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Interview: Damien Leone (Frankenstein vs. The Mummy)

frankenstein-vs-the-mummy Writer/Director Demian Leone’s Frankenstein vs. The Mummy is an unabashed love letter to horror fans worldwide. It takes two classic monsters, and puts them together for one slobberknocker of a battle! I genuinely enjoyed watching it, and Mr. Leone graciously sat with me for a short interview to discuss how the project came together.

Horrornews.net: What led you to directing Frankenstein vs. The Mummy?

Damien Leone: It wasn’t my idea from the start, the concept was presented to me by my producer (Jesse Baget). He had originally asked me if I would be interested in doing the special effects, and I jumped at the opportunity because that’s any makeup artist’s dream! He sent me the treatment, which was 30 pages long, and I discovered that it was to be a found footage film. Basically The Blair Witch Project (1999) meets Frankenstein and The Mummy. My producer then asked me if I would be interested in directing it, and I told him that I wasn’t really into the whole found footage genre as a whole, it’s not my style of film making and I sincerely believed that the fans would not be happy with the finished project. So I asked him if I could rewrite the whole thing, knowing I could write something better suited to my talent, and something the fans would like.

I promised him that if he allowed me to move forward that I would make the film for the same amount of money that he had budgeted to the found footage version. He liked this idea, especially since found footage films don’t cost very much to produce. He gave me the go ahead, and although I did run slightly over budget, but not where it became a huge issue. I think the movie we ended up making is gonna make the fans pretty happy, and even if they don’t like it – they really would’ve disliked the found footage version.

HNN: What was it about the found footage version that you disliked so much?

DL: It wasn’t about the monsters! Everything that makes these characters so great was nowhere to be found in the treatment. They were just two mindless monsters that appear at the end of the movie to fight, there weren’t any layers there. It was formatted like every other found footage film you’ve seen as well. Basically it featured a group of characters, walking around in the forest for over an hour while discussing legends. And then in the last five minutes, the monsters make their appearance. I don’t know about you, but that isn’t the Frankenstein vs. The Mummy movie that I’d wanna see.

dl1I’m a huge Frankenstein fan, and if you’ve read the original story then you’d know that it’s a very layered piece of work – it’s not even a horror story actually. It’s more of a drama than anything else. I wanted to capture as much of that feel as I could, especially with Frankenstein’s monster, because in the original story, he’s really quite intelligent and articulate – people don’t realize that. I tried to stay true to that as much as I could. I thought fans would appreciate that.

HNN: In terms of casting, did you have open auditions for the roles in the film, or did you have particular actors in mind before you started production?

DL: The only person who I knew was going to be in it from the beginning was Brandon deSpain, who played The Mummy. I had actually created that Mummy outfit for a found footage film called Day Of The Mummy (2014), and Brandon played The Mummy in that one. We used the same Mummy outfit in both films, and it was tailored to Brandon’s size/physique, so he was the only one in my mind to play The Mummy again. But we held open auditions for all of the other roles in the film.

HNN: As I was watching the movie, my 13 year old son came into the room to see what I was doing. He looked at the screen and asked what was I watching, and I told him the title of the movie. He had walked in during a scene in which Dr. Frankenstein was pontificating about something, and he asked “Who’s that supposed to be?“. I told him that he was Dr. Frankenstein, and he replied “But he’s so young. He looks like he’s 20 years old“. Did you have it in mind to cast younger actors in the main roles, or did it just end up happening that way because of some really great auditions?

DL: Honestly, I always viewed him as being young. I had viewed the Naihla (Ashton Leigh) character as being older, but the actress we hired gave us the best audition we’d seen. I always wanted the Victor (Max Rhyser) character to be younger, like a Doogie Houser type character – a young prodigy. Additionally, a friend of mine is a college professor and he’s been one since his mid twenties, so I didn’t think it would be too far fetched to have Victor be a bit younger than what people were used to seeing. And he gave us the best audition as well, so the point was moot. It didn’t bother me, but I can see where it might throw some people off for sure. And the two leads had a really good chemistry between them, and I thought that was more important than their respective ages.

