Tonjia Atomic (Director, Manos Returns)
The Horror Revolution: First, what’s your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most?
Tonja Atomic: Picking a favorite horror movie is just too hard. The Nightmare on Elm Street series has always been close to my heart as it is a favorite repeat viewing series from childhood, that and Fright Night. There's a scene in Heredity that scared me. Mainly, Toni Collette is phenomenal.
THR: You gave me the opportunity to watch Manos Returns and Plain Devil, two wildly different films. Is there a genre in which you prefer to work?
TA: Horror and comedy are my preferred genres. Horror gets first place for two reasons. The first is that in horror you can deep dive into psychological issues in a way that you can't in other genres due to the expectations of the genre and sometimes the experimental elements. The second reason is because I've met such amazing and supportive people in the indie horror world. I love to work with and be around these people. They are my family.
THR: If you could work with anybody in the film industry, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
TA: John Hurt is my absolute favorite actor. If I could have been near him working his magic in any capacity whatsoever I'm sure it would have been a great experience. He had such a way of creating characters and breathing life and emotion into them. I'm sure I would have learned so much just being near his artistry.
THR: Manos Returns was a batshit crazy homage to the original film. What inspired you to make the film?
TA: Jackey Neyman Jones of the first film was the one who brought everyone together for the sequel. I wrote the script with her and Rachel Jackson. We really wanted to pay homage to the first film while also honoring the fans. We know that there are a wide variety of fans of the original and tried to write something that would include them all. We also wanted to put a little of our own originality in it as well.
THR: What inspires you as a filmmaker? How do you come up with the ideas for your films?
TA: I'll come up with a small kernel of an idea from a thought or response to something. Then, I'll mull it over for a while and let it grow into something bigger. I won't write anything down until the idea has enough substance around it. Sometimes that process is swift and other times it can take years.
THR: I watched you as an actress in several films before I saw your work as a director. Which role do you prefer, or are there good and bad things about both?
TA: I'm not going to lie. There's something nice about preparing for a role, coming in and being directed, and then walking away once I'm done. It's very refreshing. I love focusing on that one aspect and trying to give the best I can to that role. Of course, as a director I'm conducting the entire symphony and shaping the entire project. It's very fulfilling, however, it is a lot of work. In the indie world the director typically wears many hats and it can be stressful. I don't think there will ever be a time that I would give one or the other up. I enjoy both too much.
THR: What’s coming up next for you? Do you have any new films that you’re working on or want to work on soon?
TA: I have an anthology project coming up with Ron Ford, Joe Sherlock, Tim Ritter, Joseph Voegele, and John Bowker. I'm also working on a few projects with Michelle Nessk. I have a few others that have stalled from the first time there was lockdown. I'm hoping to get back to those soon. I was sick with long Covid for so long that it's really been difficult to make films. But I'm not stopping anytime soon!
THR: What’s your favorite project that you have been involved with?
TA: Manos Returns has been very fulfilling both in scope and with the people involved. I've made so many friends from that production. It's also the biggest budget film I've ever directed. I also loved working with Michelle Nessk and Debra Lamb on 333: Illuminaughty. We did the whole thing on location, improv, and one take. It's was an experiment and I had a blast.
THR: What movie desperately needs a remake, and would you be the one to make it?
TA: Okay, The Wolfman by no means needs a remake, but I would love to do one. Same goes for Old Dark House.
THR: If you could have a piece of trivia about you that everyone who watches one of your films should know, what would it be?
TA: I can tie a cherry stem with my teeth.
THR: Plain Devil is absolutely hilarious. What inspires your sense of humor?
TA: I enjoy a little bit of offbeat humor. When I was young I watched SNL religiously along with Get a Life, Kids in the Hall, Conan O'Brien, Mr. Show, and more. My favorite kind of humor is high brow/low brow. I also grew up with my Dad watching Monty Python and listening to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That had to influence me, right?
THR: If you could make a movie with any budget and with access to any film stars in the world, what would you make and with who?
TA: Honestly, I love working with my fellow indie friends like Michelle Nessk, James Grixoni, Joe Sherlock, Ron Ford, Rachel Jackson, Jackey Neyman Jones, Steven Shields, Christopher Barnes, Joseph Voegele- the list goes on and on and sorry if I didn't mention you! I'd love to have a huge budget to get everyone together to do a large cast big kill count movie. THR: Finally, what is (at least) one conspiracy theory you believe in?
TA: I'm really not one for conspiracy theories. I'm a skeptic and I need to see some evidence. However, I do realize that there are things that have happened that we still don't have any good answers for. I mean, the whole Kennedy/ Marilyn thing, what's with all that?