Dante Tomaselli interview
Dante Tomaselli, who directed the forthcoming Satan's Playground and is now helming The Ocean, recently descended into the Pit for an insightful interview conducted by John Gray. Many thanks to Mr. Tomaselli for his time!
First off, thanks for considering the interview and
of course, thanks big time for joining us at Guts and
You're welcome. Guts and Gory came screaming out to
me. I did a search on my films and found that
pratically half of my cast for Satan's Playground have
message boards here. So it has to be a safe place.
You have some of the most innovative visuals that I
have seen since the Evil Dead/Sam Raimi days. Where
you get your visual inspiration from?
Thanks...I'm probably most influenced by films I saw
between the ages of 3 to 17. 1973 to 1987. Of course
The Evil Dead is one of my all time favorites. But
really, mostly, I get my visual inspiration from
nightmares I've had...or just weird images stuck in my
subconscious. Mazes. I drew mazes. When I was a little
boy, I was a "starer." Sometimes people would say,
"stop staring!" and I'd have to snap out of it. That's
why I related so much to Felissa's wide-eyed character
in Sleepaway Camp. When audiences watch my films, I
want them to sort of go into a trance. I was able to
take that kind of hypnotic imagery further in Satan's
Playground because I had a larger budget, bigger crew
and more experience as a filmmaker. I also think I
took the sound design up a notch, to a new level with
this film. It has a busy and complex soundscape but
it's also at times very spacious, almost serene. I mix
the sounds as I'm in preproduction, production,
post...I'm constantly listening to different layers of
noises, like audio paint. Sometimes I get fixated on
certain electronic sounds created from my Roland
Synthesizer. But mostly I gather samples...and mix.
I'm a sound collector. In all my films so far there
are many natural disasters on the soundtrack like
earthquakes and avalanches; they can be very quiet,
very subliminal or up there in the forefront. It
creates an emotionally violent mood. Every step of the
way, I want the audience to have no idea what to
expect next. The film should feel like a hallucination
or vivid nightmare.
The cast is also amazing. Felissa Rose, Ellen
Sandweiss, Ron Millkie, and of course the great Edwin
Neal. I can tell, just from the five minute preview
you sent me that this is going to rock the horror
world. How was it working with all the genre greats?
Pure pleasure. I'm sure I'll never be able to
replicate the experience. All the stars were aligned
for this project. Such harmony. Working together with
Felissa, Ellen, and Edwin was a dream I never wanted
to end. It was a lot of hard work, too. I mean, the
conditions we shot in were very brutal...below
freezing temperatures. Shooting out in the woods from
4 pm to 5 am. And a lot of the scenes were
emotionally-charged and required Felissa and Ellen to
be in a heightened state of terror. But they were
dedicated. I was dedicated. There was a lot of love on
that set. We all respected one another, sort of like
the 70s hippie mentality. Just being in the situation
of filmming there was like a drug, a true natural
high. We all wanted to be there.
What can you tell us about the real story behind
the ‘Jersey Devil’?
In 1735, a superstitious woman from New Jersey was
about to give birth to her 13th child. She cursed it,
she said "let this be a devil." And it was. When it
was born it came out deformed with claws and bat-like
wings. The bloodthirsty winged creature flew out the
chimney of the house and Legend says it's been
haunting the Pine Barrens ever since. It's like New
Jersey's Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.
You have said before that "The viewer should taste
color. And touch sound. I want Satan's Playground to
be one of the most nightmarish and atmospheric horror
movies ever made." That is a very interesting
statement. Can you expand on this a little?
Well, I feel a certain kind of horror movie is dead.
Argento and Bava used to make them but
there's nothing out now even close. I'm speaking of a
kind of painterly hallucinogenic horror film
experience, where the storyline is ambiguous,
sensations are paramount and mood and atmosphere
dominate. I want to bring that format back. The trance
After viewing (Tomaselli's previous features) Desecration and Horror,
you quickly impressed me as a stand out director. Who are
you most influenced by as a writer/director?
Thanks. My cousin, Alfred Sole, definitely influenced
me with his 1976 film, Communion, always knows as...
Alice, Sweet Alice. I was 6 or 7 at the time when it
made its World Premiere in Paterson New Jersey. It
definitely left a powerful imprint. I love early
Carpenter, Cronenberg, Romero, De Palma, Polanski,
Kubrick. I also really appreciate some of the more
offbeat directors like Coffin Joe, Norman J. Warren,
Pete Walker, Bob Clark and Ulli Lommel. I'm probably
most influenced by my own childhood fears and
Name your top 5 horror films of all time.
DON'T LOOK NOW
THE EVIL DEAD
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
With the slew of cookie cutter PG-13 garbage that
is hitting the screens these days, have you seen any
genre films that you enjoyed?
Horror films released into theaters? Nothing.
Talk to us a little about The Ocean.
Killer waves. It's about the ocean itself revolting.
It's about the end of the world. There's a mysterious
Ebola-like virus spreading along a coastal community
in Puerto Rico. Felissa Rose plays a woman haunted by
the drowning deaths of her husband and son. She
inherits a mansion overlooking the crashing surf...The
location is The Bermuda Triangle, also known as The
Devil's Triangle. This next film is, in some ways, a
zombie horror movie.
I see you are once again going against the
Hollywood grain and casting Judith O’Dea from
Night of the Living Dead. Most directors wouldn't dare
take that chance. Why do you?
I guess it's a matter of perception. It feels
perfectly natural for me. Someone like Judith would be
much more exciting for me to work with than the latest
Hollywood star. Actors from horror movies I cherish
really push my buttons. Judith is a bona-fide horror
icon. She's first class. Night of the Living Dead.
Any other projects you would like to speak of?
Just The Ocean. I hope I don't drown shooting it.
Enjoy Satan's Playground. Have fun.
Thanks once again for your time and we hope to see a
lot more out of you in the future!
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