Interview: Tim Ritter (Truth or Dare)

What were you doing when you were eighteen? If you were like me then you were taking part in underage drinking with friends, going out with girls, staying up late watching horror films, playing video games, reading comic books, and working at a horrible summer job that you hated. What was writer/filmmaker Tim Ritter doing when he was eighteen? Writing and directing his first film, the classic slasher flick that has one hell of a fan following, Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness. During his career in film he has made three sequels to Truth or Dare as well as other films such as Twisted Illusions 1 and 2, Reconciled, Creep, and many more. I had the absolute honor of working with him on Twisted Illusions 2 (I play the video store nerd) and my wife and I were recently in the much-anticipated Deadly Dares: Truth or Dare IV (she gets to kill me). Tim is one of the nicest, most down to earth people you will ever meet, not only in the world of filmmaking but as a person in general. He is a top-notch guy and I am proud to call him my friend. I recently had the privilege to interview him, and our discussion follows:

Todd Martin: Where did the idea for your first film Truth or Dare come from?

Tim Ritter: Reading a lot of Stephen King, Fangoria magazine, and being a diehard suspense and horror fanatic. Joel Wynkoop and I were trying to come up with ideas for a no-budget shot-on-VHS horror anthology called TWISTED ILLUSIONS late in 1984, kind of like CREEPSHOW or THE TWILIGHT ZONE. One of my segments was a short called TRUTH OR DARE, and I took my childhood memories of playing the game and warped them into something we could shoot with no money. I added the gory twist of having an imaginary friend taunting you to cut off body parts and rip out your tongue (laughs). Then I came up with the motivation of having it all happen due to a marriage breaking up, and somehow…it all worked out pretty good! That little short became the larger 1986 film, and here we are, twenty-seven years later, still making movies based on Truth or Dare in TWISTED ILLUSIONS.

TM: You were only 18 when you worked on Truth or Dare, which is pretty amazing. How did you go about getting actors involved in it and how did you get it distributed?

TR: People were excited to participate in a movie back then! Unlike now, where it’s much harder to get folks enthused because it seems that EVERYONE is shooting a digital movie anymore. (laughs) Back then it just felt more exciting and new, and we got a few South Florida casting directors involved for free and held open auditions. Spread the word through the news media and we had huge turnouts. Pulled talent in that was working on MIAMI VICE at the time, and those training at the Burt Reynolds Theater. No one was even concerned with money back then, it was awesome! Once we got a budget, we had people sending in videotaped auditions from New York and Los Angeles, which was amazing. We actually were lucky enough to get a major wholesale distributor to finance TRUTH OR DARE- A CRITICAL MADNESS, so when the movie was finished, they really got it out there. This was 1986, the very peak of the VHS era, right before it got so oversaturated and the big chains took over…but we ended up getting about 30,000 copies out right out of the gate!

TM: What was it like filming Truth or Dare at such a young age? Was it good experience, and do you have any stories that stand out while filming was going on that you would like to share with us?

TR: It was a great learning experience! I was just out of high school when I stumbled into getting that movie financed, so…I had a truckload of super-8 movies and one video anthology movie under my belt, so there was a lot to learn. Nothing like learning as you get to film an original script! Of course there was some friction as things went on and some “creative differences” I had with some producers, but overall, it got my name out there and enabled me to keep going in the business after it was released, so I can’t complain! It was really exciting doing all the big crash and burn stunt scenes with exploding cars and people running on fire, a lot of which they’d do with CGI now, so…it was splendid living at the end of that era where everything was done live on the set, including practical effects.

The car wreck scene was especially memorable, we had all the highways blocked off from PGA Blvd to Prosperity Farms Road at rush hour, traffic all over the place in gridlock, and the stunt car slammed into an electric pole at the end of one scene by accident—we didn’t know the pole was hidden in these bushes! You can see the electrical arching in the finished sequence in the movie- it was unbelievable! Anyway, this knocked out all the power to that section of an adjacent neighborhood, and it just so happened that the mayor of the city lived there and he was furious! (laughs) So that was pretty wild, the beginning of my run-ins with police and politicians while making splatter movies in South Florida.

