movie that was not finished. The original release of SPIT is just awful. A terrible, terrible mess. The super-rushed production chipped away substantially at the quality of the filmmaking - and the super-rushed post-production just demolished what was left.

A few years after the original release, Ron Bonk was kind enough to let me "continue" post-production and actually finish the movie. This resulted in what was released as the "Official Director's Version" of SPIT.

The circumstances surrounding that project dictated that the movie would never be "great". But when Ron let me go back into the edit and actually finish the job, it raised the quality to "good" - at least by exploitation film standards. "The Official Director's Version" is far superior to the original cut, which I consider completely fucking worthless.

Today, I would handle everything differently. I'd take a more active role in establishing my workload, schedule, and deadlines. I'd negotiate with the producers to give myself the proper time to do decent work and not kill myself in the process. I'm sure all the producers involved in SPIT would have worked with me if I had spoken up. But I didn't, so it's my fault.

I learned from those mistakes very quickly, though. Just a year or two after SPIT, I produced and co-directed a movie called CHINA WHITE SERPENTINE - under the exact same circumstances and for the same producers. Having learned hard lessons on SPIT, I navigated the CHINA WHITE project much more successfully. And it is a much, much better film. I'm actually still very proud of that one.

11.At this stage in your career, could you make this film?

No, likely not, and for a variety of reasons. Primarily the circumstances that dictated how that film was made - and the fact that it was made at all - simply don't exist today. It was my first job directing for producers other than myself and my own team. I didn't handle that situation well because I was very green. I fumbled a lot. But I learned a great deal from the experience, and I've learned even more in the ten years that followed. So if those exact circumstances materialized again today, the results would be dramatically different, because I'm a very different person, and a different, more experienced filmmaker.

I was and still am a big exploitation film fan. I especially like the earlier films of Joe D'Amato. There's also Bruno Mattei, Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman, plus all those amazingly sleazy no-budget gems from Harry Novak and Boxoffice International Pictures. The torch has been passed to newer filmmakers who keep the exploitation film alive and well to this day. Even though another movie like SPIT is unlikely to happen with me at the helm, I do appreciate the fact that, back in my somewhat more reckless years, I was able to contribute something to that landscape.

12.Is this still your best selling DVD?

No, in 2005 Image Entertainment released my earlier films, SAVAGE HARVEST, ICE FROM THE SUN, and SCRAPBOOK. In the years following SPIT, two of those Image releases passed it up - ICE FROM THE SUN and SCRAPBOOK.

13.Who is the woman on the cover to the movie? I think it is supposed to be Emily but it sort of does not resemble her.

I actually have no idea who that girl is on the DVD box. I had nothing to do with the movie's distribution, packaging, or marketing materials. SPIT was a co-production between multiple production companies, one in New York, and I think three in Europe. Ron Bonk was the producer in New York - and I'm not 100 percent sure about this, but I think the box art was his creation.

The title isn't mine either. My original title was THE CAPTIVES. Other titles were discussed too. Ron or one of the other producers overseas came up with I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE, I PISS ON YOUR GRAVE, which I didn't really have a problem with. I recognized that it had major exploitation mojo and it would sell copies of the flick. My only beef with the title was that it was too long. I was afraid people would not be able to remember it. I had trouble remembering the title of the movie even as we were shooting it!

14. In the commentary you talk about Sub Rosa and the French investors wanting this and that in the film. How did they feel about the final result? Were they satisfied?

I don't recall ever receiving any feedback. I think everyone collected a decent profit from the movie and was therefore happy. I mean, look at the movie they were asking me to make. I'm pretty sure none of them were expecting me to make an award-winning film. Nobody was funding I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE, I PISS ON YOUR GRAVE with dreams of Sundance or the Oscars in their heads.

Yes, the producers in France contributed a lot of the really extreme content to SPIT. But they were doing their jobs to create a more financially viable movie, and they did their jobs well. They made a movie that created some buzz, generated some controversy, and as a result, sold a lot of DVDs.

Also, in my opinion, their contributions made SPIT better, not worse, on a creative level too. SPIT is a movie that really needed to have shock after shock in the actual film - not just the empty promise of shock in the marketing materials. By asking me to put more extreme content into the film, they made SPIT a better movie. If I had turned my nose up at their requests, I fear SPIT would have just been a bland, watered down version of what it is now - definitely less of a movie, and probably not one we'd still be talking about ten years later.

15.Here is a question, as a fan I have to know... the world knows your movie was sort of a take on I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. Did you ever send a copy to Meir Zarchi or Camille Keaton, and if so what was the reaction?

I'm a big fan of Zarchi's flick, but I don't remember latching on to it for inspiration or anything like that. Making SPIT, I was actually more influenced by the films of Joe D'Amato, plus movies like Joel M. Reed's BLOODSUCKING FREAKS and Don Edmonds's ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS.

I knew our title was a riff on Zarchi's I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, and I remember we were asked to infuse, at least to a small degree, that movie's vibe into our film. But beyond that, I never really thought about Meir Zarchi or his movie. I think I just had too much going on at the time - I was more concerned about my evaporating sanity than I was concerned with what Mr. Zarchi thought of the flick.

Also, I don't really think of I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE, I PISS ON YOUR GRAVE as "my" movie to present to anyone. It was a job, and I tried very hard to do the best with what I had, but at the end of the day, it is not mine. It is Ron Bonk's movie. I own a percentage of the back end, but he owns the film. It was not a labor of love, or a film that I'd been dying to make for years. I was commissioned to make it. Once I turned the movie in to him, I was on to the next gig. I didn't look back. I had no desire or time to.

16.In one sentence sum up what I SPIT means to you ten years later. Also, why should a fan seek this film out?

SPIT toughened me up, sharpened my skills, and was an educational experience that I'm grateful for, despite the chaos, stress, and darkness I went through at the time.

I think fans could check SPIT out to view it in the context of this interview. I'm a passionate filmmaker, and you can see my passion for this craft in movies like SCRAPBOOK, DEADWOOD PARK, and RATLINE - where the producers and crew made sure I had everything they could give me to make the best movies possible. But what happens when a passionate filmmaker is completely beat up by the same forces that are getting the film made? Watch SPIT to see the result.

Or, if you just like your horror and exploitation movies to have maximum shock value, then check out SPIT for that reason - because you are the target audience that movie was made for. We set out to produce a dizzying rollercoaster ride of violence, depravity, and insanity - and on that level, we most certainly succeeded.

SPIT was a strange animal. Frustrations built up because of the circumstances surrounding the production. But then, because the movie was such a rule-breaking, fuck-you, anything-goes kind of project, its unruly content helped us vent those frustrations - which made the production fun, even oddly relaxing at times. That's why Emily got into it as much as I did. All that over-the-top content was great to experience in the realm of fiction. SPIT was therapy for the very problems it helped generate, if that makes sense.

17.Tell the fans about you, how to reach you, and what is up?

Hunt me down on Facebook and Twitter. Updates about RATLINE and other Wicked Pixel Cinema produced stuff can be found at And be sure to look me up at, the home of my weekly blog titled "Surviving Cinema". I also write the occasional article for FEARnet.

As I toil diligently to get RATLINE released so you all can check it out, I'm also moving forward on getting my next feature film rollin'. No momentum on that yet, but keep your eyeballs on the above mentioned web spots and you'll be the first to know when a greenlight goes on.

18.Is there any idea you ever had that you thought “I can't film that.”?

Something kinda like that happened last week. I was shooting a scene featuring this beautiful girl. She was taking a shower. Then the cops showed up and said “You can’t film that.” as they took my camera away from outside her bathroom window.

No comments:

Post a Comment