When I first heard of Graeme Whifler, I thought he didn’t exist.
About 20 years ago, I tuned into a show on Toronto’s CityTV called “City Limits”. The show had a strange group called The Residents on as guests, a band comprised of mysterious costumed figures with huge eyeballs for heads. They “took over” the TV studio for the duration of the show, forcing it to broadcast some of the weirdest music videos ever made. I recorded the show and used that VHS tape to weird out many a friend during late night inebriation sessions. Some of these Residents videos are in the permanent collection in the NY Museum of Modern Art. A handful of them be seen right here.
The director name associated with the most deranged and memorable of these music videos was Graeme Whifler. The reason I didn’t think Graeme Whifler existed was because The Residents (the eyeball head band) have kept their real identities hidden for over 3 decades. I still don’t know who they are. I figured that any name associated with them or their visuals would be a pseudonym, a front, a part of their cryptic package and deliberate obfuscation strategy.
Fast forward to 2006 – a movie called Neighborhood Watch is making the rounds and has a slot at the Fantasia Film Festival in my hometown of Montreal. It’s a movie that had quite the reputation ahead of it, what with verified reports of distressed viewers requiring medical attention after watching it and so forth. Turns out the director’s name is Graeme Whifler, who was there in person to host the screening. All this time, the pseudonym theory of mine was out to lunch. Turns out that Graeme’s been a quietly busy guy, and those videos he made for The Residents and other recording artists back in the day, while still outstandingly weird, were just a warm up for the grotesque monstrosity he would later unleash on the unsuspecting public in the form of Neighborhood Watch. The movie is now out on DVD under its new title, Deadly End (DVD review).
Mr. Whifler was gracious enough to agree to an interview with Dread Central. This is Graeme Whifler, his own words, musings, and borderline abusive attitude towards your humble interviewer. I say that with tongue in cheek, because if you’ve seen Deadly End (and you really should if haven’t), you’ll know that he has a twisted sense of humor, and it definitely carried over into this interview.
At least, I think he was joking around when he said certain things. Read the interview and judge for yourself…
Paul McCannibal: Congratulations on the release of Deadly End on DVD. When and how did the ideas for this disgusting story of nightmarish neighborly relations come about?
Graeme Whifler: Well, thanks for the congrats on finally getting this sucker released. As far as the general inspiration or ideas for this film (as if you really care) they came from my constant filter-feeding of exotic news stories, especially if they have to do with what I term “the bad brain syndrome”, which is basically where some poor soul’s compulsions run amok. Deadly End is based on two true stories of “bad brain” syndrome gone really bad.
In one story, which I caught on TV years ago, a young man had a job working on an ambulance crew as a paramedic. He’d always treat his coworkers to donuts. But after awhile they learned to refuse his offerings because they always felt sick after eating them. What his coworkers didn’t know was that this young man with “bad brain” syndrome would always sprinkle rat poison on the donuts before handing them out. Skip forward a few years, the young man has gone to medical school and is now a doctor, and he’s locked up in prison. Oddly enough, the last few patients he visited in the hospital all died mysteriously. The TV camera crew went to the doctor’s house to film, and inside his kitchen they found every cupboard stuffed with poisons, and a little index card box filled with recipes for things like salmonella, Listeria, castor beans, lead … Claiming he was innocent, the TV crew set up a monitor in his cell, showed him the footage of his kitchen and challenged him to explain. Which he did, by way of insisting that he was a doctor, and every doctor had kitchens loaded with poisons because doctors have to know about such things if they are to help make people well.
The other fellow with “bad brain” syndrome had a terrible problem; he couldn’t stop thinking about sex. After doing much research he discovered sexual thoughts originate from a little gland located on one’s kidney. So he turned his living room into an operating suite complete with a giant mirror suspended over the table he was to use for the surgery. After everything was sterilized, he climbed on the table and opened himself up and was even able to cut through to one of his kidneys until he hit a little snag. That bad dirty little gland that was making him obsess about sex all the time was attached to the bottom of his kidney, so he needed to reach in and turn his kidney over to get at it. But when he tried turning his kidney, the pain was so intense he almost passed out. Scared, he sewed himself back up and went to a hospital emergency room. The doctors there were quite impressed by his amateur surgical skills. The kicker was that nobody at the hospital was surprised to see the self-mutilator because he’d been in three months earlier after he’d castrated himself.
PM: Many toxic themes pervade Deadly End, but the predominant ones pertain to surgery and poisoning techniques. Without giving too many of the special moments away for those who haven’t seen the film yet, where did you get your ideas for the specific kinds of poisons, mutilations, and eviscerations featured in the film?
