Interview: Dante Tomaselli (Horror, Satan’s Playground, Desecration)

Heya Freaks and Minx! Dai here with Dante Tomaselli and we’re talking about his films, inspirations, and what he has coming up! So sit back, relax, and observe the awesomeness of Dante Tomaselli!

Thank you so much for hanging out with me for a bit!

You’re welcome. Very happy to be here.

How did you get your start in the film business?

Well, I started off fantasizing…about being a filmmaker …specifically a horror director…when I was around 3yearsold. That was the year TheExorcist and Don’t Look Now came out. 1973. My mother will tell you this too. Horror imagery …those kinds of visions were just etched in my psyche. And sounds. I loved creating eerie sounds …especially on an electronic organ we had in the dining room. I remember I’d sit there for hours and go into a trance. I’d draw graveyards while playing gloomy, low pitched music. I was a morbid kid (laughs)! Also, I would hallucinate a lot. And I didn’t take drugs. In fact, I didn’t even smoke my first joint until I was about 24 (laughs)! I was always trying to be good Catholic boy growing up; I didn’t do anything …I barely ever got in trouble in school. I was afraid I’d go to hell! The idea of this place …underneath me, this hole, frightened me so much. I felt it …I sensed it. Sometimes I’d imagine the landscape would shift, the earth would open up…and I’d drop into it. These are paranoid fantasies, and I’m sure …metaphors for emotional problems I had, but for me, at the time, they were very real. I also saw multicolored streaks in the atmosphere.

Sounds …certain sounds would trigger colors. Sometimes that color would be in the blackness of my vision, peeking through. Like when you’re lying on the beach on your back and you’re looking up at the sun. And other times…the colors were projected …right in front of me. I’d see shapes and designs too. Circles. For example, during school, whenever the alarm would go off, not the bell, the alarm …I’d see spirals going up…They looked like mini tornadoes. I’d see them! I’d ask some other kids, ‘You don’t see those?’ Nope. After a while I told people I was seeing ghosts! I truly thought I was! The alarms brought them! When I’d reach out to touch…my hands would go right through. The same kind of thing would happen if it was raining outside, it didn’t matter if I was inside or outside. The sounds of the rain would trigger these little pinpoints of light, almost like fiber optics …little floating dots …Anyhow, I eventually went to art school at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn…and majored in Film. Then I transferred to the New York School of Visual Arts and eventually graduated with a B.F.A. in Advertising Copywriting.

When I graduated, I continued to take film courses and I placed an Ad in the back of the Village Voice looking for a film crew to work on a horror film. With the people I got from that Ad, I shot my first ambitious short film, Mama’s Boy. Throughout my early and mid twenties I made a series of experimental shorts. I was living in NYC and absorbing everything, good and bad…I was a vessel. During this time one
thing was constantly nagging at me…I had throbbing pain in my shoulders and neck. Ahhhh. The pain was so horrible it was causing my eyes to ache. It was really distracting. I made it a goal to get rid of it. I visited different chiropractors …massage therapists, but that didn’t work. Nothing worked. Then I met an acupuncturist in Chinatown; he was an Herbalist who believed in holistic healing. We tried acupuncture, which I was a little fearful of, I hate needles…The pain went away for while…sort of…but then it came back, slowly but steadily…and then worse than ever! One day I came to him, desperate for help. He had a twinkle in his eye, I remember and then he did something that shocked me. I’ll never forget it. He burned my back in three spots…with a fiery coal. I screamed out in pain. It hurt! But then it didn’t. It felt kind of numb, yet tingly. He told me he had to do it and that I had an energy blockage. An energy blockage?!

A side of me wanted to sue him. I looked at the mirror and I had three ugly burn marks. Then my mood suddenly changed …I walked out of his Chinatown office almost floating, I quickly felt all the pain drain away. My eyes opened up. I felt like I could see, really see. I felt no pain. There was some kind of powerful energy surging through me. I went home and started writing. Faceless nuns…my childhood…old neighborhoods …anything that popped into my mind. I didn’t sleep that night. I didn’t need to sleep. I didn’t sleep for three nights straight! It was during this period, I was about 26, that I wrote the screenplay for the feature length DESECRATION. It poured out of me. I kept writing and writing. I eventually shot the full length film and it made its World Premiere at the 1999 Fantafestival in Rome, Italy. After that screening, Image Entertainment picked it up for DVD distribution.

