interview by Michael McCarthy
Every Wednesday night at 7:30, the Luna Theater, located in Mill No 5. at 250 Jackson St. in Lowell, Massachusetts, hosts Weirdo Wednesdays. Filmmaker/make-up artist Rob Fitz is the man, the myth and the legend who selects the movies each week and introduces them. Nobody but Rob knows what the movie is going to be each week until he announces it just before it starts. You wouldn’t expect people to come out in droves for such an event, but they do. In fact, not only are all the seats filled most Wednesdays, there are usually people standing in the back. And you certainly don’t see people standing through entire movies very often. But they do so at Weirdo because they know that whatever Rob shows is going to be great. Occasionally, the movies might be horrifying for the wrong reasons, but when you see them with a room full of people who are having drinks and laughing along together, well, it’s always a blast.
Aside from hosting Weirdo Wednesdays, Rob is a professional make-up artist who’s worked on such movies as Ted, The Equalizer, American Hustle, Fever Pitch and Patriot’s Day, among many others. He’s also a talented film director, having made his own full-length movies, God of Vampires and Blessid. And he’s the owner of The Magic Parlor in Salem, Massachusetts, where he now teaches make up classes in addition to selling magic items of all varieties. All of these things – and more – are discussed in the following in-depth interview. So, grab your favorite beverage and enjoy!
MM: What is the first movie you ever recall seeing?
RF: The first movie I remember seeing, I was very young. I was at a drive-in and I saw Food of the Gods and then I remember it was a triple feature. Food of the Gods and Willard, which was all like giant rats, and then one called Damnation Alley. Those were my three. And I was a kid so I only caught bits and pieces of all of them, but there were giant scorpions and giant rats. So, yeah, those were my early influences.
MM: Who was it that exposed you to those type of movies early on?
RF: My brothers. I would go with them to the movies. When I could get out and see them. I remember they weren’t gonna let me see Jaws when it came out. It was just too scary, I guess. But my brothers went. And they said it was super scary. I think that came out in ’77 or ’76. But the following year, I did see Star Wars so that was another big influences. As far being a kid who grew up in the ’70’s, seeing Star Wars.
MM: Star Wars was the first one I recall seeing at a theatre. I was five or six so it definitely made a strong impression.
RF: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
MM: When I was a kid I recall watching what they called Creature Double Feature on Saturdays on channel WLVI 56. Did you watch that?
RF: I did and at the time I was living in Florida. We had Creature Double Feature on Saturday mornings and that was what got me into horror movies. Of course, my favorites were the Godzilla movies. Those were my absolute faves. And there was a show on after called Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which was like a submarine show and they ran into all kinds of weird monsters, too, so that was kind of cool.
MM: What was the first horror movie to scare you for quite a while after it was finished?
RF: Well, I would have to say there was one particular movie that really freaked me out. I wasn’t supposed to see it, but I snuck up and watched it on a cable subscription thing called Star. It was before HBO, I think, and it was only on from like six at night until one in the morning.
MM: Yes! There was another one called Preview, right? Same idea? I remember my neighbor having Preview.
RF: Yeah, it was Star or Preview. One of those. I think it was Star. And I watched David Cronenberg’s The Brood. And I was only like eight or nine years old and that movie is really disturbing. So, I saw that when I was a little kid and I was like wooooah. That freaked me out quite a bit. I was always willing to test the waters of scary movies, watching horror movies as a kid.
MM: Do you remember the first time you saw The Exorcist?
RF: I remember seeing The Exorcist when I was around 12 or 13. It was not on my radar. I know everyone talked about it being one of the scariest movies of all time and I wasn’t as freaked out by movies about the devil or possession. I wanted to see monsters, you know? So, that was what I looked for. I finally saw The Exorcist and I remember saying – maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention – but I remember saying, that’s not that bad. [Both laugh] And at the same time there was a movie I saw that kind of freaked me out, too, called Race with the Devil. Have you heard of this?
MM: Yeah, but I don’t know if I’ve seen it, though.
RF: Yeah, Race with the Devil freaked me out. It wasn’t like a supernatural thing. It was only hinted at. And they were Satanists and they were after these people that were on vacation, and you know they were coming after them and killing their pets and stuff like that. And, yeah, it was pretty freaky.
MM: Was there a certain point in time where you had a revelation where you realized that you loved weird movies, or was that something that just happened gradually without you noticing?
RF: Well, I mean, I think I always did have an affinity for horror movies and gore and blood and all that, but the movie that really cemented it and just blew my mind was the original Dawn of the Dead. It was my birthday and I was like 11 and at the time people didn’t usually own VCRs. You had to rent it. And you could rent whatever you wanted to see on the VCR and one of them was Dawn of the Dead. And I was watching that with my friends and freaking out, especially when the zombies started eating everybody at the end and they were pulling guts out. I was thinking to myself, wow, this is too much. This is over the top. I’ve been exposed to something that I could never go back [from]. But I was also thrilled and excited about it because this had such an impact. It had power. It was very powerful. A very powerful moment in watching movies and all of that. I was like, wow, man, that’s just incredible. It made me want to pursue special effects and make up as a career. At that young age.