TM: You have shot many other films other than Truth or Dare, do you have one that stands out as your favorite and why?

TR: WICKED GAMES, Truth Or Dare Part II was an excellent shoot! We shot that in 1993 and even though we had lots of camera problems using the Hi-8 format, it was just such a fun movie to make, saluting all my favorite slasher movies like HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13th. Plus I really enjoyed manning the camera and not having to communicate everything to a cameraperson, that really saved me a lot of time. Patricia Paul was awesome to work with in the lead role, as was producer Kermit Christmas- he involved all these Shakespearian actors who took everything so seriously, which I loved! And Joel Wynkoop in his first performance as a leading man, playing a different kind of part with no karate in the mix! It was fun collaborating with Joel; he was up for anything and loved to play the Coppermasked Madman, Kane Hodder style! We shot some many variations of the scenes that there’s actually two different cuts of WICKED GAMES- the original version and the SNUFF CUT version, which is also very cool. Ashame our old analog footage doesn’t hold up as well in the high resolution era we now live in! (laugher) Also RECONCILED THROUGH THE CHRIST was another favorite of mine to shoot- we did that one in Kentucky in 2004, and it just came out so close to the way I envisioned it, even with so little money behind it. All of the actors, again, were a joy to work with and doing it for the passion, and the message is a positive one that I believe in, so those two movies…are my favorites!

TM: Tell us about yourself. What do you do to relax? Do you have any hobbies? What kind of music and movies are you into?

TR: I’m just a movie nut and a fan like everyone else, really. I try to contribute with these small projects in some way, but growing up, I was pulled into things with the classic Hammer movies and stuff like JAWS- that movie made me realize I wanted to make movies, and everything about JAWS just makes it my favorite movie of all time! From the poster of the curvaceous damsel in distress with the monster coming up underneath her to the music and the story and the way the entire movie was put together, I STILL can’t get enough of it. So I’d saw I’m a JAWS nut for sure, that’s one of my hobbies.

I just read the MEMORIES FROM MARTHA’S VINEYARD coffee table book that gives the perspective of all the regular folks that participated in the making of the film, and it was a fascinating read! A day-by-day account of making the movie with just incredible photos! So that’s what I do to relax, I study movies that I love and try to absorb more information about them. I’m the same way with the HALLOWEEN movies, the FRIDAY THE 13TH movie (especially the Paramount era!) and many other franchises like Dirty Harry, The Terminator TEXAS CHAINSAW, and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT ’72 is another one I’m obsessed with, saw that one on VHS right before I got financing for TRUTH OR DARE, so it really inspired me.

I collect movie soundtracks as well, and there’s nothing more exciting than finding a score to one of your favorite obscure horror films. Like this week, I purchased a limited edition copy of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (the original one, of course!)… Earlier this year, I scored one of those limited edition Harry Manfredini CD box sets from the first six FRIDAY THE 13th films-that was an exciting coup, something I’d been waiting DECADES to get- all the FRIDAY soundtracks! I’m also a huge fan of’70’s TV like THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, ROCKFORD FILES, and those kinds of shows. I love discovering classic ‘70’s movies I somehow missed, like FUTUREWORLD, starring Peter Fonda! I don’t know how I missed that one growing up, but I love robot movies like that and the Fembots on the BIONIC TV shows. FUTUREWORLD is just a fun ride with great, low-tech special effects and a fun story—something that always inspires moviemakers with no money! (laughs) I also enjoy select metal music, like Judas Priest and U.D.O. And of course, action movies made by Stallone, Bronson, Eastwood, Norris, and those heroes of the ‘80’s. Nothing like a classic Canon Action movie! It’s amazing…they just don’t make movies much like they did back then! Like, say, COMMANDO, another all-time favorite of mine! I also read when I can- Fangoria magazine, behind-the-scenes books, movie tie-ins, all that kind of stuff! Some of my favorite authors are Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, David Szulkin, and James Patterson. I try to keep up on the Jack Reacher novels as well- those are terrific!

TM: What is your favorite movie of all time? What do you think is the scariest film that you have ever seen?

