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HELLFIRE, WILLIAM

 

WILLIAM HELLFIRE "The Sinful Sinema of William Hellfire"


By Solomon G

Note from Dr. Mality: This feature sees the return of the illustrious Solomon G to the ranks of Wormwood Chronicles. And Sol didn't return with some timid review of the latest comeback from Loverboy or an analysis of the latest celluloid turd from Michael Bay. No, looks like Sol dived into the flames of hell itself to grab an interview with the wicked no-budgeT rebel film-maker WILLIAM HELLFIRE. Maybe you have seen some of his films like "Orgasm Torture In Satan's Rape Clinic", "Food for the Worms" (I like that one!) and "Bikini Girls on Dinosaur Planet". No? Well, what are you doing here, bunky?

At any rate, the prolific and fearless Mr. Hellfire manages to make Fred Olen Ray look like Robert Altman with furiously frenetic no-budgeters. His latest is maybe his most ambitious yet..."Upsidedown Cross", a twisted tale of possession and madness starring none other than former Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid frontman David Yow!

Been a long time since WC has had a good grindhouse interview! Thanks, Sol, and thanks, also, to William Hellfire. Here's the chat...



Wormwood Chronicles: Greetings, William Hellfire, thanks for doing this interview with Wormwood Chronicles - and again, congratulations on wrapping principle camera work on your latest project, "Upsidedown Cross". Shoot went okay?
 
William Hellfire: Yeah, it went swell. For the first time back in the director’s chair in nine years I am pretty psyched. Was the most fun I had making a movie hands down.
 
WC: So, I first remember hearing of you and your work around 2004, via our mutual pal, Eric Eichelberger, auteur of such shock cinema nuggets as 'Corn Is The Devil's Penis', and the upcoming 'Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre'. How did you two 'sploitation filmmakers meet and become friends?
 
WH: It’s all a blur! Eric and I met when he called me up back in 2002, about making a sequel to my first film, "Caress Of The Vampire, Pt 2: Teenage Girl Ghoul A Go-Go", and convinced me to come out to L.A. and get back in that grease-paint makeup to revive ‘Billy the Vampire’. Eric's film was based on the characters from my film but ultimately became known as" Fear of a Limp Planet". Yeah, a sequel to a sequel. We shot 2 features together on that trip: the other was a lo-fi strangulation no-budgeter, called "Strangled In L.A.", which was never released. I just stayed with him during the shoots. A few years later he stayed with me for a week or so at the time he and his wife were moving to NYC. I remember he put "Devil’s Bloody Playthings" in his Shock-A-Go-Go fest, and it got a nice review from Film Threat!  Fun Fest.
 
WC: Yeah, it totally was - wish you coulda been there! Anyhoo, that was kind of a setup, because at a kickoff party for Shock-A-Go-Go, I [Sölömön G] was lucky enough to view a wall projection of your then-current film, run-and-gun epic, 'Duck! The Carbine Massacre' with cult-horror film legend David Friedman [Don Bolles was the DJ that night - talk about surreal]. Anyway, I thought maybe Mr. Friedman would feel uncomfortable there for whatever reason, but he wasn't - not even a little bit. Later, on his way out of the club, I asked him what he thought of the film: he looked me level in the eye and said it is pretty good! If I remember correctly, he enthusiastically stated to me the film's level of violence seemed appropriate, because it is a violent story. I knew right then that Hellfire is a name to watch for cult/horror/exploitation cinema.
 
WH: I don’t know what to say. Hershel Gordon Lewis and David Friedman really started the 'roughies' and 'ghoulies' exploitation film sub-genres that inspire my filmmaking most. I mean, my favorite filmmakers may be Argento and Fulci - but I feel the inspiration for the type of filmmaking I do really comes from the late 60’s and early 70’s super lo-fi exploitation horror filmmakers. The Findlay’s too [Michael and Roberta Findlay, creators of such grinders as the 'Flesh trilogy' and "The Ultimate Degenerate" ~SG]…so that is a huge compliment to me. On  a side note I have been privileged enough to interview Roberta Findlay on several occasions and hope to see that newest interview pop up in a new magazine called “The Obscene American” to be published by Mike Hunchback!
 