GW: I had my two fun true stories as inspiration. I sort of melded them together into one character, Adrien, whom I could identify with, and then just had a good time letting my imagination run free. Part of the fun was the nice young couple who were on the receiving end of my character’s love/rage. I got to do whatever I wanted to them, without guilt. You ask a writer where do the ideas come from, hell they jump right out of your head. I’m a creative person. Figuring out common poisons, personal mutilations, and survivable eviscerations, that comes as easy as pie.
You cite “many toxic themes pervade Deadly End” and that’s the real key to the movie. Oh sure, the sexy stuff is the poisoning and surgery. But every last frame of the movie is painted with despair and barrels of lesser sickness. The nice young couple never has a glimmer of hope or salvation; their world is a total shit ball. That’s part of what digs deep into the audience and makes them so uncomfortable.
PM: Adrien Trumbull, Deadly End’s antagonist, is a foul individual who masturbates in a shocking way whilst tuned into a rabid, pontificating evangelical radio program. Linking Adrien’s extreme dementia to religious fundamentalism of this sort could lead one to think you have an inherent dislike for it. However, on your MySpace site there’s a picture of you hangin’ out with Jerry Falwell. What gives? Do you think the Reverend Falwell would’ve gotten a kick out of Deadly End?
GW: Dr. Falwell probably wouldn’t have liked my movie, but then who knows what his secret life was like. That photo on MySpace you’re referring to (boy you sure are a snoopy devil, that’s supposed to be MY space, quit looking at MY pictures, they are MINE, my PERSONAL MySpace at www.myspace.com/whifler, it’s for me and nobody else, PRIVATE) was taken in his Lynchburg office at the school he founded. I was there interviewing him for a TV show called “Sightings”. Having turned down the show’s bogus UFO fair, they seduced me into directing by offering me a show on my favorite subject, Evil. And boy did I give them an evil show. So evil and nasty they spiked it, the little UFO sucking chicken shits.
Anyway, I really liked Jerry Falwell and was sad when he passed. Now, the radio show that Adrien listens to in the movie, that audio track really gives people the creeps when they see the movie. But truthfully, that’s what I’ve been listening to for twenty years myself … well sort of. Roy Masters, AM talk show guy extraordinaire. Wouldn’t actually label him as a religious fundamentalist, he’s a whole lot more. He’s taught me, and helped me so much in my life. You know, the times you think your god damn head is going to explode with all the bad thoughts put there by women who use their dirty thing to try and break you as a man? Roy has saved my life almost weekly. Adrian is an isolated character, not one for human interaction, so a demon talk show showering him 24/7 gives the audience a chance to listen in on his inner thoughts.
I must challenge you on your slander directed towards Adrien Trumbull, the movie’s antagonist, who you describe as a foul individual. Why are you slamming him, just because he masturbates? What the hell do you have against masturbation? How clean are your damn fingers? Adrian is actually a sweet and caring person. As Nick Searcy who played Adrian stated, “Deadly End is the touching story of a man trying to police his neighborhood from an outbreak of perverted sex”. All I can say is so much of this movie is deeply autobiographical and personal. And remind me never to shake your stinking hand.
PM: David Cronenberg’s The Brood featured an extreme form of psychotherapy where people channeled their pained emotions to the point that they broke out into sores. Considering that Deadly End caused an audience member to bust out in hives, and another to require the assistance of medics after falling out of their chair, what kind of hidden therapeutic/purging value do you think there might be in Deadly End? You know, for viewers who aren’t feeling too well physically or mentally?
GW: Our last victim was in France, some poor psychologically frail young woman required hospitalization from watching my little movie, but she’s fine now.
Deadly End might never have been released if it weren’t for some guy going into a seizure during one of the film’s “heavy” scenes. It was playing in a huge theater; part of Montreal’s Fantasia Festival, and this guy starts croaking like a frog and flails about on the floor. Well, thank God, sitting right next to him was Stuart Gordon of Re-Animator fame. Stuart rushed to the lobby to get help, found a young woman selling popcorn, told her what happened in the auditorium, and all she said was “cool”. The guy made it to the hospital okay, but Stuart was so impressed by witnessing Deadly End’s deadly power that he vowed to find the film a distributor, which he did, thank God.