MM: Since we’re talking about horror movies and weird movies, when did you first learn about Mill No. 5. and was the Luna Theater already open for business at that point?
RF: Yeah, I didn’t really know much about Mill No. 5, but I went there because the theater had just opened and I remember going to see a Japanese horror film called House playing there. It’s an old, Japanese, very strange horror movie. And I already had worked on a ton of movies at that point and I’d made some films and all that. So, I went up to the girl who was managing, and I said, hey, this is a great theatre in a great location. Would you be interested in doing something like a film festival or some kind of film series or something like that? She was like, hmm, yeah, I don’t know, that sounds like a good idea. I just told her my ideas and all that. And she said we’ll be in touch. And it took like a month or so – or a few months later – and she had been thinking about it and she called me up. She said, hey, I’ve got this idea. We’ll call it Weirdo Wednesdays or Weirdo Wednesday and every Wednesday at 7:30, we’ll show a movie. And I said, you know, like everything’s Netflix now and people picking what they want to watch – let’s make it a movie night were nobody gets to pick what the movie is. She goes, that’s pretty cool. I said, in fact, nobody knows what the movie is gonna be until they get there. And she was like, wow, that’s a great idea. I’m pretty sure that’s how it went down and she said, all right, let’s do it, let’s try it out. So, she made some little postcards and I put them around at all different locations, went on Facebook and talked about it and all of that. That we were doing our first Weirdo Wednesday. And I picked a movie that was banned in the United States because of copyright issues. It was a movie called Great White and it’s also called The Last Shark. It’s an Italian Jaws rip-off. And I had gotten a DVD bootleg of the Japanese laserdisc and basically, it wasn’t great quality, and the reason the movie was banned in the United States is that when it was released in the ’80s, it came out and it started doing really well in the theaters and Paramount sued them for basically plagiarism. They said the movie was too close to Jaws. It was a rip-off. And they won. And the movie made like 30 or 40 million dollars and back in ’82, or whenever that came out, that was a decent amount of money. That wasn’t chump change.
MM: Yeah, not by a long shot.
RF: So, this Italian company that produced it had taken all this money and they got banned and they must have cut and run because the company disappeared and the movie was sort of like in a weirdo limbo. They must have made some deals or whatever, but they took the movie and ran and the movie was gone forever. And it wasn’t allowed in the United States. And I said, I’ll show this here. And what a great movie to start with, a movie that you cannot see. You can’t get it on HBO. You can’t get it on a streaming service or DVD unless you buy the bootleg and I don’t even know where else to find it. So, it’s really a cool thing to show. And it’s ridiculous because it’s got some interesting character actors in it. So, yeah, it was pretty cool.
MM: Were there a lot of people there?
RF: At the first Weirdo Wednesday, half the theatre was full. I was like, all right, half isn’t bad, we’ll see if it catches on or maybe this is it. And then the second Weirdo Wednesday, I showed a movie called Blood Sucking Freaks. I even contacted Joel M. Reed, the guy who made it. This total degenerate, weird guy, you know? And I said do you mind if she show your movie at this Weirdo Wednesdays thing? And he was like, yeah, sure, have fun. And I was like, wow, OK. And I showed it. And Blood Sucking Freaks was kind of my litmus test to see how much I could get away with. Because I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie but it’s pretty bad. And I showed it and people went nuts. And the theatre was full. And it’s pretty much continued. I would say there’s maybe half a dozen times where the theatre was less than around three quarters full. It’s never been half full. It’s always been 75% or more and a lot of times it’s jammed packed. And it’s like crazy. And people come and go. Some people will come and they’ll stay and I’ve gotten some regulars. Some people will leave and won’t come back and others will come back and they’ll keep doing it. It’s pretty cool.
MM: When did you start doing it?
RF: It was about four years ago. A little less than four years ago. I forget the exact date, but to give you an idea, there’s only been two weeks we didn’t. One week we lost power, so that doesn’t count, and another week, the film died, so that doesn’t count. Beyond that, [we’ve had it] all those weeks, and it’s been 204 weeks now.
MM: Do you have a list of everything you’ve shown?
MM: Maybe you could e-mail me that and I could post it at the end of the interview?
RF: Ah, well, the thing is, I can’t really do that.
MM: Because you could get in trouble?
