Craig Chenery (Writer/Producer Dr. Saville's Horror Show)
The Horror Revolution: First off, what’s your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most?
Craig Chenery: My first steps into horror were through George Romero. I was twelve when I watched a Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and a VHS bootleg of Day of the Dead at a film marathon at my best friend's grandad's house. Was that irresponsible on his part? Probably. But it established my fascination with the zombie genre.
Up until that point my movie world consisted of Star Wars and Jim Henson, so I was completely unprepared for what Romero showed me. Night was shocking enough, but the opening scene in Dawn with the condo raid and the zombie biting the woman's neck and taking a chunk of flesh out of her was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Watching it in color after Night being in black and white added a whole new level of realism to it. To see something as visceral and shocking as that terrified and intrigued me. So I'd definitely have to say Dawn of the Dead is my favorite horror film, simply because of the impact it had on me. It shaped my interest in special effects and the love of the genre.
THR: What inspired you to write Dr. Saville’s Horror Show? Were you always planning on making it an anthology film, or was it just a conglomeration of a bunch of different ideas?
CC: Dr. Saville's Horror Show was always intended to be an anthology film. It is our homage to the horror anthologies of the 80’s and 90’s. We wanted each of the stories to feel like one movie, so we planned on the shorts intertwining and connecting and for the wraparound to refer to all of them. The producers met as a creative team to decide on story themes, and we all brought ideas to the table for the shorts. Then I went off and started writing. A couple of the threads took some time to materialize, such as the ending of “Break”, which I rewrote about a dozen times until I found the perfect one and that allowed it to directly tie into “It’s Complicated” and “Consume”. We didn’t want the film to feel disconnected and disjointed.
THR: I was actually super happy with the effects in Dr. Saville, and I can say definitively that indie films often don’t attain those levels of gross-out effects. I also saw that you had written a book about special effects as well. What draws you to the effects/makeup side of production, and do you plan on working more in that field in the future?
CC: As much as I love special effects in horror, I can’t take credit for the FX in the film. I did some minor makeup effects here and there, but as it was a small production, I simply had too many hats to wear to be able to fully focus on it. This was made easier with the FX team we assembled. Tracy Lauren Locke was our lead FX artist and she created Dr. Saville’s makeup and the prosthetics for Mary in “It’s Complicated”. Josh Sweten, a long-time friend of mine, created the gore effects in “Consume”. Kirk Levingar, one of our four producers and also Drew in “Break” created the tapeworm model. This was the first time all three had worked as FX artists on a film and I couldn’t be happier with the final results. Considering our final budget for the entire film was about $9000, I feel we delivered something that far exceeds that number.
We always intended to use practical effects. With our limited budget, CGI was never on the table because if you use cheap CGI, you end up with cheap CGI and the audience are more likely to laugh than scream. As filmmakers, it is our job to do our best to avoid pulling the audience out of the film and poor CGI tends to do that. I feel practical effects, especially in low-budget films gives the actors something tangible to react to. CGI blood splatter has improved immensely in the past decade, but it will never be as good as an on-set squib spraying blood everywhere.
My first book “Blood Splatter: A Guide to Cinematic Zombie Violence, Gore and Special Effects” was an in-depth look at how the genre has been defined by FX. I interviewed some of the biggest players in the zombie world such as Greg Nicotero and Tom Savini. I also had the opportunity to speak to some lesser-known artists. I was fortunate enough to fly out to Atlanta and be made up by Toby Sells, FX artist on The Walking Dead and Zombieland, and document the entire process from life-casting to final application and was by far my favorite part of the book. While the book is labor of love, I will admit it could have benefitted from a better idea editor, but we live and learn, and I used it as an opportunity to grow as a writer. Although this didn’t prevent a glowing review from Fangoria Magazine who raved about it. As someone who had been reading Fangoria since I was a child, this was a major accomplishment so early on with my writing.
While I love FX, my main passion is writing, so that is where I will be focusing my career moving forward.
THR: I mentioned in my interview with Kevin Phipps that I was super impressed with the quality of the shorts in the film, largely because there tends to be a dip in quality during the runtime of most anthologies. Was there any intention on ensuring that all of the shorts were equally as good, or was it just a happy accident?
CC: We treated each short like it was a standalone film. Even though there were threads throughout that linked them together, we shot each short as though it was the only film we were making. That way it received our full attention and we made sure it was the best we could create. The cast and crew involved in each deserved nothing less. Our director Kevin worked with Shannon Dia, our director of photography and created a full mood book for each film, covering lighting styles and camera angles. We studied every scene and made certain the lighting and framing was perfect. Shannon an amazing job and again, I feel the final product does not reflect the low budget we had to work with.