The guy who had the seizure wrote me an e-mail months later saying he liked what he saw and was wondering how he could get a DVD so he could see how the movie ended. I sent him one, hoping to score my first fatality. But truthfully, the film isn’t that gory or bloody, less than a cup in the entire movie. I do employ certain other small psychological triggers so that as they add up, they give most a fun ride. For the weaker and less fortunate, it’s Darwin time.
PM: Adrian is the kind of person I wouldn’t want living in the same area code let alone directly across the street. However, he wasn’t the only guy in the film who was super creepy. The gas meter guy in particular was scary and menacing. Any chance of that character’s hidden life coming to the big screen?
GW: Randall Bosley as Jake the Gas Man was fantastic. And sweet baby Jesus, what a face that guy has. He’s the one person in the movie I wouldn’t allow the makeup lady near. Randall was DYING to play Adrian, and he was the sweetest, most fantastic actor to work with. But then, they all were first rate and great to work with. Fans of horror films will find a lot of familiar faces lurking in this movie. You’re right though, Randall would be a very interesting guy to build a story around. Did you know we auditioned over 1600 people to cast this film?
PM: What about Adrien? Any chance we could see more of him down the road? It would be interesting to know more about his relationship with his father and the other people who lived near him prior to Wendi and Bob moving in. I for one would be curious to see how he figured out how to blend all those poisons without dying in the process.
GW: Nick and I have talked about doing a Deadly End II and Nick’s enthusiastic but also a tad worried. The part will require him to have a colostomy, because I need to start the movie with a bag shot. I promised him we’ll get the thing reversed within a month after shooting so I’m quite hopeful. You want to see him back in the old neighborhood, do you? I was thinking more like a day spa.
PM: In an online interview with Nick Searcy, Searcy stated that his wife never wants to see this film or even read the script due to its content. Was there anyone else in the cast or crew who gave you an indication that they might have to pass on bringing their family along to the premier? Did any of the cast members have reservations about any of the film’s nastier content or performance requirements after signing up?
GW: Do you know about 1984’s Room 101? Let’s just say that Jack Huston (the actor who played Bob) has a real terror about germs, and in his Room 101, a man with a mouth-load of snot awaits to spit down his throat. Jack Huston is a blue blood from Hollywood’s royal family. His grandfather was John Huston and his aunt is Angelica Huston. He’s one smart cookie and has an understanding of movie making so profound it seems to rise from his DNA. His talent is simply awesome. And this was his first feature role in a movie. Jack LOVED the script – actually, all the key players LOVED the script, that’s why they were willing to bleed to get this sucker to the screen. Jack came aboard with 300% enthusiasm. But as the filming progressed, he discovered, much to his horror, that I was actually shooting EVERYTHING that was written in the script. So he started asking me over and over every day during shooting, “That scene where Adrian spits in my mouth, how are you going to film it? There’s going to be some kind of special effect right? Nobody is going to actually spit in my mouth, right? I mean there is NO WAY I’m ever going to let somebody spit in my mouth!” I smiled and said, “Jack, it’s in the script.”
Two weeks of this went by with Jack’s concern growing daily. In the end, Jack took his spit like a man. We both agreed to shoot it in one take, and thankfully it worked on that first take. In the movie, the scene plays splendidly because it once again telegraphs to the audience there is no limit to the depravity lying ahead. As far as I know, the spit was relatively free of really bad germs because Jack didn’t get sick and was able to finish the shoot. I probably won’t get any directorial awards for having an actor drink spit, but I may burn in hell for all eternity.
You ask about a cast member having a problem bringing a family member to a screening. Irwin Keyes – horror fans know this name – came to a small screening at my home, and he brought his girlfriend. Half an hour or so into the move, Irwin’s gal snuck out of the room. I found her 45 minutes later, outside, in the rain, crying. After the film finished she came back inside, cold, wet, and pretended that nothing was wrong. What can I say, Deadly End squeezed some sore somewhere deep within her. The part that set her overboard was the radio talk show announcer’s rap, “God’s greatest gift to man is pain” (I stole that line from Harry Crews). She told me she’d never heard something so sad.
Irwin’s girlfriend reacted kind of like the 20-year old woman in a Phoenix theater who left the Deadly End screening sobbing to take refuge in the little girl’s room. She said the old people in the movie reminded her of her grandmother and it was just so sad she couldn’t take it any more. Then there was the autistic guy in Calgary who I caught in the lobby trying to sneak out of the theater fifteen minutes before the movie’s big ending. He looked upset and he told me he thought something really bad was about to happen. I scolded him for leaving before it was over and assured him the film had a happy ending. He shuffled back into the theater. I saw him after the movie was over and he didn’t look too good. The movie really burrows deep and upsets some, the weak, the lame, der untermenchen. Deadly End is a sort of psychic crematorium for those of unsettled minds.