RF: I mean, we’re showing it for free – we’re not charging anybody – and for all intents and purposes it’s education purposes. Culturally, I want to show people these crazy movies. But we did run into a situation where somebody tried to call us and say, hey, look, I own the rights to that, you can’t show that. But we had already shown it. And we didn’t make any money off showing it. But then I said, you know what, we can’t really disclose anything we’ve done. We don’t want to make a record. When I talk to you about it, I just want to express the spirit of it all. Not like exactly what we do. After that incident, we said, let’s just make it like Fight Club. No one talks about Fight Club. We just do it and that way it even has more of a mystique to it, you know? That’s one of the things you lose now. Years ago, people would go to see a cult classic and the reason it was a cult classic was that it was a little indie film that had gone under the radar that wasn’t part of the studios. And they would come into a rundown theatre in New York City just to see a movie. And that’s how they got their names. And the reputation would spread by word of mouth. Maybe Weirdo Wednesday kind of captures a little bit of that essence.
MM: I think so. Now, once in a while, I know you show movies that you haven’t seen before. Has there been one you’ve shown without seeing it first where you’ve said that’s a bit much and maybe that you shouldn’t have shown it?
RF: Well, I mean, none of the things that will happen in the movie will offend me because I’ve pretty much seen anything. But whenever I haven’t seen one of the movies, you run the risk of it being so bad that you’re like, no, no, but to me that’s kind of humorous. Sometimes you’ve gotta roll the dice, you know? And you can make it fun anyway by having a good laugh at how bad it is, you know? We watched a movie this past week week called Absurd and I hadn’t seen that. It was an Italian horror movie, but it was like a rip-off, of a rip-off, of a rip-off of an Italian horror movie. There were a couple scenes in the very end that were good, but it was really bad. I was like, oh, man, but most of these movies, people just rip into. They’re critical of horror movies and they’ll say this movie is terrible. But even showing a movie like that, people will laugh, and they’ll have fun, and in the end they’ll applaud. There were more than a few dozen movies that I doubt ever got any applause when they were shown. Even when they were shown to friends and family of the people who made the movie, they probably didn’t applaud. [Both laugh] So, we’re giving them an audience and I can tell you one thing right now, I’ve made films and I’ve shown them at film festivals and the audience at Weirdo Wednesdays is twenty times the audience at film festivals. I’ve been to a film festival where I won a whole bunch of awards and maybe [there were] like 20 people in a room to see our film. I was like, this was abysmal. But they told people they really liked it. But it was too bad. I came all this way to show my movie… It’s disenchanting. You do all this work and nobody cares. I think that’s probably the core of why I love doing this. Even if it’s a piece of garbage, there’s always something good in it. There’s always something of value in that pile of trash. And the audience does appreciate it for what it is and that in some respect any of these movies are a piece of artwork. They might be a bad piece of artwork, but they’re a piece of artwork and if they get appreciated for what they are, I think that’s nice. Because somebody worked hard on this. Somebody did a lot of stuff to make this the way that is is. Because making movies is hard. People who just casually watch movies and criticize them have no idea. No idea what goes into it.
MM: I know you’ve been a make up artist since around 1995, looking at your IMDB page. How did you get into the business?
RF: Going back to Dawn of the Dead, after I saw that movie I started learning how to do make up and special effects. I would paint myself and I would practice on my friends and all that. And then everyone pushes you to go to college. I was like, all right, I’ll go to college, I’ll go to film school. And then I’ll do make up on everyone’s student films.
MM: Not a bad plan.
RF: I was like, OK, and I did. I would make these little short films that were based around whatever make up and special effects I could pull off. And that’s what I was doing. But I ran out of money. I made a film, and I ran out of money, and I had to go home. And I’m working as a landscaper and doing different odd jobs wherever I could. I needed money. And I ended up finding some people in the Boston community that were doing PA jobs and stuff and there was somebody who I knew, who I worked with, who needed a PA on a movie in Nantucket. And up until this point, I had been doing a lot of make up on my friends and practicing and getting a little bit better and a little bit better. I wasn’t really pursuing it. This was around ’93, ’94, film school, and so I went to this movie in Nantucket and I was a PA and I said I am going to be the best PA ever. So, I was running around, doing all this stuff, but the movie is a low budget movie and the make up artist freaks out because she’s a heroin addict and at the time she couldn’t get any heroin on Nantucket.
RF: So, she had a meltdown and they fired her and they quickly panicked. All the actors were like, oh, no, we need to shoot. And everyone in the crew is like, does anybody know how to do make up? And I came over and I was like, I know how to do some make up and the uber PA was like you have to make this guy look dead. The woman had freaked out so badly and was just shipped off so she’d left her make up kit. So, I had all this make up stuff.
