Exclusive: Director Jim Ojala Talks Strange Nature - Dread Central
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Exclusive: Director Jim Ojala Talks Strange Nature

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Strange Nature

A creature feature about mutant frogs sounds like something that would be firmly in the realm of fiction, but believe it or not, Strange Nature is actually based on true events. Deformed frogs were first sighted in Minnesota in the ’90s, before becoming a global phenomenon. To date, nobody really knows what caused the deformities, so this is some scary shit.

I decided to track down Strange Nature’s director, Jim Ojala, to understand how the film will handle the mutant frog epidemic.

Dread Central: As the film is based on true events, are you trying to depict the events as faithfully as possible, or are you being more liberal in your approach?

Jim Ojala: We are pretty faithful as to how the deformed frogs were first discovered in Minnesota in 1995. From there we take it in different directions. However, we remain quite faithful to the leading theories of what is causing the deformities without making it a science class. That’s one of the challenges of telling a story like this: educate and enlighten, but entertain with solid characters. I believe we struck a damn good balance.

DC: How did production go?

JO: We had a fantastic cast/crew from Minnesota and Los Angeles, but the shoot was quite difficult. We broke every rule in the indie film book; we had tons of locations, tons of characters, makeup/creature effects, stunts, puppets, animals, kids, even a newborn baby! Our locations in Minnesota were amazing but quite remote. This meant no cellphone or computer communication (much of the time) so that added to an already grueling schedule. It was figuring out how to make a feature like it was the early 90’s. Aside from that, I cannot recommend filming in Minnesota enough. The amount of production value and local assistance we received was awe-inspiring. Also, added state/local rebates totaling 45% of our budget back to us was a lifesaver. I don’t believe we could have made this film on this budget and 18-day shooting schedule anywhere else. We had some major setbacks along the way which threatened to derail the film, but I knew if we didn’t take time to panic and just never stop shooting, we had a chance to finish. By everyone pulling together, somehow we did.

DC: Can you talk about the creature effects?

JO: I’m also a professional makeup/creature effects artist (ojalafx.com) so that was a major aspect of the film. I don’t want to give too much away, but we feature animatronic creatures, puppets, and makeup effects. These were in development for years. When we had some time and money, we would make something knowing it would be used when the film eventually got made. My on-set makeup/effects crew did a phenomenal job, but there was also a lot of finishing I needed to personally do on set. This was extremely difficult as we might be shooting for 18 hours; then I need to plan shots for the next day so call sheets can go out to the cast/crew; then run back to our FX warehouse and work on a creature for the next day; then race back to the hotel and hopefully get 2-3 hours of sleep. I met William Friedkin in LA shortly before we started shooting, and his biggest piece of advice to me was to get solid sleep every night. Hopefully on the next one! The crazy thing is that we didn’t even have time to shoot a lot of the practical effects. The most important thing on location is that we shoot anything location/character-specific. This meant that a lot of the more elaborate, time-consuming FX had to be shot second unit in LA months later.

DC: And you also used some real frogs on set?

JO: Yes, we used real deformed frogs on set. In early stages of pre-production I was figuring out how to make realistic frogs; then it hit me… why don’t we see if we can use the real thing?! I did some extensive research and tracked down one of the leading U.S ecologists studying the cases of the deformed frog phenomenon. He became very supportive of the film, consulted and supplied us with real live deformed frogs to use in the film. To see them in close-up on-screen is truly shocking. I also thought it was important to have the real frogs if possible to help drive home the point that this isn’t some crazy thing I dreamed up; it’s based on a real thing that is still going on. It’s not found in the abundance it was in Minnesota anymore, but it has spread to different areas around the country. In 2013, a population of frogs in Oregon was found to 100% deformed.

DC: Could the frog deformities really happen to people?

JO: These deformities could probably not happen to humans. However, this problem was first discovered just 20 years ago so we don’t necessarily know any long-term effects this water could have on humans. In fact, we still don’t even know what causes the majority of human birth defects. One of the leading theories behind the deformity outbreaks have to do with certain pesticides and fertilizers. Under federal law, pesticides only have to be tested every 15 years… that’s a long time for something to go wrong.

DC: As this is an eco horror film, do you think that it will help people to wake up to the problems of how people are destroying our planet? Several of this year’s Republican candidates even called global warming a myth, which just shows how ignorant some people can be about the issues.

JO: I hope this film will open some eyes as to what is going on with the environment. The frog deformity cases were kind of swept under the rug and research largely defunded when a definite cause wasn’t found right away. Like in real life, STRANGE NATURE attempts to show how flippant people can be towards something like this because “it’s just frogs.” At what point is it alarming? Do we need puppies born like this, more dangerous animals, or even humans before it’s a legitimate concern?

Learn more about Strange Nature here.

Strange Nature (1)

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Fearsome Facts – Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

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Sir Christopher Lee returned to portray the charismatic count of Transylvania in Hammer’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) for the first time since taking on the iconic role in 1958’s Horror of Dracula – an eight year absence. 

And while Lee endured a love/hate relationship playing the Carpathian Count over the years, the actor reluctantly tackled the role a total of 10 times for the Silver Screen. Three of those performances came outside of the purview of Hammer Horror, but this list is dedicated to the first Hammer Dracula sequel to feature the return of Christopher Lee in the lead role.

Now, here are 5 Things You May Not Know About Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

5. Dracula: Speechless

Dialogue never played a crucial part in Christopher Lee’s portrayals as Count Dracula, but this film is the epitome of that contentious notion. Lee doesn’t utter a single word during Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ 90 minutes of run time. In interviews over the years, Lee said that he was so unhappy with his lines that he protested and refused to say them during the filming process. “Because I had read the script and refused to say any of the lines,” Lee said in an interview at the University College of Dublin.

However, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster insisted that the original script was written without any dialogue for Dracula. There was even a theory that circulated for a time which postulated that Hammer could not afford Lee’s growing salary, so the studio decided to limit the Count’s screen time. Did this lead to the demise of Dracula’s dialogue? Regardless of whom you want to believe, Dracula is the strong, silent type in Prince of Darkness. 

4. Double Duty for Drac

Hammer Film Productions doubled down, so to speak, on the production and post-production aspects of Dracula: Prince of Darkness. First, the studio filmed the vampire flick back-to-back with another project titled Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966). In doing so, Hammer used many of the same sets, actors – including Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer – and crew members to shoot both motion pictures.

Second, Dracula: Prince of Darkness was featured in a double billing alongside the film The Plague of the Zombies (1966) when it screened in London. Insert cheesy cliche: “Double your pleasure, double your fun with Doublemint Gum.” 

3. Stunt Double Nearly Drowned

Dracula: Prince of Darkness introduced a new weakness in the wicked baddie, but it nearly cost a stuntman his life. During the film, it was revealed that running water could destroy Dracula. Wait, what? Apparently, leaving the faucets on at night not only prevents frozen pipes, but blood-sucking vampires, too.

All kidding aside, it was during the climactic battle scene in which Christopher Lee’s stunt double almost succumb to the icy waters on set. Stuntman Eddie Powell stepped in as the Count during that pivotal moment, as Dracula slipped into the watery grave, but Powell was trapped under the water himself and almost died.

2. Lee Loathed What Hammer Did to Stoker’s Character

Christopher Lee’s return to Hammer’s Dracula franchise was a stroke of genius on the part of producers, but Lee was more than a little reticent when it came to initially voicing his dislike for playing the iconic role. As mentioned above, a lot of speculation swirled around the lack of dialogue given to Lee in the Prince of Darkness script. And if you don’t count the opening flashback sequence, which revisits the ending of Horror of Dracula (1958), Count Dracula doesn’t appear on screen until the 45-minute mark of the film.

Dracula’s lack of character, and presence, began to affect Lee particularly when it came to signing on to play the character in the three films following Prince of Darkness. Indeed, the lack of meaningful character development led to Lee initially turning down Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Scars of Dracula (1970). Lee said in countless interviews that he never got to play the real version of Count Dracula created by Bram Stoker, at least via Hammer Studios. This was a true disappointment to the late actor.

But Hammer guilt Lee into taking on the role over and over again, because the studio claimed to have already sold the aforementioned films to the United States with Lee’s name attached to the projects. Hammer informed Lee that if he didn’t return the company would have to lay off many of their workers. The tactic worked, since Lee was friends with many of the Dracula crew members. Fortunately for fans, Lee kept coming back for blood.

1. Faux Pas

Outside of the character of Dracula only appearing on screen for the last half of the movie, Dracula: Prince of Darkness had even more pressing issues that unfortunately survived all the way to the final cut of the film. One of the most appalling of these occurrences happens during the picture’s climatic confrontation. Watch the skies above Dracula and you will see the trail of a jet-engine plane staining the sky.

Another faux pas occurs in this same sequence when Dracula succumbs to the icy waters. Watch closely as the camera’s long shot clearly reveals the pivots holding the ice up underneath Chris Lee. Finally, watch the dead girl who is being carried during the opening funeral sequence. She is clearly breathing and quite heavily at that.

***

Which Dracula: Prince of Darkness moments did you find the most interesting? Were there any obscure facts you would have enjoyed seeing make our list? Sound off on social media!

 

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Carnivore: Werewolf of London Howls on VOD

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Joining the ranks of The Curse of the Werewolf, An American Werewolf in London, The Company of Wolves, and Dog Soldiers, Carnivore: Werewolf of London is the latest in a long series of fantastic British werewolf movies. Directed by Knights of the Damned’s Simon Wells, the film focuses on a couple trying to save their relationship by taking a vacation in a remote cottage, but rekindling their old flame soon proves to be the least of their worries as they learn that something with lots of fur and lots of teeth is waiting for them in the surrounding woods.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London stars Ben Loyd-Holmes, Atlanta Johnson, Gregory Cox, Molly Ruskin, and Ethan Ruskin, and is available to purchase now on Google Play, Amazon Video, iTunes, and Vudu, although it doesn’t appear to have received a physical release as of yet.

More information about Carnivore: Werewolf of London is available on the film’s official Facebook account, along with a ton of production photos.

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John Carpenter … NOT DEAD!

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We currently live in a world of false alarms. Within the last several days we’ve suffered everything from warnings of doomsday to Rotten Tomatoes accidentally celebrating the passing(!) and career of the very much still alive John Carpenter.

That’s right, kids; earlier today RT tweeted, “John Carpenter would have been 70 years old today! We celebrate his birthday by looking back at his five favorite films.” The tweet… has since been deleted.

We are here to tell you… John is very much alive! Alive and well, even. Carpenter himself responded on Twitter by alerting the site that “despite how it appears, I’m actually not dead.

This is great news indeed. One of horror’s best and brightest is still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Now then, let’s take this time to celebrate the man’s birthday PROPERLY by talking about our favorite films of his. Speaking personally for myself…

Prince of Darkness is a movie that both unnerves and scares the hell out of me. One of Carpenter’s most thought-provoking works is just as frightening now as it was when we first received that grainy transmission as a dream from the year…

Tell us your favorite Carpenter movie in our comments section below.

…and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN!

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