Todd Ocvirk & Daniel Liatowitsch (Writers/Directors, Kolobos)
The Horror Revolution: First off, what’s your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most? Todd Ocvirk: Tough question, but I have to go with John Carpenter's THE THING. It's probably my all time favorite movie, not just horror. Carpenter's HALLOWEEN was the one that made me want to make movies. Hard to say which one scared me the most, but I have a great memory of my dad taking me and my sister to see ALIEN in theaters when I was a kid. I had no idea what I was in store for and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I watched most of it through my fingers.
Daniel Liatowitsch: An impossible choice between two unforgettable classics: “The Exorcist” and “The Evil Dead”. Both films were very much ahead of their time, pushed boundaries and left indelible marks on their respective sub-genres. Sequels, spin offs and re-imaginings followed, but I’ll always remember the feeling of sitting in the dark and watching these two movies for the first time. Both scared the living hell out of me. And I loved every minute of it. THR: Kolobos is outstanding, and really hits that sweet late-90’s spot of modern slasher with plenty of giallo elements mixed in. What inspired the film? TO: Thank you for that! Italian horror was a huge inspiration. A lot of mainstream slashers from that era had a slick, commercial style to them since they were mostly studio produced, but we wanted to go in a different direction with something meaner and more unflinching in its gore ala Argento and Fulci. Certainly the visuals and score were Argento influenced.
DL: Todd and I grew up on opposite sides of the planet, but we shared a love for Italian horror and its lingering eye when it came to onscreen violence. Someone gets stabbed? Instead of cutting away, Argento would linger on the stabbing, the disembodied, gloved hand repeatedly doing what Texas Chainsaw mostly just hinted at. Whenever we discussed visual style, we’d talk about Suspiria, Phenomena and Inferno, about primary colors and dream logic. At the time, Italian horror hadn’t found its way into American mainstream cinema. And just like that, a stylistic plan was forged. THR: Reality television, like MTV’s The Real World, was a huge part of the plot in Kolobos. Are you guys fans of reality tv? TO: I'm not a fan of reality TV at all, although I do have some guilty pleasures. When The Real World first came out, I just couldn't get into it and couldn't stand any of those people. Daniel has a good story of how the idea for the film came about.
DL: We owe a debt of gratitude to Flora, one of the members of The Real World: Miami. Nne, Todd and I had just gotten word that we needed to come up with a screenplay and fast. Whether just creatively edited or real, I distinctly remember watching one of the first episodes, when one particular Flora outburst inspired a fateful thought: “You guys are so irritating, somebody should just...”. The flashbulb moment came seconds later “... kill you…in a movie!”. The idea for Kolobos, imaginatively titled “Trapped”, was born then and there. Various kinds of reality TV have fascinated me over the years, the most recent was “Terrace House: New Beginnings”, which seemed wholesome and relaxing, but turned out to be heavily scripted, coercive and fraught with toxic fandom. After Hana Kimora’s suicide, I couldn’t help but sit with that thought from 20 years ago. “You’re so irritating, someone should kill you”. For us, this thought led to making “KOLOBOS”. Twenty years later, a similar thought led several young men to a fan forum where they were able to bully one of the series’ stars over and over and over, until tragedy ensued. The general public, 20 years into the reality TV phenomenon, still clings to the supposed “reality” of the genre, despite years of well-documented evidence to the contrary.
THR: I also really loved the way that Kolobos was reverential but also critical of cheap slasher films. Are slasher films your favorite genre of horror? TO: I love all subgenres of horror, but slashers do hold a special place in my heart. The slashers of the 80s, particularly the early 80s, were a big part of my formative years. HALLOWEEN is a seminal film for me, but for some reason I also put FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 on a pedestal.
DL: Slashers have to be cheap! I can’t think of a single high-budget slasher that could hold a candle to “New York Ripper”, “Stage Fright” or “Deep Red”. Sorry, that reverence for Italian horror rears its head again. When my local video store went out of business, I begged them to sell me the video boxes for the equivalent of three dollars. They still sit in my apartment in Switzerland. THR: Your film recently got a release on bluray from Arrow Video, one of my favorite boutique physical media companies, and it’s been on my buy list forever. What was it like seeing your film get the love that those guys give their releases, and to find out that tons of people were itching to own a physical copy? TO: This really was like a dream come true and I'm so grateful for the wonderful job Arrow did with our release. It's validation for the film we made. They kept us a part of the process every step of the way with the new artwork, booklet, remaster, etc, and it was awesome to see it all come together. I also had a blast doing the running commentary with Daniel, it was so much fun taking that trip down memory lane. It always blows my mind that people still talk about KOLOBOS today. Like doing this interview, haha. We're so appreciative of it.
DL: To be honest, it didn’t occur to me that anyone could have any sort of itching for a KOLOBOS re-release. Never have I been more happy to be prove wrong. Like Todd said, the amount of care and dedication that Arrow put into assembling all the material for the blue ray release was staggering and humbling. THR: The last half of the film was genuinely creepy as hell. What was the inspiration for those scenes, specifically the marionette-like display of the victims? TO: A lot of the deaths were inspired by Italian horror. For instance, the teeth bashing scene is an homage to PROFONDO ROSSO and the antler eye death is an homage to ZOMBI. Some of the surreal, dream-like elements were inspired by movies like JACOB'S LADDER and THE TENANT. Kubrick's THE SHINING was also a big influence, and, of course, SUSPIRIA was huge. I love slasher films that feature a tableau of dead bodies at the end, so it was important that KOLOBOS had one as well, haha. In particular, I love those scenes from HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and STAGEFRIGHT, so those were the biggest inspirations for me.