RF: So, I made the guy up as a corpse and he walked out of the trailer and they were like, holy shit, that’s amazing. They were like, can you be the make up artist? I was like, hell, yeah, are you kidding? All the people — the sound man and these other guys — were all like, wow, Rob, you’re really good at this. I kind of found my niche there. Soon after, a great make up artist by the name of Kelly Gleason came in to replace the other girl. I met her and I had a teacher who knew her from School of Visual Arts in New York City, the college I went to. She was from New York City. So, we got along great. Since then, she became the president of the make up union and, sadly, passed away ten or so years ago, maybe before that, actually. So, after that movie all these crew members talked about it and they told other people that there’s this guy – myself – who can do make up. And I immediately got onto a low budget gangster movie – like a Boyz in the Hood type movie – called Squeeze. It was directed by this guy Robert Spruill and produced by his wife Patty Moreno.
MM: I remember liking that movie.
RF: It got picked up by Miramax and brought into theaters, which was incredible. The other one, I really was just only part-time make up on. But I became a full-time make up artist on Squeeze, and then it got picked up and was in movie theaters, so I was very lucky and I continued pursuing make up. That was at the beginning of my career. I knew about the business part of it, but I was just practicing and I got better and kept doing my thing. And because people had heard my name, I got called to do a couple days on the original Jumanji. And I wasn’t in the union yet, but they were so desperate, and I lived in New Hampshire, and it was shot in Keane, so they were like, OK, hire this guy. So, I went down and all I was doing was just kind of corrective make up on extras and giving them sunscreen. I was supposed to be there for two days, but I was there for one day. And at the time, if they didn’t tell you they don’t need you by three in the afternoon then they have to pay you for the next day, too. So, I was the beneficiary of that. I got paid for two days of work and I got paid a really good salary. That money that I made on one day on Jumanji was like three weeks of me doing landscaping. And I was like, oh my God, I’ve gotta do this make up stuff. Doing this hard labor work is for the birds. [Laughs] So, I kept pursuing it. I did union jobs as well. That’s how I got in – because of a make up artist with a drug addiction.
MM: That’s funny, though.
RF: Yeah, it’s weird.
MM: I saw that a couple you had worked on were Patriot’s Day and Fever Pitch. Two very different Boston-related movies. What did you do on those movies?
RF: Well, on Fever Pitch, I was doing a lot of background people and some of the secondary and tertiary characters. There were a couple of real Red Sox fans that had lines. The Farrelly Brothers had these different people. There was one girl who worked in a bank but she was a hardcore Sox fan, so I had to do her make up, and a couple of other people. And then little parts here and there. People who had one or two lines. That kind of thing. What was interesting, working on that movie, was that we’re shooting it while the Red Sox are in the playoffs. And, all of a sudden, this was 2004, and the Red Sox win, which was incredible. The Farrelly Brothers had to rewrite the end of the script. So, they rewrote it then they called us all back for two weeks so we could finish the movie with the new ending. And they had to change a few other things. Because the Red Sox won, not only did we get the joy of watching the Red Sox win the World Series, but we also made money on the fact that they called us back. [Both laugh]
MM: What about Patriot’s Day?
RF: On Patriot’s Day, I worked with some good friends I had a long relationship with and had been working with for a long time, Howard Berger and Tami Lane, and a bunch of other really cool folks. Obviously, the movie was about the Boston Marathon bombing. The majority of what I did on that one was the wounds, and gore, and carnage of the bombing, which was interesting because when the bombing happened I was working on the movie American Hustle and I remember seeing it on my phone, what had happened. I was in Worcester at the time. But then a few weeks later the Tsarnaev Brothers were captured and all that stuff went down when they shut the city down. I was supposed to work on American Hustle in Medford, and I drove down from New Hampshire, and I’m going, wow, this is really weird, there’s no one on the highway. I’m like, what’s going on? I’m just oblivious because I’m listening to satellite radio. And I get into the parking garage and there’s no one around. And finally I catch a van and I get there and I see a few PAs and a couple of people and they’re like, yeah, they called it today. They took an insurance day. So, you’ll get paid, but we’re not working. The entire city of Boston is shut down. They were looking for this kid. They already killed one of them, but the brother, they were looking for him still. And I was like, oh my God, really? That’s incredible. I’d never seen anything like that. Our experience of that is unique. I don’t think any other city has handled a crisis like that. Everyone just said, you know what, all the police and all the first responders, do your thing, we’ll stay out of your way, everyone else stay home. And everyone cooperated. That was pretty awesome. It made me very proud of the city that I’m associated with.
MM: What was the vibe like making the movie?
RF: Patriot’s Day? It was very serious but because it’s all just make up, we were having fun doing it. I got to do one of the things I love to do, which is gore. And I got to do it with the people who are the best in the business. Howard Berger is a legendary make up artist. Tami Lane did all of the Hobbit movies and all of the Lord of the Rings movies plus all the Narnia movies. They run the gamut on fantasy movies. And there’s other people, too. There was a woman that had done Angelina Jolie’s make up for Maleficent. This guy Jamie had done incredible work with different movies. Pretty much, they were all Academy Award winners who I’m doing make up with and saying, hey, guys, what’s happening? And they were really cool.