TR: Probably would have to go with JAWS, as I mentioned! As for scary, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ’78 scared me to death growing up. I was probably ten or eleven when I saw that and it gave me nightmares. I remember waking up covered in sweat with my heart racing…I was sure my whole family had been replaced by pod people or even worse…stuffed like a stuffed animal! I ended up writing a story about the nightmare that INVASION inspired called- STUFFED PEOPLE! (laugher) Anyway, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATHERS ’78 still hold up today, like JAWS… Just the eerie atmosphere, the story, the sound effects, the creepy music, the gore. And there’s another one to watch with INVASION, John Carpenter’s THE THING, a great alien invasion movie that REALLY concentrates on the grue!

TM: You work a lot with the awesome Joel Wynkoop. How did you guys meet and how many films have you worked on together?

TR: Joel and I have collaborated on at least a dozen movies over the years! Joel was actually my babysitter, he lived across the street from me when I was growing up, and I watched him make super-8 movies, even participated in a few. Then I knew—I wanted to do that as well! Joel moved away but caught up with me later when his nephew saw an ad for my super-8 feature film DAY OF THE REAPER in the Jupiter High School newspaper. I think I was a junior in high school when I made that movie, and Joel rang me up and we got together and jumped into making TWISTED ILLUSIONS! I have to mention, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN really inspired me as well, just the trailer made me want to SEE that movie and imagine what it might be all about!

TM: So tell us a little bit about your newest entry in the Truth or Dare series, Deadly Dares: Truth or Dare Part IV. What is the plot and how twisted and violent is it as compared to the other movies from the series?

TR: It’s more of a return to the original concept of the lead character playing the childhood game this time, which we kind of got away from in the last two sequels (Wicked Games and Screaming For Sanity). Everything has moved on-line now, so the lead character (actor Casey Miracle) finds this hot Internet chick (actress Jessica Cameron) via webcam and they begin to play the truth or dare game, uploading their videotaped dares on a website dedicated to the killer from the original film. Of course, from there…things get murderous and out of hand as each individual tries to one-up the other in the dare department! DEADLY DARES has a gory, murderous rampage that lasts about ten minutes, with all kinds of the splatter that matters! I had a lot of my friends and colleagues shoot scenes for this ‘murder montage’ set piece, including Richard (ACTRESS APOCALYPSE) Anasky, Joel (THE BITE) Wynkoop, Scott (THE HOUSE THAT WEPT BLOOD) Bullock, Gordon Loving, and Dann Thombs. The Kentucky actors were great to collaborate with- Casey did a great job and Heather “Scream” Price was a blast to work with! Can’t forget Billy Blackwell and his wife, who also produced the movie. We had a lot of people just show up and have a blast- like Todd Martin and his lovely wife Trish, they’re creative folks who write books and make horror movies as well, they wanted to play victims in the movie, and they just showed up and got all covered in blood and gore for a day and we all had a blast! There were moments when making DEADLY DARES was as fun as the old days, where people just came together for the passion, for doing the deed, and contributed as collective horror fans! Those were the best of times! When we were all just unified, trying to add something to the underground genre. That’s what it’s all about!

TM: When do you think that Truth or Dare IV will be released? I know that there are many, many fans that are dying to see it.

TR: It should be officially available in November 2012; it’s coming out through SRS/MVD Studios. You can keep up to date on things through the DEADLY DARES Facebook site or on www.b-movie.com. I think it came out pretty decent for a small video movie! It’s a lot of fun and I hope the fans won’t be disappointed.

TM: If you could work with anyone in the film industry who would it be and why?

TR: Well, as I mentioned before, I just love to work with other like-minded fans that have similar tastes to mine. Actors, actresses, producers, you name it! That kind of collaboration is just a true joy, sometimes hard to find, but when it happens…it’s like being at an amusement park or like a kid in a candy store as you bounce ideas off of each other and just do all kinds of crazy things and have a blast! The verbal shortcuts are amazing when you can say, “Do it like that scene in EATEN ALIVE” and they know right what you’re talking about. I love to work with people who live and breathe this stuff, like me!

TM: Who would you say are your biggest influences when it comes to film making?