PM: On the Deadly End website, if you click specifically on the Neighborhood Watch sign, it takes you to a screen where you can pick “Something Sweet” or “Something Sour”. If you pick the “Something Sweet” option, there’s some really, really disturbing pictures there. Who made these images and what do they represent? Was it Adrien?
GW: There you go again with all your damn snooping. Jesus, is nothing private? I bet you’d click your filthy stinky little mouse on just about any skanky thing.
Yes, there is a secret hole on our site for adult entry only. Yes you get there by clicking on the little neighborhood watch sign below the Deadly End sign. It leads to the old Neighborhood Watch site (before it was called Deadly End it was Neighborhood Watch). Anyway, the concept there is that this is Adrien’s site, he made it himself. It’s crude, it’s dingy, and it’s very sick.
Yes, one is given two choices: something sweet or something sour. Click on one of those and you’re taken to a box of chocolates hiding mutilated images of women. NOT mutilated women, mutilated IMAGES of women. It’s all quite tastefully done as if viewing Adrien’s private stash of dirty pictures. It just so happens that the original images came from my own private porn stash but that’s another matter that I don’t care to talk about thank you very much. But yeah, check out that dirty stinky adult hole hidden on the Deadly End site, just don’t let little sis go there. OK?
PM: The company “Zeecor”, where Deadly End’s co-protagonist Bob has his new job, seems like a horrible place to work. For legal reasons I wouldn’t expect you to say specifically where you got your inspiration, but was Zeecor inspired by an existing corporation or the job anecdotes of someone you know?
GW: Like a bunch of other stuff in the film, the bleak punishing tableau of Zeecor I more or less pulled out of my butt. The only job I’ve ever really had, besides security guard, house painter, Fuller brush salesman, is directing rock videos, TV, and movies. Actually if it doesn’t have to do with film production, I’m totally unemployable. So no, I have never ever worked in the corporate world. I have on occasion been inside banks and other office-type businesses and caught a strong smell of what goes on there. But again, Zeecor was just another unfriendly hostile environment to place my nice young couple in.
PM: The locations and production design played a huge part in the film’s unsettling and darkly comedic tone. Pretty much every location save for the old couple’s house and the Zeecor office seemed like someone had literally come along and turned the place upside down. How did you pull all that off on what I would assume was a modest budget and a tight shooting schedule? Did you have to bring uprooted trees in and dump them in the road or what?
GW: No we just waited for everybody in a tree lined neighborhood to go to sleep, tied some chains to the trees and pulled them down with our production trucks.
Actually that dead ghost town suburban street with abandoned houses and fallen trees we found on an abandoned air force base. Some of the Zeecor interiors were filmed in the old base’s vacant hospital, others at a command center complete with a war room.
We had no studio, no sets. Everything was shot on location around Victorville, California, a weird, end-of-the-world high desert town halfway between Las Vegas and Hollywood. It’s a place scorched by blistering desert heat where things die easier than they grow. It’s a place to hide, to hole up alone and go mad privately, quietly. Some of the homes dotting the desert have normal families. Some have deviants, and some are secret drug factories cooking the Methedrine that turns others into hollow ghosts, the trembling burnt-out homeless wandering the windswept roads at night. Roy Rogers, the dead B-movie cowboy, had his Museum in Victorville. A few bucks bought admission to see Trigger, his beloved horse now stuffed, Buttermilk, his dead wife’s stuffed horse, and Bullet, their dead, stuffed dog.
And right next door to Victorville is the really sad little desert berg of Adelanto, where we shot our exterior neighborhood scenes for Deadly End. My brother discovered the location by luck through an online blind date. He drove two hours into the middle of the desert to hook-up with some woman who lived in Adelanto. He didn’t score with her but he sure stumbled on to one cool location. Dan Whifler, my brother, just happens to be one killer Production Designer who designed Deadly End. Working with my brother is the best. Creatively we’re joined at the hip – our dad was an incredibly gifted architect who taught us well – communication is so easy and natural we hardly even need to speak, but what I really like about working with my brother is that I don’t have to pay him.