MM: If you could design the new face of Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers, which would you choose?
RF: Jason, Freddy or Michael Myers? Let me think about this… Because when I see Michael Myers, I look at what’s been done and the new Halloween I think is brilliant. I think they did a great job. And Michael Myers is such an imminent threat. He’s really skilled in the new movie. And he’s so violent. And I like that, so I might not touch that. Freddy Krueger is tough because you’re really not gonna top what Robert Englund did, especially with the first Nightmare on Elm Street. I mean, [it’s] Wes Craven – you couldn’t really do anything better with Freddy Krueger. And I worked with Robert Englund once. I did a movie called Incubus with Robert and he was a really nice, nice guy. And it would be an honor to work with him again. So, I would have to pick Jason because I know everybody idolizes Jason, but I think that if you really look at the Friday the 13th movies, there’s no Lawrence of Arabias in there, you know? [Both laugh] They’re not like amazing movies. In the beginning, they were groundbreaking for what they were because no one had ever done that. No one had ever done it to that popularity. But I think you could do something with Friday the 13th and maybe do something that’s better, you know? You could make it better. And, also, it’s one of those things that if you did it really well, which I think they could do, you could make it very, very popular.
MM: That could be so cool.
RF: I’m not a super fan of remakes, but if I were given a choice what I would do is remake something like an old Fulci movie, like Zombie or Gates of Hell. Those all have moments of brilliance, but then the rest of it is not that good, right?
RF: There’s brilliance in there in the way the camera moves and different things he does. So, they’re imperfect movies with really good, iconic moments. And if you took that and turned it into an epic it would be like making your dream a service. Why make something that’s good already? Who would remake The Godfather? That’s stupid. Why would you do that? Don’t remake something that’s already amazing. That’s my take on it.
MM: Before I move onto your movies, there’s somebody I have to ask you about. You worked on the movie Loosies, which I remember liking, and Vincent Gallo was in that. And he’s one of the most eccentric people out there from everything I’ve ever read. Did you have any encounters with him at all?
RF: Did I have interactions with him? I mean, yes.
MM: What was he like in person?
RF: [Laughs] He was a very interesting guy. Honestly, I kind of liked him, you know? We got along really well. He didn’t want a lot of make up. I just did a little matte and sent him on his way. We were talking and I had mentioned Italian horror movies and he had just reiterated what I just told you before. He used to be a projectionist and he’d project all these Italian horror movies and he really loved watching these things. He was like, yeah, man, Fulci is incredible because it was like dark garbage, but with moments of amazing brilliance. Like artists. Like fine art brilliance in this trashy movie. And he loved it. And then he just said to me – and I wasn’t even aware of this at the time – but he said I almost married Asia Argento. And I was like, no kidding? And all of a sudden it was like he got kind of sad. He wasn’t acting all crazy and kooky or talkative or anything. He just got sad, like he must have really loved her and he almost married her and it didn’t work out.
MM: I love Asia Argento.
RF: I added her on my Instagram and, man, she’s a trip. She’s probably two peas in a pod with Vinnie Gallo because they’re nuts with Hollywood people. Well, not Hollywood, but, you know… [Both laugh] That crowd. I know it was pretty interesting, hearing that from the source. You’re just talking to people as a make up artist, but he was a good guy. I took a photo with him and after I realized what he had done I went and I bought the movie Brown Bunny and the next week I came into work and I’m doing his make up and I was like, yeah, I saw one of your movies and he goes, oh, yeah? I go, I bought Brown Bunny. And he goes, oh, Brown Bunny. He was so like, oh, thanks. I don’t know if you know what happens in Brown Bunny –
MM: – I saw it, but a while ago. So, I don’t remember.
RF: There’s the famous Chloe Sevigny scene in it where she actually blows him. For real.
MM: Now I remember. [Laughs]
RF: Well, his reaction to me watching this was, aww, thanks. [Laughs] That was funny. He was like aww, do you like it? I said, yeah, I understood it. I think I understood where you were going with it. I’ve got a lot of stories about doing make up on movies.
MM: Did you have any interaction with Denzel Washington on The Equalizer?
RF: No, no, no. Denzel was pretty sequestered. I just did extras and like Russian mobsters in that one. All the bad guys, which were all either stuntmen or bit part actors, were all super nice, though. That’s the irony of these movies. All the bad guys – the evil people in the movies – are the nicest people on the planet. And all of the heroes are usually kind of assholes. So, I never really had any interaction with Denzel. Not that he’s an asshole. I never really was in his world. I was doing all these gangster guys and they all had tattoos so we did all their tattoos. It was a fun movie to work on. Because every single tattoo you see in that movie is a fake tattoo. So, that was a ton of work.