HNN: They do have a really nice chemistry between them. I think that the strongest part of the movie is the acting. Everyone is fully committed to their roles here, they’re really into it.

DL: I really appreciate you saying that, no one’s brought that up at all. I wanted everybody to play it straight. My main goal here was to make avoid making a movie that’s intentionally goofy. Although some goofiness can’t be averted, given the subject matter of the film. Oddly enough, everyone was on board with that vision, no one wanted to make an intentionally goofy film. The only character that was starting to drift into being campy was the Professor, Professor Walton (Boomer Tibbs). I had to keep reining the actor in, because he was starting to get campy, but sometimes it worked for the film. If you think back to the original Frankenstein and Mummy films, you’d remember that there was absolutely nothing campy about them at all, they were dead serious. As were the Hammer monster films of the sixties – they were all played straight. So why wouldn’t we keep them that way?

dl3HNN: You mentioned that you created all of the special effect makeup. And I genuinely loved your Mummy creation! I thought it was scary and it had a ferocity to it that I’m not accustomed to seeing in a Mummy suit. I liked your Frankenstein as well, but he doesn’t look like the prototypical monster we’re all used to seeing. He doesn’t have the flat head or the bolts coming out of his neck – things that you would associate with the character. What was your inspiration in making Frankenstein look so different?

DL: Firstly, I looked at every Frankenstein that’s ever been seen in a movie. And while we could’ve used some of those typical Frankenstein features, we’d be walking on very thin ice because the original makeup is copyrighted by Universal. They literally own the way everyone imagines the monster should look, so if we tried to replicate that – we’d be in trouble. But that really wasn’t the reason we went in a different direction anyway. My Frankenstein was inspired by the Frankenstein of the comics, the one created by Berni Wrightson. My creature looks very similar to that one. I wanted him to look different from any other Frankenstein that I’d seen in a movie before, so he has the long black hair. As far as his face goes, I wanted him to look like a zombie, with the sunken eyes and big cheek bones. I wanted him to be really scary, and I actually told my actor to play him as if he’s the male version of Regan Macneil, the possessed girl from The Exorcist (1973). I also gave him yellow eyes, because I think they look really creepy as well. I tried to do something different!

HNN: There’s a great moment in the film where the creatures finally see each other for the first time, and Frankenstein mutters “What The Fuck?“. I frigging loved that little bit, and I wondered if it was in the script, or was it ad libbed? Either way, it was hysterical!

DL: I can’t take any credit for that, it was not scripted, it was all from the actor who played Frankenstein. I think the scripted line was something along the lines of “She’s Mine!“, but the actor just kept saying that if he was looking at The Mummy for the first time, he’s be saying “What the f*ck is this?“. So I told him to go for it, it was different and it was funny.

HNN: The movie does have sort of an open ending to it. Has there been any thought to a sequel?

DL: I thought it was a cool way to wrap it up – just in case. But it was never my intention to make this kind of movie in the first place. I knew it was gonna fall under a lot of scrutiny from the fans, and I knew that it was going to be a very polarizing film as well. These characters are so iconic, and people are so passionate about them, I knew that those things were pretty much unavoidable. I’m not necessarily opposed to continuing the story, maybe bring some new monsters into the mix at some point. But in the end, it all depends on what the response to this film is. If it does well, and people like it, then I could definitely see myself doing another one.

dl2HNN: So what’s next on your agenda?

DL: I have a movie called Terrifier that I’m working on. I had made a short film called All Hallows Eve a little while ago, and it featured a killer clown that’s gathered a bit of a following on the internet. People loved the character and wanted to see more of him, so I’m making a full length version of it. You only see a little bit of him in the original short, but he clearly runs away with it, and people want to see more of him this time around.

Frankenstein vs. The Mummy is coming to DVD from Ruthless Pictures & RLJ Entertainment on February, 10th.

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