You have to treat everything you create as the biggest project you've ever done. That way you don't allow yourself to cut corners or get complacent and just do a by-the-numbers project. My next project will be the biggest project I’ve ever done, as will the one after that. You need to be passionate about what you create. If you’re not, how do you expect the audience to care? It’s easy to tell when a creator is simply going through the motions.
THR: Is horror your preferred genre? Are there other genres that you really enjoy as well?
CC: From an audience perspective, my interests are all over the place. Horror, sci-fi, fantasy, action. I have favorite films in all of them. As far as being a writer, while horror is the genre I started in, I'm equally passionate about dark humor. My new novel series, while having zombie and demonic elements, is at its heart a dark comedy series more akin to Bad Omens than Night of the Living Dead. I am also working on a sci-fi book with a similar style of humor as Firefly, but the title keeps changing, so I can’t hype it up just yet. I don’t think I have it in me to not have humor in my writing in one form or another. It’s definitely the part of me that is most visible in my writing.
THR: What was it that made you want to work in film? Were there any specific cinema experiences that made you know that’s what you wanted to do?
CC: I grew up around the original Star Wars trilogy. I loved how it made me feel. I loved the story and the larger-than-life special effects and props. Was the story original? Certainly not, but I will always remember how it made me feel and how it stuck with me after watching it for the first time. From that moment, I knew I wanted to tell stories. I remember as a child going to the single screen cinema where I grew up in England and watching The Empire Strikes Back. After the film ended, we went into the lobby and it was filled with Star Wars toys and in particular the ones not featured in the movies. George Lucas allowed us the opportunities to role play and create our own adventures in the Star Wars universe. It was my first experience being able to set up my own stories and explore my imagination.
THR: If you could work with anyone in the industry, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
CC: That’s a tough one. It would be a toss-up between one of the two George’s, Romero or Lucas. Both have had an immeasurable impact on my career and aspirations to be a writer and filmmaker. Forced to choose, I think Lucas would beat Romero by an inch. Simply because of the scope of vision that Lucas had and his ability to create a multi-generational franchise that continues to bring in new fans and allow everyone their own stating point in the universe. He has inspired so many filmmakers and authors to up their own game and go one step further. Star Wars wasn’t just about the visuals, it also challenged how we hear movies. Sound was integral in the Star Wars experience. I can’t think of a franchise that has as many sound effects that are as instantly recognizable and ingrained into pop culture.
But then again, Romero established the rules for an entire genre that are still revered and followed to this day by countless films.
THR: I read that you also are interested in improv comedy. I definitely felt like your sense of humor came off in the film, especially during the middle short about the sea monkey succubus. How do you feel that comedy works with horror, and do you have a horror comedy that you like the most?
CC: Comedy compliments horror well. It’s human nature to laugh at inappropriate things and that certainly extends to horror. It’s a great narrative tool to help to keep the audience off-guard and that heightens moments of jump scares or terror. One of the lessons I learned in improv is your environment in your reality. Your character needs to believe what is going on around them. They need to be sane in an insane world. Humor allows the characters to be real instead of superhuman and it’s easier for the audience to relate to them. This is especially true of horror films.
My favorite horror comedy hands down is Shaun of the Dead. The movie is perfect. It incorporates both my love of humor and of zombies. The characters are likeable, experience an interesting arc, and are believable in their given environment. They believe their reality and interact with it accordingly.
THR: What’s coming up next for you? Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited to talk about?
CC: I'm currently working on my third novel "Death Just Wanted to Eat Waffles". It is the third book in the Oceanview Trilogy and is a dark humor series that focuses on the fictional town of Oceanview Arizona and how it is the center of the universe. The events started in book one, "God Just Wanted to Play Golf" which was released four years ago. Heaven accidentally starts the demon apocalypse after a corrupted database sends the Grim Reaper a list of souls not ready for reaping. God is forced to come down to Earth and makes matters much worse. "Lucifer Just Wanted to Pet Kittens", was released in December and picks up six months after book one. I'm currently working on the screenplay adaption of "God Just Wanted to Play Golf".
Kevin and I are currently working on two comic book series. The first is a dark fantasy called “Lost Souls”. The second is a post-apocalyptic series called “Shadowblade” and will directly tie into the film of the same name that we are currently developing.
THR: Finally, and we’ll defer a little to your expertise on zombies, if I gave you a spoon, a flashlight, a roll of duct tape, and seventeen paperclips, what sort of weapon could you make to defend yourself during the zombie apocalypse, and how long would you last?
CC: Well, the duct tape could be wrapped around my arms, legs, and neck to prevent biting, as those are the go-to bite locations for most zombies. I’d use the spoon to flick paper clips to create a possible audio distraction. I’d use the flashlight for morse code. But as I don’t know morse code outside of SOS, I’d most likely end up telling other survivors that I like the color red, or that I dropped my pizza. So, all in all, probably about 30 - 45 minutes.