MM: Who designs the fake tattoos?
RF: The make up department head will come up with the designs. Do a lot of research. Have a company make them, the transfers. And then we put them on.
MM: Getting to your movies, I have to admit that I haven’t seen God of Vampires yet. I had went on Amazon a few times to order it and they said it was out of stock, but, anyway, I’ve ordered it and the delivery date they gave me isn’t until the 20th of this month.
RF: The distributor that we had didn’t do a very good job in the transferring of the film. It really looked like garbage. That wasn’t us. I don’t know what they did to it, but they made the sound bad and they made the image bad. So, I’ll give you a much better copy. I don’t know why that happened. I was let down by the distribution process of that movie, unfortunately.
MM: Have you ever thought about showing the good version at Weirdo?
RF: Yes. What I kind of want to do is take the movie and do a 4K transfer like a Blu Ray and make it pristine, and then make some little alternations, and do a remastered version of God of Vampires, and then maybe when I’m finished with it I’ll premiere it secretly at Weirdo Wednesday.
MM: That would be great.
RF: Yeah, people wouldn’t even know what’s hitting them. And I’ll say, oh, by the way, I directed this movie. And then they’ll see it and they’ll go, oh my god, this is a real movie. That’s the reaction I get from God of Vampires. They think it’s gonna be like a home movie for some reason then they go, oh my god, this is a real movie. I’m like, yeah, that’s why it took us ten years to make it.
MM: Where was it filmed?
RF: We shot a lot of it in Haverill, Mass in a mill building that is now the Hammel Mill Apartment Complex. And it was shot a little bit in Boston and a little bit in Salem, New Hampshire at a restaurant that it is no longer there. It’s called The Grand China restaurant in Salem and it’s now Chasers Poker Room with the restaurant and bar attached to called The Lims and Dharma Lim is my good friend and the star and co-producer of God of Vampires.
MM: Is there any chance that the Jayson who stars in it is related to Dario and Asia Argento?
RF: Not a chance. [Laughs] Not a chance in the world. I mean, honestly, there could be some kind of a thing, but we never talked about it. And he never said anything. He’s a dude from Vermont. He may be Italian in name, but he’s Italian American. No Argentos there. That’s funny, though, that you mention that, talking about Argentos.
MM: On a slightly related note, what did you think of the Suspira remake?
RF: You know, I own it, but I haven’t gotten around to watching it. The preview looks good. And I really like early Argento, but I feel as though it’s gonna be a way different movie. That it’s not gonna be the same film at all in any way. I’m looking forward to watching it when I can. I can look at the two movies and I can separate them because one is Argento and it’s from that time and this is this new thing. Artsy and stuff like that. But, again, like I said before, I don’t see why they take these masterpieces and try to remake them because you’re setting the bar way high. What they should have done, I feel, is taken a crappy Argento movie and remade that. Take something that wasn’t good and do it really good. You could have done – there’s a lot to choose from, you know? [Both laugh] Make, I don’t know, something like Mother of Tears, make something that wasn’t phenomenal. [But] I think that’s a sequel, or the third in the witch trilogy, I guess.
MM: Someone should do his Phantom of the Opera movie.
RF: Yeah. Oh, yeah, that one wasn’t good. You could do all kinds of stuff. As far as Argento goes, I like his earlier movies. My favorite is Deep Red. Deep Red is really good.
MM: My favorite is The Stendhal Syndrome.
RF: Hmm. OK. Yeah. I think all of these people who remake those always remake the best ones because they know that they’ll have people going to see it because that’s the most famous. I understand the marketing part of it.
MM: So, what was the budget for God of Vampires?
RF: God of Vampires was made for a mere 26 thousand dollars. Shot on film, too.
MM: Nice, nice.
RF: Yeah, we didn’t have anything. We had nothing. This was a movie that was truly made from pretty much nothing. We collected, found, begged, borrowed and stole everything we could to make that movie. And did things in such an unorthodox way that we’re lucky not to be permanently maimed or in jail. [Both laugh] In fact, when we were finishing the movie, I contacted Fangoria magazine and one of the editors said, listen, I want you to just write your own article. And send it to us with the photos and we’ll publish it as a notes from the underground article. And so that’s what I did. I wrote my own article about it. And it was fun because I could really get into the craziness of making a movie for nothing. What it takes, you know? I tried to make it as gritty and real and fascinating as possible. So, people read the article, which was fun.
MM: Let’s talk about Blessid, which I’ve seen twice and I really liked. What was the budget for that one? And how long did that one take to shoot?