DL: A display seemed to also make sense in the context of art, of “self improvement”, as Faceless sees it. The original ending took place in a gallery where Kyra displays her art, mirroring the display of the dead bodies. THR: You guys both directed and wrote the film (with Nne Ebong). Which was your favorite role in working on Kolobos? TO: I enjoyed the entire process from beginning to end, even though it did have its challenges. If I had to choose, I guess I liked directing the most, but I also had a lot of fun writing with Nne and Daniel. We split directing duties and I worked more with the DP and visuals, so I loved seeing the shots I had in my head come to life. Daniel and I ended up overseeing the edit of the film as well, which was also a highlight for me since that's where the film really came together. Again, I loved the entire process.
DL: 100% what Todd said, it was a dream come true to make a horror film with a fellow horror film fan. There’s nothing quite like finding a scare in editing — putting the image, sounds and music together and fine tuning it until it hits in just the right way. Also, during the additional shoot in Los Angeles, I had made the preposterous assumption that there would be “rain”. We set up the shoot and wouldn’t you know it…rain started pouring down. But really, the whole experience was a special thrill that I’ll always remember with the greatest fondness.
THR: If you could work with anyone in the industry, alive or dead, who would it be and why? TO: In film school, John Woo was my mentor during my senior year and it was always a dream of mine to write an action film for him to direct. I had the script, too, a 70s Vietnam war/gangster epic that I wrote as my senior thesis which was partly inspired by his film A BULLET IN THE HEAD. I was blown away by THE KILLER and HARDBOILED when I first saw them and he was a huge influence on me. In person, he was so gracious and kind.
DL: My apologies for the slight side-step, but for me it would be Stephen King (he’s someone in the industry…sort of. Right?). To meet the man from whose mind sprang an inordinate amount of the world’s nightmares would utterly fascinate me. To work with our time’s most prolific horror author would be the thrill of a lifetime. THR: If you had an unlimited budget and access to every Hollywood star you wanted, what kind of film would you make and why? TO: I have this pet project that I've been wanting to do for years. It's a sprawling historical action epic set in late 1800s Hawaii, post feudal Japan and the American west. It's something like a "Hawaiian Western/Chanbara" film. Being a period piece, it would obviously cost a lot and I'd want it to be as authentic as possible. I'm part Hawaiian and I grew up in Hawaii, so the cultural and historical aspect is very important to me. The hero is also inspired by a real historical figure.
DL: I’d get down on my hands and knees and beg Todd to help me turn our comic adaptation of “Song Of Saya” finally into a film. Its blend of love story, science fiction and creature horror would be a perfect fit for an unlimited budget. Casting two major stars in those lead roles would turn a great story into a great film.
THR: Every time I read about the film, people talk about how the film was kinda lost in the shuffle of the post-Scream, slightly pre-Blair Witch mania. Do you feel that the movie would have been more popular if it had been released at a different time? TO: I do feel it kind of flew under the radar, but we did have a nice article in Fangoria magazine, and it also had a pretty good release as far as DTV films go. I think it's definitely a product of its time, albeit ahead of its time as well. Maybe if it came out a few years earlier during the peak of the 90s slasher boom, it might've got more attention, but I really can't complain about the life that it's had so far.
DL: We submitted it to several festivals at the time. Sundance had a choice: “Blair Witch Project” or “Kolobos”. We all know how that ended up playing out. But would the movie have been more popular if it had been released at a different time? Perhaps. But conversely, we do have the distinction of being the first reality TV horror film…and that’s a pretty cool claim to fame, no? THR: As a follow-up to the previous question, Kolobos has attainted a sort of cult status for horror fans. Would you rather make a movie that is wildly commercially successful but quickly fades from the spotlight, or one like your film that becomes a cult classic? TO: One of my childhood dreams was to make a cult horror film that would be embraced by hardcore horror fans, so I'd definitely pick the latter! It was the Arrow release that solidified that for me and allowed me to check that one off the list.
DL: Immodestly, I’d prefer to make a commercially successful film that also becomes a cult classic. Best of both worlds, glowing reviews, stacks of money, follow-up projects, fan conventions. But having to make a choice, I’d always rather please horror fans than normies. So yeah, the latter. THR: What’s new for you guys? Do you have anything coming up that you want people to know about? TO: I was a screenwriter and co-producer on a film called BASHIRA that's been playing the film festival circuit and won a few awards. It's a pretty weird, hallucinatory, dream-like J-horror film with a strong electronic music element. I think it's a pretty fun ride and definitely something different. Hopefully it'll get an official release sooner rather than later.
DL: In case not EVERYONE wants to see a “Song of Saya” adaptation, I’ve been busy writing several projects which are all firmly rooted in horror. It’s a bit too early for loglines, but should one of the projects work out, I’ll be sure to shout it from every rooftop. THR: Finally, how long did it take you to learn to pronounce each other’s last names?
TO: One of the things we bonded over in film school was the fact that our last names are a mouthful, haha.
DL: We both got used to just raising our hands whenever a professor reached the letters L and O in the alphabet during roll call. “Lia..L…Lee..Leetatoh...” Yes, sir. Yes, that’s me. Please stop. Thank you”. Todd’s experience was regrettably similar.