TR: Probably the writer/directors that I grew up with on Beta and VHS tape watching- Craven, Carpenter, Romero, John Waters…H.G. Lewis…Not to DARE compare myself to any of those guys, but they just inspired me to tell stories and be creative in the independent movie medium. Same with folks like Stallone, Eastwood, and writers like Richard Laymon and Stephen King and Clive Barker. I don’t want to forget Steven Spielberg, either- between JAWS, DUEL, JURASSIC PARK, and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Alfred Hitchcock and PSYCHO, I’m obsessed with that one and it’s always a HUGE influence on my little flicks…I’d love to mention every writer or filmmaker who inspired me…but it would just take too long! (chuckles) I’m a big fan of all the STAR WARS movies as well!

TM: In addition to making films you have also written some novels. What are they and tell us a little about them.

TR: THE HAMMER WILL FALL is a suspense horror novel kind of in the vein of King’s early Richard Bachman books, which I loved, and started out as a screenplay I could never get funding for, so that was a great release! It’s about a shop teacher who is pitted against a gang of thugs that overrun his school. Then there’s UNREEL, which is a semi-autobiographical tale of a dude trying to make little horror movies on video at any cost! I intermingled a lot of the “making of” stories from the old Florida movies into a bizarre narrative of sorts, if you can imagine all that and the kitchen sink thrown into the mix!

TM: If you were given a choice of only doing one would you make films or write books for the rest of your life?

TR: Probably write books. Less of a hassle, you can stay inside, and your creativity is not bound by a small budget. But once in a while…it’s great fun to take words and turn them into something audio-visual however you can! Get out there and sweat bullets in the heat and do the best you can, no matter what the circumstances. It can be a real rush, the entire process! I definitely just love to tell stories!

TM: Any current or future projects you are working on?

TR: One project usually leads to more and I’ve been doing a lot of things! I wrote a script for Stanley Scott Bullock that I hope he gets to direct soon. Also did a couple of scripts for director Richard Anasky (included the long-awaited KILLING SPREE remake!) and contributed a chapter on distributing DEADLY DARES to Kevin Lindenmuth’s upcoming moviemaking book. I recently did an extensive interview for director Tony Masiello’s new documentary called SOV- THE TRUE INDEPENDENTS. It’s all about the early days of direct-to-VHS movies, which is exciting. Did another interview for Mike Watt’s upcoming book on a similar subject with a different approach, so a lot going on in the printed world right now! Also did a cameo appearance in director James Balsamo’s upcoming horror flick I SPILL YOUR GUTS…I also have done some cameos and narration in some of filmmaker Jerry (SAUCER SEX PEEPSHOW) William’s latest epics, which are always a lot of fun! And, believe it or not, I’ve been involved with shooting some things for an upcoming video game, which has been kind of interested, but more on that when it’s closer to an official release. Plus there’s been the editing and distribution path of DEADLY DARES, so that in itself has been a three year-plus journey. When it finally comes out, then I guess I’ll have to decide what’s next, another book or a movie project! I suppose it all depends on how the stars align and if I can tear myself away from consuming movies, books, and soundtracks!

Thank you so much Tim for your time! You are a class act my friend and the industry needs more talented, creative people like you in it!

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About Todd Martin

Todd Martin grew up in Irvington, a small town in Kentucky. Thanks to his mother, father, and favorite uncle he started watching horror films at a very young age and has been a horror geek ever since. He is basically a walking encyclopedia of horror flicks (especially the 80’s slashers), comic books, and pro wrestling, and has been writing for the biggest majority of his life.

His first book, Nightmare Tales was published in 2006 and he has had several short stories published in several collections. He and his wife Trish published their book “The Gardener,” a horror novel that is a throwback to the slasher films of the 80’s in 2011 and he is working on a collection of short horror stories When he isn’t reviewing movies and books or doing interviews for Horrornews.net he has been known to act from time to time as he has appeared in a handful of low budget horror films. He also enjoys writing screenplays and enjoys making movies as well. He wrote the segment “Angel” which appeared in the 2004 film “Tales from the Grave 2: Happy Holidays!” which was produced and directed by Stephanie Beaton, and recently appeared in Tim Ritter’s film “Deadly Dares: Truth or Dare 4.”. He resides in Kentucky with his wife Trish, their cat Buffy, and their wiener dog, Cujo

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