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Vitals Interview Series Part 5: Director Marc Morgenstern

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Vitals Interview Series Part 5: Director Marc MorgensternVitals is a new claustrophobic horror movie from director Mark Morgenstern. The film stars Christopher Showerman as Richard Carsen, a man who’s trying save his on-the-rocks marriage by taking his wife on vacation to India. Unfortunately, he winds up on ice and about to be harvested for his organs.

Morgenstern recently directed a documentary on the effects of infidelity in the electronic age. It’s called Affairs Across America: The Ashley Madison Story and is centered around the multimillionaire internet guru who started the infamous non-singles dating website with the slogan: “Life is short. Have an affair.”

Perhaps that was the impetus for making his lead character/victim in Vitals a cheating husband. We asked. Read on to find out what Morgenstern said.

Dread Central: So, Morgenstern… any relation to Rhoda? I’m sure you never heard that before; I just thought I’d throw out that little brilliant, totally unique joke of mine.

Marc Morganstern: It’s funny. Ironically, my grandmother’s sister’s name is Rhoda, so I’m sure every day of her life as that show was on, it’s like “Why..?!” But there’s also S. Morgenstern from The Princess Bride, there’s Morgenstern who was Joey’s agent on “Friends.”

DC: That’s such a great, memorable name. I bet it’ll help when the movie comes out – nobody will forget it.

MM: Yes. I’m actually looking to do sort of a Hitchcock type thing with Vitals.

DC: Yeah, the movie seems like it could go a lot of different ways, so when the viewer is there for, say, the first five minutes, tell me a little bit about what they’ll be experiencing and where it eventually starts to lead.

MM: All right. Well, it takes place in a motel room in India. A man wakes up and he’s in a bathtub full of ice. He’s missing his kidney; he doesn’t know where he is or how he got there. His wife is trapped in the room next to his. They originally took the vacation to work on their marriage, and now they’re in a circumstance where they have to put all their differences aside and work together and forgive each other for their trespasses and things like that and find a way to escape before these organ harvesters return to finish the job and their lives.

DC: Can you talk a little bit about how they cope with little to no connections to the outside world?

MM: What happens is, she has a burner phone that she has taken with her… [If] you go on a foreign vacation [and] bring your normal phone with all your contacts and everything in it, and you lose that, that’s your lifeline; you’re not gonna wanna take that . So she’s got a burner phone; she lost her phone on the last trip that she took so she has a new phone. Now the phone kinda works in this room. It connects for a bit but then it cuts out. But the signal is strongest by his wall by her room so eventually they find a way that they can pass the phone… [and call] the police.

DC: It’s a challenge, but this is a great setting for suspense, the one-location horror movie. Joel Schumacher did it with Phone Booth, and there is that other one with Ryan Reynolds…

MM: Buried.

DC: Yeah, yeah. So do you draw from some those elements to use that very close space to your advantage, even when there’s a lot of gore?

MM: Absolutely. I think if you have a hundred million dollars and you have 50 sets and 50 locations it’s very easy to put together a movie. Yes, you can direct it easily… you are in all these different places and different things, in little snippets of story. To bring it all into one location and to have the actor sustain that, to have a director to be able to direct that to some believability, to be able to write that and have the audience not feel like they need to escape, I think that’s the greatest challenge. And if a director can do that, an actor can do that, and the writer can do that, then they can do anything.

DC: I know that actors, especially, want to sort of feel the texture of their environment. They like to get immersed in their surroundings. Their costume kind of helps them get into character. So when you take a lot of that away from the actors, what does that do to you as a director to be able to get these performances that you know you’re gonna need?

MM: When I write, I like to give characters something they can hold on to or something that is their idiom. The main villain for example has a crossword puzzle. The wife plays with her wedding ring. The other villain has a smoking habit. Little things like that add to the characters that the actors can thrive on. Richard, the main character, I’ve given him enough!

DC: Poor guy. I think his past is catching up to him, right?

MM: He’s missing his kidney, he’s trying to figure how to get out, he didn’t need a character piece. Part of his marriage issue was there was a little infidelity there; that’s why they’re on the rocks. So I have that as his personal story, but I have such a physical leap for him to try and get through that… I’m not going to say it’s very easy, but that’s the challenge.

DC: How else do you still make him sort of an interesting character, even though he’s inert for a lot of the time from being drugged or knocked out?

MM: I’m sure he’ll be pulling focus in a lot of the scenes. It all depends on how many people I have in the room. If I have a room full of thugs, I don’t need to focus on him. I have our clowns in the room. They’re the comic relief. Ironically, the organ harvesters are the comic relief in this film. Part of the fun things that we have, especially with this set, is the only way they are communicating is through the air vent and through a hole in the wall. So a lot of shots are actually of Jane looking through the hole at an unconscious Richard or looking through the vent and seeing only snippets of his foot or things like that, and we as the audience go, ‘Oh, is he dead? Is he alive?’ We’re not sure where he is or what’s going on. And then when she looks back and he’s gone or she looks through the hole and he’s ducking his head in the tub, we know that these are little relief moments. Or we know that things are happening that move it along, that if we just had a camera in the room, it would be very easy to see. So I added that extra barrier of their communication.

