This religious horror vibe in Dante’s films make perfect sense when you take in consideration that he is cousin to Alfred Sole, the director of Alice Sweet Alice (1977) which is also a religious themed horror film.
The Film Connoisseur had a chance to interview Dante Tomaselli, to get to know what makes him tick as a horror director, and to see what he has in store for us horror fans in the near future. But first, Id like to tell you guys a bit about his first three films, just in case you haven’t heard of them yet.
Desecration (1999) - Is the story of a young boy named Bobby who is being tormented by his mothers death and his repressive Catholic upbringing. Bobby accidentally kills a nun. This death triggers a chain of supernatural events that lead Bobby on a path that leads straight to hell! Pretty soon, he is tormented by the ghost of the dead nun and horrendous nigthmares. The boy must pay for his sins. His destiny? Hell! This is a very hallucinatory film, Bobby has many visions, many nightmares, and Dante Tomaselli wastes no time in showing them to you.
Horror (2002) - Horror is about a group of teens who escape a drug rehabilitation clinic. Unfortunately for them, they choose to hide out in Reverend Salo Jr’s household, a mad priest who has invited them to his home. This reverend is an evil religious leader who enjoys torture, drugs, and like many religious leaders, promises his followers "salvation" . Will the group escape the clutches of the evil preacher? Will they escape their own horrific nightmares and drug induced hallucinations? Another fine trip down the psychological corridors of hell. This movie has some cool visuals and lots of surrealism. Stars, non other then real life mentalist “The Amazing Kreskin” as Reverend Salo Sr. In one amazing scene, Kreskin actually hypnotizes a large group of people, for real!
Satan’s Playground (2006) - This story revolves around a family going out into the woods for a bit of R&R with the family. Unfortunately, they never reach their destination because their car breaks down and they come face to face with the Leeds Family, a family of wacked out psycho’s. The family is warned that outside in the woods a deadly invisible force lurks! Could it be that the legend of 'The Jersey Devil' is real? Will they ever escape these haunted woods? This film is heavily influenced by films like Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it stars Ellen Sandweiss (Evil Dead) and Edwin Neil (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp). It is Dante Tomaselli’s tribute to slasher films from the 70s and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead.
And now, on with our interview with horror director Dante Tomaselli:
How did your career as a horror film director begin?
When I was about 3 or 4-years old, actually. Since then I've been fantasizing, visualizing...being a film director, specifically, a horror film director. I lived in a fantasy world. My dreams and nightmares were spinning out of control. I had bona-fide out-of-body experiences where I'd leave my bedroom and float out the window and glide over my neighborhood. All my book reports in school were about the supernatural, every topic, every book I read, every movie I watched. It was a lifestyle, I lived in a parallel universe. My room was decorated like a carnival funhouse. I definitely marched to the beat of my own drummer. I didn't really fit in and I felt isolated...alien...I had some friends who were loyal but I was very happy just going deep into the woods alone, getting completely lost. I loved nature...Trees, rocks, soil, wind, birds chirping, clouds, lakes
Dante on the set of Desecration
...Outdoor landscapes...Of course my favorite holiday growing up was Halloween. It was my favorite movie too. Every day for me was Halloween. I had a huge collection of masks and horror posters. When I graduated high school, it was just a natural progression for me to major in film. I took courses at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and lived on campus. After a few years I transferred to the NY School of Visual Arts and graduated with a B.F.A. When I was out in the real world all I could think of was going back to my horror movie roots. I didn't want to direct commercials. I wanted to direct my own films. I placed an Ad in the NY Village Voice Bulletin looking for a film crew to work on a horror film. From that Ad, I met many key people who worked on my shorts throughout my early and mid twenties. After my short version of Desecration was screened at the IFFM, The Independent Feature Film Market, I met my investor for the full length version.
How was your experience directing your first film, Desecration?
Frightening, magical. Since I made so many Desecration shorts, I had the film, the full length film...so planned out...the images were like slides projected in my mind...When we were shooting the feature there was never an awkward debate. I was just following what my inner voice was telling me. I knew there were lots of images and sounds to conjure on an ultra low budget. Faceless nuns, psychedelic nightmares, ghostly woods...a boy with a damaged relationship with his parent...and a psychic bond with his grandmother...All flickers of my own childhood. I feel like the movie made itself. The visions were like shattered glass in my psyche...I was seeing the colors of emotional violence. Making Desecration was an intense experience...It was like an Ouija Board session. Something else was speaking through me. Desecration was like automatic writing.
You consider yourself an old school horror director? Who are your influences? I see a little bit of Argento, Bava and Lynch in your films.
I'm really not influenced by one director...I don't know...I mean of course I've been unconsciously influenced by many horror films across the spectrum. Overall, I feel my visions are my own. Argento, I love him. I idolize him. Suspiria is one of my favorite films, though I didn't see it until my twenties. Sometimes I feel that the movies I grew up with are the films I am most inspired by, like John Carpenter's Halloween and The Fog. I was 9 and 10 when I saw those films...and in heaven. Brian De Palma's Carrie...I'm in awe of it. 1976. I was 6. David Cronenberg's The Brood...deeply unsettling. Also Drive-In horrors like The Sentinel and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I'd cut out all the newspaper movie Ads for horror movies I loved and and taped them to the refrigerator. In the 70s, as you know, there was a boom of horror treats, one week after another. I was only six years-old in 1976, but I already saw The Omen at a Drive-In. My family went to Drive-Ins all the time. I saw everything. My mother took me because she knew how much I loved these movies and she knew I wanted to be a horror director. Everyone around me knew. I didn't have to dress in all black or look a certain way to be strange. I'm conservative...physically...it's what's inside my mind that's completely, umm...out-there. In my twenties and thirties, I was introduced to the films of Italian horror directors like Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. Beautiful horror poems. Incredible. Black Sunday...Black Sabbath...The Beyond. Wow. They were master craftsmen. They don't make directors like that anymore.