 
WC: Before we start the discussion of "Upsidedown Cross", would you like to talk a little about your genesis and development as a cult/horror/exploitation filmmaker? You're basically from the 'Commander USA's Groovie Movies', and later, 'USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear' generation, right? How did you start out, and what did you have in mind for your future?
 
WH: I am a Flight Night and USA up all night, Commander USA 'Generation X-er'. I loved that stuff. I lost interest in TV programing in the late 90s: everything went sour - but the 80’s were still great. I grew up with Chiller Theatre and WABC's 4:30 Movie. I had no restrictions at home, and was taken to see "Jaws", "Halloween 2", "Madman", "The Thing", "The Fog" and "American Werewolf in London" all before age 8! I was a basement legion-hall DIY punk/noise kinda cat, and a cassette label owner. I ran Severed Lips Recordings (all available free on freemusic.org) I got a job telemarketing for EI Independent Cinema which became Alternative Cinema where I sold lo-fi horror VHS to stores. The movies were so bad I used to harp on them all the time until the owner gave me a video camera and told me to go shoot my own movie which ended up being "Caress of the Vampire Pt 2: Teenage Girl Ghoul A Go-Go," in 1996. This ended up in the Tower Video stores - I couldn’t believe it because I made the move for less than $300! I kept making movies for the Alternative Cinema catalog, and for home video. There was a big demand for strangulation fetish in those days, and any kinda topless women getting strangled could sell a few hundred VHS tapes, so I incorporated strangulation into many of those early no budget films. My favorites of the era were Infamous "Bondage Murders 1 and 2". The others are definitely more fetish oriented than horror story oriented. I think most people bought them because of the pretty, really young looking girls I would cast. I also incorporated a lot of kidnapping and rape/molesting, and even did a virtual kidnapper feature where you the viewer gets to rape and kill Misty Mundae!!!
 
I always created these features with harsh exploitation elements, I figured on such a low budget the only way they would be entertaining is if they pushed the boundaries of decency, and if they remained subversive. I hated the PC horror and overall restrictions the film community was facing. The 90’s were pretty devoid of cool horror films, or boundary pushing horror films. Porn had become a legitimate industry and lost all its bite and mystery. Plastic robots bashing against each other was a total turn-off to me. I used to urge all the girls in my movies to grow out their bushes in protest of the shaved look. It brought back the feel of the seventies exploitation cinema I watched.  Plus it was always a good cover to show full nudity with pubic hair, without pubic hair you could tag the very intimate bits of the vagina, and that could make the distributor squeamish as you incorporate loads of violence, and edge towards porn. With pubic hair all the bits are covered but it gives the illusion of full nudity. I had started shooting scenes of violent pornography, like girls getting punched in the mouth and forced to give bloody blowjobs, but my distributor cut the scenes, (finally uncut in “I was A Teenage Strangler” DVD), so I stuck to softcore. In 1995 it became illegal to shoot violence and pornography together. That is probably why I tried to revive it.
 
 
I became known a little on the East coast because of selling my tapes at Chiller Con [the infamous Chiller Theatre horror convention], but mostly remained unknown until I got arrested for 'Duck! The Carbine High Massacre'. The film was a violent satire on the Columbine shootings; satire of the media's take on the event: the black and white picture they created - or glossed over. [Fellow low-budget video auteur] Joey Smack and I wrote and directed the feature, and we told the story from the point of view of the killers. After it was released the media had no interest in it - but a few months later a guy in Colorado doing news stories on unsavory websites decided to orchestrate an arrest so he could create a new news story for himself. It worked: he got Joey and me arrested - and got it all on TV! Then, his camera-truck malfunctioned, so other news people came and ate up the scraps. Court TV got involved: Nancy Grace made faces at us. Fox News called us ‘copycat killers’ - as if we blew holes in little kids' heads. It was crazy: the very thing we explored in our film narrative, what we were essentially exposing in a rather malicious way, the media’s exploitation of tragedy and their dumbed up ‘out of touch’ version of the events - came up from the depths of the static fuzz and took a bite out of us. They ran those stories for a whole slow news week. Crazy how bullshit the media is, and how “created” the story was - and how unnecessary it was for the police and FBI to get involved.
 
