Welcome to our latest Indie Director spotlight. This time we interview Eric Stanze – the director of the cult indie film Savage Harvest (1994), the experimental horror odyssey Ice from the Sun (1999), the brutal Scrapbook (2000), the epic ghost story Deadwood Park (2007), and the blood-splattered crime thriller Ratline (2011).
Stanze was the 2nd Unit director for Stake Land and We Are What We Are, as well as the upcoming family film, Marshall the Miracle Dog. He also routinely works as an editor and voice-over talent. Additionally, Stanze has acting, special effects, and camera/electric/grip credits to his name. His work spans independent feature films, music videos, documentaries, short films, and more.
RH: What inspired you to get into film-making?
ES: When I was a kid, if I saw anything on television that was some kind of “making of” program — with behind-the-scenes footage of a movie or TV show – I was transfixed. I loved Jim Henson’s Muppets, and I was especially interested in seeing footage of the puppeteers at work, making and operating the puppets. I loved being able to see what was below the frame line, the work and passion — that the viewer could not see — poured into making those puppets do what they did on screen. I couldn’t make films or a TV show, so I made a lot of puppets.
When I was nine or ten I spent the night at a friend’s house and we caught 1958’s The Blob and the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers on TV, late at night. I think that’s where the first seeds of being a horror fan took root. Later, when I saw The Evil Dead, The Toxic Avenger, and Don’t Look in the Basement, I loved ’em… but also, the rough edges of those movies made me think I could make movies too. If Sam Raimi, Lloyd Kaufman, and S.F. Brownrigg could make cheap but cool movies, without big Hollywood budgets, I had a shot at making it work as well.
RH: Which horror directors have influenced you the most, and why?
ES: George Romero was the first director to have a huge influence on me. Even at a young age, I was able to appreciate that he made exceptional films well outside of the Hollywood studio system — and since I grew up near Pittsburgh, knowing his films were made in my neck of the woods was very inspiring.
I’ve also been heavily influenced by David Cronenberg for his imaginative and intellectual approach to horror. Mario Bava for pulling off maximum atmosphere with minimal funding. Larry Fessenden for making exceptionally fascinating and thought-provoking horror films. Producer Val Lewton for expertly balancing mainstream commercial appeal with artful horror, on a budget. Lucio Fulci, Ruggero Deodato, Stuart Gordon, and Jörg Buttgereit also had their impact on me in my formative years.
RH: Are there any other independent horror filmmakers you would recommend to our readers?
ES: Adam Ahlbrandt (The Cemetery), Jeff Wedding (A Measure of the Sin), Fred Vogel (The Redsin Tower), Adam Rehmeier (Jonas), Marcus Koch (Fell), Matthew Garrett (Morris County), Richard Powell (Familiar), and Phil Stevens (Flowers). All of ’em are very talented filmmakers, working with tiny budgets, achieving remarkable results.
RH: What are your favorite recent horror films?
ES: Some standouts in the last ten years would be The Descent (2005), The Devil’s Rejects (2005), Land of the Dead (2005), The Last Winter (2006), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Frontiers (2007), Trick ‘R Treat (2007), Inside (2007), Let the Right One In (2008), Cloverfield (2008), The Strangers (2008), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Trollhunter (2010), Monsters (2010), A Serbian Film (2010), A Horrible Way to Die (2010), and You’re Next (2011).
These may not be considered full-blooded horror genre, but I’d also include Bug (2006), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Antichrist (2009), Take Shelter (2011), Vanishing Waves (2012), Antiviral (2012), and the ultra-indies, Jonas (2012) and A Measure of the Sin (2013).
I probably shouldn’t list ’em because I worked on these films, but I also think Stake Land (2010) and We Are What We Are (2013) are excellent. Very much a couple o’ standout horror films of the past ten years.
RH: Do you have any upcoming projects we should look out for?
ES: My most recent film is Ratline, about the dark-magic-infused Nazi Blood Flag and a man with sinister intentions determined to unearth it in modern day. It’s a hyper-violent cross between a giallo style crime thriller and The X-Files. It is available at wickedpixel.com/webstore/
We are currently in pre-production for a film called In Memory Of. It’s about a medical experiment that turns into a blood-soaked nightmare. The only surviving subject flees for her life, painfully missing her most precious memories of childhood, and embarks on a cross-country road trip to track down a mysterious stranger — the one man who has the ability to fix her damaged brain.
In Memory Of is horror art cinema, sometimes very abstract, sometimes going directly for the throat. It’s a mix of rubber-reality, off-the-rails horror like Carnival of Souls (1962), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Dust Devil (1992), and classic existential road trip films like Vanishing Point (1971) and Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), maybe even a bit of Badlands (1973). While writing the screenplay, Jason Christ, Jackie Kelly, and I were actually inspired by a wide variety of impactful, pensive, and nightmarish films, like Taxi Driver (1976), Nekromantic (1988), Apocalypse Now(1979), and Jacob’s Ladder (1990), to name a disparate few.
We’re still trying to pull together the last chunk of the funding, and we would genuinely appreciate support in the form of a pre-order. Pre-ordered Blu-rays arrive two weeks before the street date, they come autographed, and each pre-order gets ya the link and password to my private In Memory Of production journal. You can pre-order it at wickedpixel.com/in-memory-of/
RH: Thanks for your time Eric! Please keep us posted about the progress of In Memory Of.
Click here to read our Quick Review of Eric’s film Ratline (2011).