Dante Tomaselli Interview

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 Gory.
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.

Ellen Sandweiss and Edwin Neal -and Felissa Rose- star in SATAN'S PLAYGROUND.

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 horror film.

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 nightmares.

Name your top 5 horror films of all time.

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. Landmark.

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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