Which directors do you think are making good horror films today? Where do you see the horror genre going in the next couple of years?
A filmmaker named Chris Garetano is doing really hallucinogenic films. Also Jeremiah Kipp, Adam Barnick...I think horror is going to enter an experimental stage. A wave a dreamlike horror films...I hope...
How has your experience as an independent horror filmmaker been? What are the ups and downs of making independent horror films?
It's full of strange highs and strange lows. I remember being 26 years-old and taking a plane trip from New Jersey to be a guest at The Chicago Underground Film Festival. This was for my short version of Desecration. I felt such anxiety leading up to the screening, I was ready to combust. I was crawling out of my skin...My body went into all-out panic mode. It was really my first dramatic semi large-scale film festival screening experience. When the lights dimmed and they announced my film, I noticed that the volume was low...way too low...And the lights were still on...People were talking...walking in and out...The screen looked dim and none of the colors popped. It sounded bad, I couldn't really hear it! I was in Hell. I wanted to die. I left the screening in a huff and just stalked the Chicago streets...And...on the other end of the spectrum...the world premiere screening of the full length Desecration at the Fantafestival in Rome Italy. That's another story.
Would you say you have evolved as a horror director over the past few years? Do you think your films have changed somehow?
I hope I've evolved. I think you'll see my films take on a more serious, darker tone.
How do you plan on making horror films worth watching, since there is such a large amount of bad horror films being made out there?
I have to listen to my own inner voice. When the time is right, I know I'll be aligned with a horror film in the stratosphere. I guess what I mean is...theatrical release. Not limited, but, you know top 5 movies for the week. That sort of thing. I know it's in the cards. Inadvertently or not...at some point of my career. One of these low budget horror films...One of them...I just want to keep making my films. I'm a Scorpion. We move between the rocks in the shadows.
What would you say is the one element that makes a Dante Tomaselli film a Dante Tomaselli film? What element in your films gives them your own personal stamp?
I guess certain themes threading through my films...Adults as monsters, madness, imprisonment, weird family dynamics, repression, anxiety, drug addiction, paranormal nightmares, hypocrisy, religious fanaticism...I like a lot of swirling fog, mist and pulsating lights. I want scenes to segue into the next. I see doll-like dream figures teetering on the edge of consciousness...Colors. I see colors in my mind...that I cannot separate from the image. And certain sounds trigger certain colors. Or patterns. Hazy light...silhouettes. Even though my films are very low budget, I try to place a big emphasis on atmosphere, mood. I'm trying to construct a nightmare in which we experience the protagonist's damnation. Visually, I like to pack each frame with a lot of detail...a stylish gothic horror film. When the vision is working, it glows, like it's electrified. Hopefully, the eye can move all around the frame and find texture and stimulation.
I've noticed that most of your films have some sort of religious theme tied to them. Why is that? Do you find religion terrifying somehow?
Absolutely. I think religion will be the death of us!
Which of your three films is your favorite? And Why?
Umm...I really see attributes and deficits in all three for different reasons. It's like saying which child do you favor over the next. Maybe Desecration, though. Desecration.
Teaser Poster for Torture Chamber
The next film you start shooting is called Torture Chamber. It sounds really interesting! Want to fill us in on Torture Chamber? Give us some juicy details!
Torture Chamber is about a 13-year-old boy possessed by unspeakable evil. It's an independent horror film in the vein of The Exorcist. The demon manifestation attacking the child is called Baalberith, which if you believe in demonology, tempts its host to blasphemy and murder. This troubled boy, Jimmy Morgan, is a pyromaniac, horribly disfigured from experimentation with drugs. His mother believes he's unholy. His older brother is a priest who tries to exorcise him. This is a Catholic family in deep psychic pain. When Jimmy murders his own father, he burns him to death. After this, he's sent to a children's mental hospital. While there, Jimmy dominates the other kids from the burn unit. Together, they escape and Jimmy finds an old abandoned castle for shelter. That's where the burned kids find a secret passage way that leads to a medieval, cobwebbed torture chamber.
You got any future projects lined up? I’m personally still looking forward to seeing The Ocean get made at some point.
Well, I'll be shooting Torture Chamber next month. April 19th...we'll start principle photography in Connecticut, New Jersey and upstate New York. The budget is around the range of my other films. I've been waiting more than a few years to shoot a movie, so I'm excited. I feel electric. I feel aligned with who I really am when I'm on the set, directing one of my hallucinogenic horror films. The Ocean...is in the cards. Torture Chamber, my first all-out horror shocker, will pave the way.
Your advice to future horror directors and filmmakers out there?
The Law of the Universe...or the Law of Attraction says what you put out...you get back. The vibration. I firmly believe that. Send out those rockets of desire to the universe and it will obey. Negative feelings of believing that it's impossible, you'll never do it, it'll never happen...blah blah...those feelings will hold you down and create blockages in alignment. Keep making films. Try to be a decent person, worry about your own business...and keep fantasizing about what you love to do. Visualize yourself as a magnet.
Well, there you have it folks, Dante Tomaselli! I want to thank Dante for giving us this great interview. Be on the look out for more information on Torture Chamber on this blog in the near future and if you havent checked out any of Dante Tomasellis films and are in the mood for something surreal and trippy, then waste no time and check them out!