WC: That is so freakin' 'meta' - TV news hype exploiting an exploitation filmmaker who sought to expose the truth that bypassed them altogether to begin with! William Hellfire: Renegade Filmmaker, haha! So, "Upsidedown Cross" is a return of sorts, after a long hiatus. Where did the inspiration spring from in writing the screenplay? How did it all come about?
 

WH: Erin Russ is the inspiration for "Upsidedown Cross". She moved in with me in 2008 and got a few acting gigs, one in Shock Fest’s “Devil Sister” segment when she played a possessed child and another in a trailer for an unmade feature “Devil’s Hostage”. I saw these things being made (and of course a spate of Hollywood possession films), and thought, 'Man - there is an untold story here, and an opportunity for a low budget exorcism story that could really work'. Like, what if the girl isn’t possessed, but the preacher is a sadist and plays up to the crazy parents so he can take advantage of the girl? I read about some instances where preachers abused girls they were supposed to be exorcising, and I watched [anti-Satanism televangelist] Bob Larson and his 'Teen Exorcist' teenage girl companions, and figured this was a perfect story for ‘The Russ'. I also wanted to start with a small cast, and small production, and this story out of the handful of treatments I had been working on just seemed to be the ticket. After I finished the treatment and shared it with a few people, one morning I just sent it to David Yow (I saw that he had been posting his reel: he had been getting serious about acting, and figured I would just give it a shot). If I was gonna make a comeback, it had better be something I really wanted to do - something that would make a splash! David liked the idea and asked for a script (which I wrote in two weeks), and then he accepted. I was floored - over the moon! I had seen the Jesus Lizard play seven or eight times; I had brought the band presents nearly every time I saw them play. They were always real friendly to me, because my buddy Vinnie Macri was a friend of theirs. I have a Jesus Lizard poster hanging in my living room!!! I am a fanatic. So having David accept the role was pretty intense. Through some other friends, I got Rick Savage, the adult film star, and my old friend Tina Krause signed on as well. All of the sudden it was like rolling down the hill full speed: I had a small window of opportunity to use my old house as the location, before it was renovated and sold, so I stopped my sisters from pulling out the pink carpet and wood paneling from off the walls, and scheduled the shoot for five days in September. I can’t believe we got it in the can! Most [camera operators we contacted] were like too scared to DP the film cause of the schedule, but we did it without too much pain.
 
WC: Amazing! The star of the film is your partner in crime, the lovely and talented Erin Russ. Both you and she share an affinity for dark and bizarre cult cinema. I imagine you two enjoy working together a great deal, as well - is that so? Are there any highlights or lowlights of working with your partner. Any anecdote(s)?
 
WH: Erin and I have been together for 5 years, and in that time I have played her all the horror films I love - like three times over. We also just seek out anything horror we haven’t seen and give it a spin. Last year we watched over 500 horror films.  We do a film a night usually on weekends. Sometimes we will create marathons and just roll like six features all day and night long. Finally getting to shoot with Erin was great; really something I was looking forward to. She was very comfortable with me, and with David, so things went well. Erin really knows my sensibility, so she knew what I wanted from the character, without me having to push or pull her any one direction. That is the main perk of working with someone your close to: they already know what your ideas are and how they should play out. I will also get away with stuff that, say, another filmmaker would never get away with in working with Erin. For example (this will show you what a horrible boyfriend I am too!), I have a scene in the script for an ICE BATH, wherein the preacher forces Nadine (played by Erin) into a cold bath filled with Ice cubes. Erin was pretty freaked out by this, so I looked into the fake ice angle. However, the only Ice that would behave like ice was rubber and very expensive, so ultimately out of our budget, and in the allotted time we had to shoot each scene, we couldn’t re-do it if it didn’t look real. So I just said we would have to go with real ice. A real ice bath! Erin was not looking forward to it, and it was the first scene we shot with David. It came out great! Erin nearly died of a heart attack on camera, but - man - I know nobody else would have gotten away with that! Only her loving sadistic boyfriend. I promise you I didn’t really let Erin get beaten with a belt, all the yucky bloody bits are courtesy of effects-dude extraordinaire, Johnny Dickie!
 