It was released in 2000 and it developed a cult following…With the attention DESECRATION got me, I was able to secure funding for my second feature film, HORROR. That was released in 2003 by Elite Entertainment…And then a few years later I shot SATAN’S PLAYGROUND…which was released by Anchor Bay in August 2006.

You have a cousin who made a pretty popular horror film quite a few years back. Was he one of your influences?

Yes …Alfred Sole’s ALICE, SWEET ALICE. It’s one of my biggest influences. I was just talking to Alfred on the phone a little while ago. He’s definitely been a mentor throughout the years. I’m not sure how much he realizes it. We can both relate to each other very well, especially as cult filmmakers. Plus, he’s family…blood. We’ve been planning a remake of ALICE, SWEET ALICE. I am directing, scoring and cowriting. Alfred is Production Designer. He doesn’t want a producer credit, he just feels strongly that he has to be the Production Designer. That’s great for me and should comfort ALICE, SWEET ALICE fans, because we can have faith that the sets will come from the imagination of the original director. Also, ultimately he has to give his blessing on the screenplay. That’s when financing will come together. Only then. He should approve it and be satisfied with it. Some others have tried to write the screenplay but they have failed. There has not been a satisfactory screenplay yet.

Michael Gingold…managing editor of Fangoria Magazine is my writing partner. We are currently writing a remake that is faithful to the original. I know I want to have the ever present…almost subliminal …Catholic iconography intact. Alice is still a Bad Seed type girl. And her sister, Karen, is a beautiful, spoiled princess. Jealousy between sisters…intact…The remake should have the same New Jersey Paterson type settings as the original. Of course there should be a centerpiece church …Rectory…Paterson apartments, creepy abandoned buildings, the Paterson Falls…It will be a faithful remake, in my hands. Plotwise, probably the only thing that will be different is…after the brutal stabbing of Alice’s Aunt Annie, Alice is sent to a strict all girls Catholic Boarding School. The film is in development, but it’s coming…

What were some of the films that influenced you to become a filmmaker?

John Carpenter’s Halloween, David Cronenberg’s The Brood, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Ridley Scott’s Alien, Roman Polanki’s Rosemary’s Baby, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Pete Walker’s Frightmare, Tourist Trap, The Sentinel, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, The Evil Dead, Burnt Offerings, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, The Omen, Suspiria…I can go on and on…

You have made three films now and are in preproduction with another, not including the documentary being made about you which we will cover in a bit. Can you tell us a little about each?

My first film is DESECRATION. The tagline is…Should all sinners be damned? DESECRATION is an interior journey told through a series of dreams, flashbacks…and hallucinations. It’s about a boy haunted by his mother’s death. Only his religious grandmother understands what’s happening. He’s going to Hell. It’s a guilt trip.

My second film …HORROR is a sequel to DESECRATION. I wasn’t through exploring that universe …A group of runaway addicts lead by…the damned boy from DESECRATION …escape from a drug rehab and encounter demonic forces in a rural farmhouse. The Amazing Kreskin plays a diabolical preacher with hypnotic powers…

My third film…SATAN’S PLAYGROUND…is about a vacationing family lost in the woods with the Jersey Devil lurking in the Pine Barrens. Yes…Christopher Garetano is creating a documentary on me called THE HORROR OF DANTE TOMASELLI. I have a feeling it will be
hallucinatory…and macabre. He’s shown me some clips and it’s like an outofbodyexperience.

I have had the pleasure to watch SATANS PLAYGROUND and HORROR. Very psychedelic films Dante! I really enjoyed them! Your story concepts seem to somehow involve religion in deeply seated undertones. Why is that?

I’m no theologian but I feel that religion will be the death of all of us. It scares me…how one group feels the other is wrong…the only solution is war…death. That’s frightening. I’m not even speaking specifically about any current situation. This has gone on forever, since the beginning of time. It’s so odd because God…whatever it is…is a ghost.

Also, I have noticed that you kept a lot of the same cast members in each film i.e.: Christie Sanford and Raine Brown to name a few. Tell us a bit of why that is and do you plan to keep bringing them back other films?

Oh I love Christie Sanford. I was 23 when she starred in my first short. She starred in practically every one of my shorts in fact! That’s why she’s been in every one of my full length movies. Christie’s totally loyal and magical to be with. She’s a malleable actress who really delivers. Danny Lopes is like that…Irma St. Paule…Rest in Peace…Ellen Sandweiss…Raine Brown…Sal Piro…I love the idea of interlocking so I will continue to weave my favorite performers in and out of most all my films.