RF: All right, Blessid came about from the producer and writer of Blessid, Bob Heske. He approached me with a script and said, hey, can you read this and tell me what the special effects would cost to do? For the make up effects in this movie. He was also like, I know you made this movie God of Vampires for very little money. How could you get this done? And all that. And I started reading the script and I was like, oh, maybe it’s a horror movie. I could offer to direct it, and the first 20 minutes of the movie is like, you know, sort of like the set up of a Lifetime movie. And I’m like, oh my God, dear God, I don’t want to get involved with a Lifetime movie. Then it takes a turn and it seems a little more sinister and there’s a mystery there and it has a supernatural aspect to it that I really liked. I was like, you know what, this is an opportunity that I would probably never have so why don’t I try. I’ll go for it. So, I talked to him and I told him, listen, I made God of Vampires for 26,000 dollars. He tells me, I have about a hundred thousand dollars.
MM: That’s a nice upgrade.
RF: I contacted all my friends that helped me on God of Vampires and we all got together and said let’s do it. And I was saying God of Vampires took us six years to make and then another four years to get distributed. Blessid, we shot it all in one fell swoop, we shot it in two and a half weeks. Got it done very quickly and then my director of photography, Silas Tyler, cut the movie. He brought all the footage back to Chicago and he cut the whole film. And then we worked on it here and there. It took another year to complete all the reshoots – we had to do a few reshoots and it was a hell of a shoot – but we did it all in one fell swoop and it was quite an accomplishment. Because it seems like a hundred thousand dollars is a lot more, but we were doing everything and we’re paying people – not much, but a little bit – and you’re getting things done with a schedule to keep. So, it goes fast. It goes real fast. And it chipped the funds real quick, but we were getting a lot of footage. For example, when I work on movies, they always say, if you work on a big, feature film and you get a page or half a page done in a day, or maybe a page and a half, that’s a good day. We were getting anywhere from 10 to 15 pages done a day.
MM: Wow, that’s impressive.
RF: It was crazy. I looked at the script supervisor after the first week and I said, how many pages have we got done? And he goes, let me check. And he goes, we’ve shot 85 pages. I was like, OK, oh my God. It was crazy how much we were getting done. We did a lot of good stuff, you know?
MM: How did you come to cast Rachel Kerbs, who I should have remembered from Splinter, but I didn’t until I looked her up on IMDB?
RF: Bob Heske, the producer, had kind of an idea of who he wanted to cast. So, we did auditions and we did a casting session and he really wanted to go with Rachel Kerbs and I saw her acting and it was really good so I said, yeah, you know? Then we had a little issue because she had to dye her hair and she was in L.A. doing the acting thing in L.A. So, at first there were a few things going on there with issues but she was fine and we did it. And I think she was one of the highlights of the movie. Her acting is excellent. And it was amazing because all of the people that I worked with on God of Vampires, very few of them with the exception of Ben Lang, were really actors, pretty much. They’re all like non-actors. And then I had this group of people on Blessid who are really actors and it was like, oh my God, this is what it’s like. [Laughs] They know what to do! [Both laugh]
MM: Last but not least, you own The Magic Parlor in Salem, Massachusetts, which I would describe as a witchcraft/pagan slash kid’s magic toy store along with some horror-themed things. Do you think that’s accurate and, if not, how would you describe it?
RF: I think that is pretty accurate. I would say that it is a magic shop that has, first and foremost, magic in many different ways. Magic, as in jokes and gags. Magic, as in make up magic. Monster masks. Things of mysteries like oddities and weird curiosities. And then, finally, things like crystals and stones, and pagan and witchcraft items, which is another type of magic. So, I like to describe it as a magic shop, but it’s a very eclectic magic shop that kind of covers all the meanings of what magic really is, which is illusion. And we have a section of magic tricks and the last big magic shop in New England I guess closed down, so there’s very few magic shops left. Very, very few. And we’re one of them. So, it’s kind of special, you know? And we’ll continue to have magic tricks and all that. That’s not the section that sells the most, so I can’t devote the whole store to it. But when you’re in Salem, Mass, too, the witch stuff is the stuff that really is the thing. You have to have it. You have to do it. Because people come for it.
MM: How did you come to be the owner of the shop?