WC: Talk about Chiller Theatre - yikes! Any anecdotes on working with David Yow on the set of Upsidedown Cross? I'm sure he's amazing to work with, right?
 
 
WH: David is a kindred spirit. I chose him for the role ‘cause I knew he would ‘get it’ - and he did. He really got all the layers the character had. I told David that the character is [partially the result of] years of listening to the Jesus Lizard and Birthday Party, and is kinda like a Flannery O’Connor type character crossed with a degenerate Jess Franco film character. There was one instance when David was performing the exorcism, and he just kept laughing out loud - just busting out into laughter, and we were like belly laughing. It was so funny because he really saw how absurd an exorcism is, and he kept commenting on how disrespectful it is to splash someone in the face with water as he was lashing Erin with the holy water from the sprinkler. This revelation really made the scene come to light, so to speak, and we were all the better for it going forward. I loved working with him 'cause he really made the whole thing FUN. As we discovered nuances and motivations and just added bit by bit to each scene, he really got off on it and had a blast, and so did Erin and I because of this. I mean usually filmmaking is an ‘anxiety attack’, but we just had so much fun making this cruel, depressing and violent picture. The way it should be - cathartic.
 
WC: You filmed "Upsidedown Cross" at the residence of your parents: the place you grew up, I presume. Was that in any way difficult or odd to do, or was it totally cool because you know where everything is around there and whatnot?

 

WH: I wrote the script around the mother, Delilah’s, house going to pot and getting foreclosed, and she, being a delusional Christian, just sits around waiting for the bank to take the house away - as if God would intervene in some way. I lived in that house for 40 years, and moved into the basement when I was 20, and never moved out till I had to sell the house. So this was the one last feature I was gonna make in there, and it was in part about losing the old house. I am not too sad: that is the place I refused to grow up in, saw all my first monster movies, made a shit load of dirty and violent movies in there - but it is also the place I got cancer twice!!! So best to move out and live a little longer, way too toxic.
 
WC: Yes, I hear pink carpeting is way hazardous! How's post-production going, and do you have any details regarding distribution?
 
WH: I have an offer now but, nothing definite. Will keep you posted. Post is going pretty well, editing with Rich Marra in Hawthorn NJ.
 
WC: Will there be a screening for the debut?
 
WH: Oh Yes - I hope to screen the film in NYC, maybe in NJ, and again in L.A. Will keep you posted. If anyone out there wants to do a screening please let me know!!!
 
WC: I am really looking forward to that! What's in store for the future of William Hellfire: Filmmaker? Any salient project developments you feel like sharing at present?

  

WH: I have been writing many treatments, and working on a few scripts. Though money is extremely tight, and funding is scarce, I hope to continue shooting now. I have a new project about to get announced, but lips are sewn shut just now. My favorite shot-on-video nasties will be resurfacing soon on DVD: Infamous "Bondage murders, 1 and 2 "- so keep an eye out oh and anyone interested in Hellfire pictures please get "The Devil’s Bloody Playthings" on DVD, and "Orgasm Torture In Satan’s Rape Clinic" (all from Alternative Cinema dot com) to tide you over until "Upsidedown Cross" is available.  Oh, and, hey kids - please pre-order "Upsidedown Cross" via our Indiegogo, check out the teaser trailer on youtube, and like our page on Facebook. Feel free to friend me there, too!
 
WC: Thank you, William Hellfire, for doing this interview with Wormwood Chronicles. Sölömön G declares you to be 110% awesome! \m/
 
WH: Thank you! Wormwood: my favorite root for belly aches and spiking whiskey drinks!!!