DC: From a filmmaker’s standpoint everyone can understand why you would do a film like this, because you can shoot it quickly, you can do it with a small cast, there’s a lot of leeway to make your small budget pay off big. But from an audience point of view’ we’re gonna say, ‘Okay, is it just another Turistas? Do we really need another Hostel?’ What can you tell horror fans about what they will like about this film?

MM: Well, let’s put it this way: It’s actually not about the horror. If you’re looking for the blood and the guts and things like that, it’s not about that.

DC: [Gestures to the director’s red-stained script pages] The bloody page notwithstanding?

MM: The bloody page notwithstanding, what you will get is the same thing you would get out of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope. Or you would get out of something that’s The Shining. The Shining certainly wasn’t, besides the hallway full of blood, a bloody film… [or] all gore. It’s all the suspense; it’s all about what is happening next with these characters. And the twists that are happening and the real reason and purpose why they’re in the situation that they are. And everything you think you know about these people is not what it is.

DC: I’d also like to talk a little bit about the cinematography. Just from my own personal standpoint, I love real cinematography, Vittorio Storaro or Gordy Willis, people like that, Roger Deakins. I know that you have to do some of this hand-held stuff because of time and budget, so can you talk a little bit about what the look and feel of the film will be?

MM: One of the things that, say, Sidney Lumet captured in 12 Angry Men is, the longer you’re in the room with these people, the smaller the room gets. So, the more claustrophobic I need you to feel, the tighter the image is going to get. At the beginning of the film we may see as wide as we can, but toward the end of the film… we don’t know what’s happening to the characters. It looks like they may live, or die, all that sort of stuff. The framing gets tighter on the characters. We see less of the room and more of their reaction. And that adds to the urgency of what’s happening. Yes, I don’t have these huge vistas, that we certainly can’t afford on this film, but cinematography definitely plays an important part of this.

DC: And I notice thankfully that you do have some lock-down masters. So we won’t all be reaching for the Dramamine.

MM: Yeah, that’s the last thing I want; even the hand-held that is happening is not frenetic hand-held. It’s a floating camera so our eyes aren’t just locked in a position. It’s just so that we feel natural when we’re watching the image.

DC: And who is your DP?

MM: His name is Dan Ayers; he’s worked on “CSI: NY,” and actually his list of credentials is so long that there’s too many things you could name. This is my first time working with him. I’m actually new to the country. I moved here from Toronto, Canada, just recently.

DC: Welcome.

MM: Thanks, and actually three weeks into moving here I met Kalex, who’s the producer, and we are making a film.

DC: It’s a real Hollywood story.

MM: It is kind of a Hollywood story. Like literally three weeks into living in this country, I got my visa and I’m now making a movie in Hollywood. And today is actually my birthday.

DC: Wow, happy birthday and welcome to L.A.

MM: Thank you.

DC: Now get back to work!

Vitals comes to us from writer/director Marc Morgenstern. Christopher Showerman, Charlene Amoia, Sachin Metha, Tim Russ, and Claudia Wells co-star. In it Showerman stars as an unassuming electrician who wakes up in an abandoned motel room in a tub of ice with his kidney missing. It’s only a matter of time before he finds his wife in the adjacent room waiting to be the next victim to a horrible organ harvesting organization. Now they must use each other’s wits and skills to escape before their captors return and their dark secrets are revealed.

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Check Out the Opening 2 Minutes of Another WolfCop

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It was just earlier today that we brought you guys The Dude Design’s the newest poster for writer-director Lowell Dean’s horror-comedy sequel Another WolfCop.

And now we have the movie’s opening 2 minutes!

The clip showcases the new flick’s villain trying to sell us on his “Chicken Milk Beer” before losing his cool and taking it out the commercial’s crew. We then cut to a ragtag group of criminals, dressed as homeless Santas trying to outrun the cops.

A fun two-minutes if you ask me!

You can check out Another WolfCop‘s opening scene below and then make sure to hit us up and let us know what you think in the comments below or on social media!

The film is written and directed by Lowell Dean, produced by Bernie Hernando, Deborah Marks, and Hugh Patterson, and distributed worldwide by Cineplex.

Another WolfCop co-stars Amy Matysio, Jonathan Cherry, and Serena Miller. The film also features special appearances from Canadian music icon Gowan and legendary filmmaker Kevin Smith. It was executive produced by Sean Buckley, J. Joly, Bill Marks, Brian Wideen, Michael Kennedy, and Michael Hirsch.

The film is slated for a wide Cineplex theatrical release on Friday, December 8, 2017, with the film seeing a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital home entertainment release through A71 and Black Fawn in 2018.

Synopsis:

A month has passed since the eclipse transformed hard-drinking Officer Lou Garou into the crime-fighting hellion WolfCop. Although the Shape Shifters controlling the town have been extinguished, Woodhaven is far from returning to normal. Lou’s liquor-fueled antics and full moon outbursts are seriously testing his relationship with Officer Tina Walsh – the new Chief of Police. An old friend has mysteriously reappeared with a truly bizarre secret to share, and a homicidal new villain has emerged from the shadows looking to finish what the Shape Shifters started. To defeat this lethal adversary, it will take more than a lone wolf packing a pistol.

Prepare for the next chapter of WolfCop that will be more dirty and hairy than the original! Consider yourself warned.

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AHS: Cult Review: Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.86 (7 votes)
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