RF: Well, the store has been around for about 22 years now. About 20 years ago, I walked in and because I do make up and October was coming, I went to the owner – I never knew him; I had never met him before – and I said, hey, do you guys happen to want somebody to do Halloween make up and monster make up outside your shop? I’ll give you a percentage. I’ll make some money for you. And it’ll be great. And he was like, really? Hmm. He said, all right, why don’t we talk about this? And he hands me this little package of vampire fangs and he said, do you know how to put these on, these are vampire teeth that you mold onto a person’s canine teeth. And I was like, I’ve never tried it, but I’m sure I could try. And he goes, all right, I’ll tell you what, do a set of these fangs and I’ll give you 80 percent of the charge to fit them and you’ll make a bunch of money, and I’ll make a bunch of money by selling them, and it’ll be great. That first Halloween I worked there, I did 56 sets of fangs in one day. And plus with tips, I walked out of there with like 400 dollars in my pocket. I was like, four to five hundred dollars, this is incredible. So, every year since I have been doing fangs for them and I’ve added make up and special effects and all that. And three and half, four years ago, they wanted to retire and they wanted to sell the shop. So, they were on their way and they were trying to sell it and the last time Halloween was on Saturday, they were like after this Halloween I don’t know what you’re gonna do, but we’re gonna just close it down because no one seems to want to buy it from us. And I was like, let’s make a deal. Let me buy it off you. I can’t afford to buy it outright, but I can make payments. And they were like, all right, so we got attorneys together and we made a deal and over the past three years I’ve paid them off every year and now this is the three and a half year mark and now I own it outright.
MM: Cool, congrats.
RF: Thanks. It’s a cool thing because it offers me the ability to do make up stuff, and sell make up, and also now I teach make up.
MM: I saw that somewhere when I was reading up on you, that you’re teaching some classes at the store.
MM: What can you tell us about those? Are they for the absolute beginner or somebody who already knows the basics?
RF: Well, both. We have classes for total beginners. We have six week courses and we get people up to speed. And, beyond that, we have more advanced workshops for students who want to learn things like sculpting, air brushing, making prosthetics and all that mold-making. So, we kind of cover everything from theatre and television make up – like standard make up – to more advanced special effects make up things. It’s a lot of fun and we’re getting a really good response.
MM: The only problem is that some of these people will get so good you’ll be competing with them for jobs.
RF: Well, that’s great. I don’t mind because I am not doing as much make up because I’m busy with my store. I’d rather give it all to them. My way of kind of passing the torch. Because, honestly, working on movies sounds like it’s an amazing thing, but it takes so much out of your time. That’s like 12 to 14 hour days and when I work at my shop it’s a nice seven hour, eight hour day and then I go home. That’s nice. I prefer that.
MM: So, you do regular shifts at your shop as well as own it?
RF: Oh, yeah.
MM: I read on Facebook that you live in Manchester, New Hampshire. Is that still the case and, if so, how long is the drive from there to The Magic Parlor?
RF: No, we don’t live in Manchester. I actually live further south than that. I live in Derry, New Hampshire and it’s about a 45 minute drive.
MM: One last question, since our site is predominately a music site, what do you listen to?
RF: Well, I’m a big heavy metal fan. I love that kind of stuff. When I was a kid, and still, my favorite bands are like Rush and Jethro Tull. Those are my all-time faves, but as I grew older, in high school I was into like classic rock and more progressive. When I moved to New York City, it’s funny because I made a lot of friends who were punk rockers and I actually went to CBGBs when it existed. So, I got introduced to hardcore punk and I got to have an affinity for that type of music where it’s just screaming and noise, so I like that, too. So, my tastes are all over the place, but if I come down to it, my absolute favorite bands right up there have never really changed. Of course, I love a lot of like heavy metal, too.
MM: Do you like any of the hair band side of it? Because I interview a lot of those guys.
RF: Yeah, you know, it’s funny because when I was growing up in the ’80s, I didn’t appreciate that as much. It felt like, oh, they don’t sing about anything meaningful and all that. All they sing about is partying and hot chicks. And I was like yeah, you know? Now it’s like, that is a lot of fun. I like it better now as an adult than when I was a kid, weirdly enough. And I think it has a great place [because] you almost have to go back into the archives of music now because there’s not as much great music being made, it seems. So, yeah, I definitely appreciate it a lot more now. That’s my take on it. I have an interesting little story for you, though. Your site’s all about music?
RF: If you’re familiar with music history, I had a guy come in my store about a month ago and he bought some monster masks and his name was Legs McNeil. Do you know who that is?
MM: No, not off the top of my head.
RF: So, Legs McNeil is the guy who used to write a magazine called Punk back in the day. He wrote a book called Please Kill Me and it’s all about punk rock. Basically, Legs McNeil is the guy who coined the term punk. Punk rock music was called punk because of Legs McNeil. Anyway, he wrote this book called Please Kill Me and it’s a really cool book about punk rock and that arena of music.
MM: I’ll have to check it out.
RF: You should. And he was a really cool guy. And he bought stuff from us. He’s a good customer, so it’s all good. Just the fact that he came up with [the term] punk is pretty amazing. When you see people do websites now, and journalists are writing about music and pop culture and all that, you never know. You might come up with a term that catches on and becomes huge and will reverberate through history.
Much thanks to Rob for taking the time to do the interview! And for showing us movies every week at Weirdo Wednesday.
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