Who have been some of the best people to work with in your opinion?

I’d say definitely those actors I just mentioned.

What is the name of your next movie and can you tell us a bit about it?

TORTURE CHAMBER. It has an all encompassing sense of gloom throughout. Children are not what they seem. A crumbling abandoned castle with an underground medieval torture chamber is the film’s main setting. Cobwebbed catacombs …mysterious trapdoors…erie dungeon imagery galore. To anchor the psychedelia, there’s a small New England town called Smithville. The residents are disappearing. At the core is a religious family in deep psychic pain. I illustrate family sickness here. Strip away all the horror trappings…and it’s a twisted family psychodrama. The picture will be filled with electric blue and red tones and a kind of hazy celestial white…Lots of refracted light, fog choked landscapes…This will be my goriest film. An important visual motif in TORTURE CHAMBER is the image of flickering flames. This is a film about eternal damnation. Inspired by The Exorcist, Halloween, and my own nightmares, TORTURE CHAMBER aspires to be one of the most frightening horror films in recent memory.

Coming back to a subject we touched on, you also are the subject a Christopher Garetano documentary, ‘The Horror Of Dante Tomaselli’. How did this project come about?

Well, right after my second film, HORROR, there was talk about a documentary on me. At the time Chris had a magazine called Are You Going? And there was an issue devoted to my films called THE HORROR OF DANTE TOMASELLI. We were discussing the idea of working together in some capacity. All the while Chris was actually filming a documentary called HORROR BUSINESS…An insightful look
into the indie horror world of pain. He invited me to be in it. We had a phone conversation and I explained what was happening and it just seemed obvious that he should direct a piece on me…then I was happy when it turned into a full fledged documentary film. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out. HORROR BUSINESS was a DVD hit for Image. I know it got a lot of great reviews. I loved its nonlinear style. Chris is an outstanding filmmaker. I’ve personally known him since my college days in NYC.

What can we expect to see in this documentary?

It’s really up to Chris. I believe it’s going to play out like a dream…or nightmare. It will probably be told in a streamofconsciousness way. For example, one night I recorded myself sleeping. I didn’t believe that I snored. I needed proof. Boy, do I snore (laughs). I sounded like a hissing cobra. I gave Chris the audio and he immediately had some trippy idea.

What are some of your accomplishments in the film industry that you are most proud of?

The release of each of my films. It’s like moving mountains getting all of this going.

What do you think of the industry today and where it’s heading?

Well, because of the horrendous economy, money has pretty much dried up in the independent filmmaking world. We have to think of more creative ways to finance our horror films. We should all try to come together. I know, for sure when I make it big, when it’s my time in the spotlight …because right now I’m a cult oddity …I will give back to the independent horror community. I understand its struggles. At some point I’d like to Executive Produce…not Produce …Executive Produce…low budget horror films, with new directors I believe in. That’s probably tens years from now. I’d be the Pied Piper, giving away final cut like a stash of gold. I know how important that is…for an
independent filmmaker…it means everything …final cut. There’s a lot of talent out there just waiting for a chance. Like I said, I have to accumulate more power, snag a theatrical hit…but I can see it somewhere on the horizon. I think we should really applaud the ballsy Horrorfest 2009. Even if you don’t love all the movies at least be supportive of the cause. I don’t understand why so many of these critics…these online critics…are so cynical. I mean, really…There’s such a harsh, judgmental tone…that goes beyond constructive to just plain abuse sometimes.

This happens to almost all independent horror releases, really. More often than not they become punching bags. Everyone lighten up. It feels like these Internet pundits are just waiting to pounce on each new release with a sadistic smile. I’m not just talking about the treatment of one of my own films…this is rampant. No one, no director is immune. It’s like, ‘Have a little compassion folks.’ Be critical, yes, be demanding, yes, but have a heart. It’s all about tone.

If you could ultimately accomplish one thing, what would be the most important one for you to do?

Hmmm…to leave a legacy of unique horror films.

Thank you Dante once again! Any last words for me and our readers?

Help keep independent horror alive.

For more info on Dante, visit:
http://horrorthemovie.com

Its been a pleasure talking with you Dante.

Thanks guys for stopping by and checking out our interview with Dante Tomaselli! Be sure to check out HORROR and SATANS PLAYGROUND and keep an eye out for THE HORROR OF DANTE TOMASELLI.
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About Dai Green

DaiDai Green is a contributor to HorrorNews.net. She created the column "Dai of The Dead"

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