Anyway Adelanto, Adrien’s neighborhood … forty years ago a developer built a small subdivision of small cheap tract houses out in the middle of the desert figuring the area would grow and a city would form. It never did. Instead the houses scorched under the desert sun, their paint peeled, the gardens and lawns turned to dust, and the place simply festered in a forgotten part of the desert. And even though the cracker box houses have two tiny bedrooms and a small kitchen and living room, families spend most their time relaxing in their attached garages. They prop the door permanently open, move the cars out, add several chairs, a small table and a TV, and there they gather all day long, visible from the street as if in a giant fish bowl. A week after we finished filming, somebody angry over a bad drug deal walked into one of those open garages and shot each member of a family of ten, killing eight.
But for us, making a movie in Victorville was like working in heaven. The people were super friendly. Everyone actually WANTED a movie shot in their home, business, or street. When we shot night exteriors on the street, locals dressed in pajamas brought lawn chairs and popcorn and watched us work. It was a small town, so it was easy and quick to get around. And it was quiet, which was golden for our sound. And yes, we did have a “modest” budget, modest like in obscenely god damn low.
PM: Gore and makeup FX fans will find plenty to admire in Leonard MacDonald’s realistic and disgustingly upfront creations in Deadly End. How did you hook up with him and how much of the sluice-y and scabby end results came from creative collaboration with Leonard?
GW: I didn’t know Lennie MacDonald from jack before I started prepping the movie. Hell, if he were wearing a white shirt, tie, and was riding a bike, I would have taken him for some squirrelly Mormon on a mission. It was my dear producer Jeff Kirshbaum who dug him up over at Steve Johnson’s Edge FX factory. Edge FX was ready to start some huge movie when the plug got pulled at the last second, sending the crew scampering for work. I guess Lennie (who worked on Nightmare on Elm Street 4, The Village, Blade II, Men in Black, and Cat in the Hat) was so desperate for work he jumped on board Deadly End. Got to say right here, Lennie MacDonald is awesome. He MADE my little movie. Anyway I meet Lennie after he’s read the script, and it’s like there is no time to do anything because we start shooting in six days. We talk fast, we talk deadly intense, and I start to realize this EXCEEDINGLY mild mannered family-man has a taste for the exotic, as in he gets off looking at books on medical oddities as much as I do.
He shares with me his most treasured personal copies of abnormal dermatology; you know, elephant man skin, great spreading cancers and pustules galore. We also got along famously because Lennie is a stickler for details, just like me. At one point he tells me the story of the coolest thing that ever happened to him. Lennie was driving down a Los Angeles street when he noticed a crowd gathered staring up in the air. Lennie stopped his car and looked up just in time to see a man jump from a twelve-story building … and hit the cement. Cutting through the crowd, Lennie was able to get within two feet of the body meat splatter. For a dedicated professional effects artist, this is a glimpse of heaven. But to answer your question, yeah, we collaborated real good. And yes, everything you see is medically accurate.
PM: Deadly End is a recent benchmark in terms of repulsive horror cinema, it’s a real piece of work that pretty much anyone will have to admit rakes them over the coals in places. As someone who happily provides this kind of cinematic experience, what kinds of movies have had a similar effect on you? Is there even such a thing? Are there genre films you’ve seen that you think have gone too far?
GW: Thanks for the compliment; a benchmark of repulsive horror cinema. That was meant as a compliment right? You’re not screwing with my head are you? Deadly End is a nice movie, it’s meant to provide the entire family with a frolicking happy time, especially little sis, who better get with the movie’s message: keep your god damn under panties on!
I forgot, what’s the question? Oh right, genre films that have gone too far. When people ask me “Graeme what kind of movies do you like?” I answer “I like movies where people get hurt.” Of course, that includes tragic drama and good comedies. But what I don’t like is seeing people getting hurt in the same ways over and over and over again. Most all the “genre” product is so tired and so lame. I’ve pretty much given up going to the movies unless I’m hungry for popcorn, but recently I’ve noticed they are starting to put something in the butter topping at the theaters that’s making me sick. Do like my Hindi films, those are A-OK.
PM: Thanks for your time – to close, you got any future cinematic endeavors or pet projects in waiting you’d care to hint at potentially bringing to life next?
GW: Why not just ask for my social security number, my credit card numbers and my god damn pin numbers. Hell no, I won’t tell. Son-of-a-bitch!
There you have it, folks. That’s Graeme Whifler, a man of many fascinating and horrible stories, not to mention an auteur with a very distinct body of work that no adventurous horror fan has any business missing out on. We don’t know what exactly looms on the horizon in terms of future projects for Graeme Whifler, and are afraid to ask the question again for obvious reasons. But hey, we can prod in other ways – would somebody from Masters of Horror get Whifler on the phone please?