Damien Leone (Terrifier, All Hallow’s Eve) steps up to the directing plate this week for his first full feature, Frankenstein vs. The Mummy (review) – a title that somehow hasn’t been used up to this point. Leone re-worked the film to better suit his straightforward, pull-no-punches style; and both creatures prove to be great subjects to showcase his skills as a makeup artist. After all, who could pass up the chance to design their own versions of Frankenstein’s Monster and The Mummy?
The classic monsters over at Universal have sadly been demoted to B-movie staples for generations, but Damien Leone could eventually be on his way to horror’s A-list. Below, Leone talks about what drew him to Frankenstein vs. The Mummy and how excited he is to finally be working on a full feature of his short film Terrifier, starring the soon-to-be iconic Art the Clown.
DC: I was wondering if you’ve seen “Penny Dreadful” and Rory Kinnear’s work as the creature in that and if it influenced your reimagining of The Monster at all?
DL: I actually have not seen that, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. I was heavily influenced by Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein comic book… I used a lot of that. The muscular physique, that was a big thing. Everybody seems to be really taken aback by the long hair; that’s everybody’s first response when they see The Monster, but if you read the novel, it actually says that he’s got black locks of hair. So, I interrupted that as him having long hair. I wanted to make him look rotten because everybody… I mean, who doesn’t love “The Walking Dead” now? So, I wanted to make him kind of look like a zombie. There are also things that are so iconic about the Boris Karloff Frankenstein that everyone is going to compare it to that. You actually can’t use [that look] anymore because it’s copyrighted by Universal. So, you can’t use the bolts, the square head, or the droopy eyelids. I don’t even think you’re allowed to make him green! Which is cool because I wanted to make my own version. I’m pretty happy with the way he came out.
DC: Just because he has long hair doesn’t mean he’s fronting a metal band. I kind of liked the look.
DL: Thanks, man. I’ve gotten the funniest responses so far.
DC: Were you surprised that there hasn’t been an onscreen confrontation between these two characters? Universal was going to do Frankenstein Meets the Mummy with Lon Chaney, but it got split up into two films, I believe.
DL: It is kind of surprising. I started looking around to see if there was even a B-movie back in the day, or even a new one because there are so many that they all go under the radar now. So, I was sure that somebody did it somewhere, but I was really surprised to find out that they didn’t. That’s what made me really want to do it. Right off the bat, it’s not my kind of movie, honestly. It’s not the kind of horror movies that I’m into making, a versus movie. I would have loved to make standalone movies that’s my own version of Frankenstein or a standalone Mummy movie. Having them both cross is really tricky. It immediately opens you up to ridicule because it’s such an outlandish concept. I figured that would be the challenge, to tackle it, and my style is to keep everything serious where a lot of people immediately make something like that campy. My challenge was to see if it could work, if you could really play it totally serious. I think it came out pretty well; I don’t think it’s too over-the-top or too laughable.
DC: It’s just a pulp idea so it is hard to walk that line and not be tempted to make it a little campy and turn it into something that’s Freddy vs. Jason.
DL: Exactly, it’s just not my style. If something was inadvertently campy but it becomes funny when you’re trying to be serious, it becomes charming almost if it works. If you set out to make it campy, that kind of movie, to me, never works.
DC: You did get some good performances out of Constantin and Brandon deSpain, whom I think you’ve worked with before.
DL: He’s my go-to guy for a monster!
DC: Through the prosthetics you got good performances out of them. I wanted to see more of them. Was the idea to hold back on seeing too much of them so the confrontation towards the end had more impact?
DL: I don’t know if you’re aware, but they wanted this movie to be… this wasn’t my idea to make this film; I didn’t come up with the concept. My producer reached out to me, and he had a thirty-page treatment for a found footage Frankenstein vs. The Mummy movie. He asked me if I wanted to do the special effects for it. Before I knew anything about it, I said absolutely I’ll do the special effects for it. Who wouldn’t want that? It’s every makeup artist’s dream. He asked me if I’d want to direct it as well, so I was a little more hesitant because it’s so much work and you literally take all the blame if a movie is terrible. Found footage isn’t my thing so I asked him if I could rewrite the entire story and make it my own.
I wanted to build the characters a lot and see if the audience could really care about the characters. It wasn’t really about holding the creatures off. I tried as much as I could with the budget we had since I was doing all the makeup and directing. I really tried as much as I could to put the monsters in there and give them their own kills before they fight. I’ve been noticing in a lot of found footage movies, you don’t even see the monster until the last five minutes of the movie. You watch an hour and ten-minute movie, and in the last five minutes you finally catch a glimpse of the monster. You can’t do that to fans; they deserve to see more. The Frankenstein character is a really deep character; he shouldn’t just be a character that shows and just fights and grunts. He’s very layered. I read the novel, and I was surprised at how articulate and intelligent he is, and half the novel is even written in his perspective. I’ll probably never make a found footage movie; I’m just not interested whatsoever.
DC: Putting iconic characters into a found footage concept isn’t a great idea; you were smart to avoid that. Why don’t we just make a found footage movie with E.T.? You did get Robert McNaughton to come on board, and he’s been pretty much out of the acting world since E.T.
DL: That’s true. He is the nicest guy I’ve ever met in my entire life. He’s just such a pleasure to work with. People immediately associate him with E.T.
DC: Did you learn any Spielberg filmmaking tricks from McNaughton?
DL: I didn’t, but he definitely has a lot of cool E.T. stories so that’s pretty wild. Spielberg is one of my heroes, and my favorite movie of all time is Jaws. That was really cool to be working with someone who worked with Steven Spielberg; that was like a dream.
DC: Is this film leading into your full feature of Terrifier? Is that the idea?
DL: I’m in pre-production right now so we’re going to start shooting in the spring. It’s going to be the most graphic and disturbing film I’ve made so far.
DC: One thing we love is “graphic and disturbing.”
DL: (laughs) There’s a couple things in there, I’ve said to people, that I don’t think have ever been shown before. A couple of murder scenes. There’s two in particular that I’ve had the idea for quite some time and I question whether or not I should actually put it in the movie. But I’m definitely going to do it anyway! That’s what Art the Clown does.
Frankenstein vs. The Mummy is now available on Blu-ray and for Digital rental.
Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Egyptologist Naihla Khalil are both professors at a leading medical university. Victor’s latest grisly “experiment” is the re-animated corpse of a sadistic madman, and Naihla’s most recent find is the cursed mummy of an evil pharaoh. When the two monsters face-off in an epic showdown, no one is safe from the slaughter. Can the murderous rampage be stopped and the carnage contained before it’s too late?