Interview: Damien Leone – Frankenstein vs. The Mummy

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Monsters have been creeping into our nightmares since the beginning of time, but Universal Studios marketed the idea and put these creatures on the big screen starting back to 1923. Classics like Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, and The Mummy are some of the most notorious characters in Hollywood to this day. Over the past century many directors have taken these haunting ideas, expanded them to make their own movie franchises, and breached the surface of cult followings. This is true with the director of the new horror film, Frankenstein vs. The Mummy. Damien Leone is a true fan of the genre and he incorporates his love of filmmaking into his recent project that takes a different approach to introducing these historic monsters. If you are looking for another terrible Frankenstein film that is pasted with CG images on a film student’s final project, look elsewhere. Damien Leone is a special effects master when it comes to practical effects, much like Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero, which can be seen in his detailed makeup work and his meticulous style. It’s this attention to detail that makes his movies stand out compared to others in the genre. What I have enjoyed about his work in All Hallows Eve, Terrifier, and this film specifically is that you can tell he has done his horror movie homework, and doesn’t over exaggerate the death scenes. His movies have blown me away from the special effects standpoint and looked more realistic than the ridiculous 100 million dollar Hollywood films as of late. If there is anything that I took out of our conversation was that if you have the drive and put in the effort, things will fall into place. Damien started out as a special effects artist, then started writing films, and now is doing all the above, including directing. It doesn’t take a huge budget to put out quality work in cinema, but one does have to have the right ideas, and use the camera to one’s advantage. Much like Stephen Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese, Damien has utilized his own techniques in the filmmaking process to create his unique style that stands out in the ever-growing redundancy of horror reboots and re-makes.

It was my pleasure to sit down and discuss this particular film with the director, writer, and special effects advocate, Damien Leone. He reaches out about his career in the movie making business, some of his favorite movie directors, and what is in store for him in 2015. He is the creator of “Art the Clown” from All Hallows Eve/Terrifier movies, and I am hoping to see much more work from him in the years to come. With his creature design and growing directorial skills, I hope he will be categorized next to the greats of the industry like Wes Craven and John Carpenter.

Nerdlocker (NL): How did you get involved with this project?

Damien Leone (DL): My producer approached me; he had a 30-page “found footage” script for Frankenstein vs. the Mummy. He asked me if I wanted to do the special effects for the movie, and  I immediately said “yes” because I love those monsters! I grew up with them, and then he asked me if I was interested in directing as well. I was a little skeptical because I don’t like found footage movies, but I liked The Blair Witch Project, other than that, I am not into them. He sent me the script and I wasn’t crazy about it, but I always wanted to do a Frankenstein movie. I asked him “could I write my own my version and I’ll shoot it for the same amount of money?” My producer was ok with the idea and we went with it. It was really ambitious and cheap to make a found footage movie, but when the monsters came in the last five minutes of the movie, it was more of the actors talking about the legend of this one and that one. When you finally see the creatures at the end, I knew the audience was totally going to despise that, so I tried to stay as true to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as best as I could. I incorporated the Mummy at a different angle and it came together in the end.

NL: Was it difficult to intertwine these two characters with a more modern adaptation?

DL: The hardest part was figuring out where the location was going to be and how are we going to have these two monsters meet up. Once I figured out it was going to take place under one university, then it was a lot easier to roll with that idea and have them meet. I was surprised how quickly the story came together and gave me the treatment with a short amount of time to write the script. It started coming together very easily, once we found the location of the film.

NL: Did you do any research before going into this film? Such as watching the old Universal monster pictures or read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?

DL: I’ve seen Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein since I was a little kid. I bought the DVD, watched it, and all the Hammer Frankenstein series. I am a big fan of “The Curse of Frankenstein”. I wanted to make my version different and not the Boris Karloff version we are all familiar with. That makeup is untouchable and I actually can’t use some of those makeup techniques because they are copyrighted by Universal. I knew I had to do my own version and gravitated towards the Bernie Wrightson comic book series. I love the totally muscular, longhaired Frankenstein, and something I have never seen in the movies. I definitely started there and added more of my own style into the makeup. The long hair takes everybody back and I thought many of the fans would be familiar with the Wrightston comic series, but I guess not, they have been blown away by it. In the novel he has long, flowing black hair and the movie he has relatively long black hair.

NL: Whose idea was it to keep the practical effects approach of these monsters compared to CGI?

DL: Oh yeah, that’s always me! My producers are aware that I do the special effects and always come to me when they have a creature movie. I can whip together something quickly and for very little money. Right off the bat when he approached me, he knew I was going to do the practical effects. If I had a 150 million dollar budget for a Hollywood movie, I would fight to bring in practical effects. I love CGI when it is done correctly, but it’s not necessary for these creatures.

NL: I see from your past work you have worked in special effects, directing, and writing of films. Which is your favorite and what made you try different mediums of filmmaking?

DL: I think it’s just my generation of filmmakers are hands on, the technology is cheaper and software is more accessible. The people that I looked up to growing up didn’t have the technology, like Rick Baker and Tom Savini, they were all self taught and were only two books at the library to read about this stuff. Now we are spoiled because if we are learning a new technique, we can watch a tutorial on-line. In most anything, it’s cool you can be part of many different aspects of the filmmaking process. I love making the film from start to finish. There’s nothing greater that making a movie that you created or invented, I love the directing aspect the most, but it’s the most stressful. Editing is the most enjoyable part because you’re not watching the clock or have all of this pressure on you, but my favorite is directing.

NL: As a filmmaker, what is your process when going into a film, especially a horror film like this?

DL: I am such a movie fanatic! I’m self taught and didn’t go to film school. I took one class in college and didn’t learn anything. All my knowledge has been self-taught, but I did learn “crossing the lines” which is technicality where you don’t cross the line while doing over the shoulder shots. Everything I have learned is from watching movies since I was three years old and being a “movie geek.” I know what I like from a bunch of different filmmakers, and I can always reference shots and styles of theirs. I like to cast people that I think are great from the start, so I really don’t have to get involved with them. Once that’s done, I can sit back and let them do their job, which is dealing with the technical side of the picture. It’s a train that you have to just jump on and go for the ride, and to not think about it. 

NL: Who are your favorite directors?

DL: My three favorite filmmakers I always go to, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, and Spielberg. Spielberg is responsible for my favorite film of all time, which is JAWS. Spielberg and Kubrick really stood out to me with their directing style, when I got to the technicality of filmmaking, you could see the stamp of these directors. You could watch a movie not knowing much about it, but can tell Spielberg and Kubrick directed it because of their unique style. That’s a director I hope to be one day and what I have been working towards.

NL: Do you have any upcoming films or projects?

DL: What I have in the works is my killer from All Hallows Eve, Art the Clown spin-off. He is going to be slicing and dicing, doing horrible things, and will be the most graphically violent movie I have put out to this day. He’s got a cool little following and fans want to see more of him. We start shooting in a couple months and will have it out by Halloween. Ever since American Horror Story, there’s a clown following again. Also, they are re-doing Steven King’s “IT” and Rob Zombie has a killer clown movie called “31” coming out. So, I need to hurry up on this movie and one up Mr. Zombie.

I am giving Frankenstein vs. The Mummy a 3 out of 5 Nerd Skulls.

Frankenstein vs. The Mummy will be released on DVD and VOD on February 10th, 2015.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram: @damienleone  @Logan_Myerz

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