There has been a fascinating chain of events that started with the pairing of Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof in a double bill called Grindhouse in 2007. The public didn’t know what to make of it at the time and what was the first major flop for the duo but has since found a big audience on home video.
What made the double bill extra fun was that it was peppered with faux-trailers by Rodriguez, Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright and Eli Roth. Since then one of the trailers, Machete has been made into a full length feature film and Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is currently in production. If you were lucky enough to see Grindhouse in select North Eastern United States and Canada theatres at the time, you got to see a faux trailer contest winner to make their big screen debut. That winner was Hobo with a Shotgun , which of course has been made into its own feature film starring Rutger Hauer and released earlier this year. With the release of Hobo with a Shotgun the filmmaker, Darthmouth-native Jason Eisner, ran his own contest for a faux-trailer to be shown at the beginning of the feature and available on the DVD release. That winning trailer is called Van Gore, made by local filmmakers Keith Hodder and Peter Strauss. Keith and Peter took a few moments to speak with Toronto Film Scene about their winning trailer and state of grindhouse cinema in Canada.
Tell us how the Van Gore trailer and film idea came about?
Keith: Well, the minute I heard about the contest I was already thinking of ideas. I’m very lucky as a writer that, if I have to think of an idea in a crunch, that I normally will. Van Gore was one of the first ideas and the foundations of the characters were built pretty much from the get-go. I just wanted to return to the slasher genre and try to make something original.
Peter: After hearing about the Hobo With A Shotgun contest, Keith called me up and told me he had a title for a trailer about an artist, “Van Gore”. I thought it was brilliant and clever so I came over after work and our friend Jerrad Pulham came as well and we sat around screening old trailers while brainstorming and were able to come up with a script in a night.
There seems to be quite a pattern of faux-trailers being made into feature films now starting with Machete, Hobo with a Shotgun and later this year with Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving. Do you see this as the new venue for filmmakers to plug their ideas to the public and to the studios?
Keith: It’s hard to say really. It is definitely a fad right now but I am nervous that perhaps the audiences out there are already a bit skeptical of the whole rebirth of grindhouse [cinema]. It is definitely a niche audience, but with that being said, I know that there will always been an audience out there that abides by exploitation films.
Peter: It’s a very cost-efficient way to make a detailed pitch. You can display your concept, characters, tone, and technical chops all at once. And rather than a written pitch where someone might say, “oh that sounds neat”, you can actually show people and gather a following and audience who is already excited about the prospect of a full length version.
Despite breakthrough Canadian horror films like Black Christmas and Cannibal Girls in the 1970’s, there hasn’t really been a tradition of horror/grindhouse cinema in Canada. Why do you think that is so and do you think it is changing now?
Keith: Let’s not forget that George A. Romero has made his last three films in Canada ( Land of the Dead , Diary of the Dead , and Survival of the Dead ). Sure, he’s an American director but he has brought his zombies to the Canadian battlefield. And we can’t forget incredibly influential directors like David Cronenberg who have kicked out amazing films like The Fly and Videodrome . And then you have films like My Bloody Valentine , Cube , and””a new addition Pontypool . If anything a lot of Canadian directors have pioneered horror and grindhouse filmmaking and with Jason Eisener blowing everyone away with Hobo with a Shotgun , I don’t think this is the end.
Peter: It’s always hard to say how the Canadian film industry will evolve, but I think horror is a pivotal and often overlooked aspect of our industry. To me, the tax shelter era of the 1970s was the high point for Canada’s industry. There were problems, sure, but it presented such an opportunity for young, enthusiastic filmmakers to try new, crazy things and actually get to do it. Before and since then there has been a hesitation to do anything too radical in this industry. The direct competition from the American blockbuster films makes it difficult for our own movies to find an audience in theatres. I do believe though, with Hobo With A Shotgun as an early example, that horror can find a wider audience in Canada through home video and On-Demand services which succeeded for Hobo . Without being forced out of a 10-screen theatre by a Todd Phillips movie, these types of movies can really take advantage of new technologies for viewers.
What were some of the horror films that influenced and inspired the look and feel of the trailer?
Keith: We actually watched a lot of trailers for Van Gore . Trailers for films like Texas Chain Saw Massacre , and The Hills Have Eyes were very influential to us and naturally we were quite inspired by the original Hobo with a Shotgun trailer. If any one film had a direct influence on our trailer it was Zombi 2 by Lucio Fulci. The end shot in Van Gore is a direct homage to the film’s famous eye-popping scene.
Peter: Surprisingly, probably the biggest inspiration came from early De Palma films. We looked at Sisters , Carrie , and even Dressed to Kill for ideas about tone, pacing, and music. We wanted to infuse that legitimate creepiness with the more outlandish elements of exploitation films and trailers so we watched trailers for Cannibals Girls , Deranged , Friday the 13th , Vampyres , and The Last House on the Left .
You co-directed Van Gore together. Tell us about that working relationship and how that came about?
Peter: Keith and I met working at HMV in Toronto and would chat about movies and video games. We started scoping out obscure movies at screenings on DVD and checking them out before we decided to start working together. I do mostly post-production work so I would do title sequences and effects for Keith before we started working in production as a team.
Keith: It was written by myself, Peter Strauss & Jerrad Pulham (who was also our DOP). I’ve been going to school with Jerrad for three years””going on four and I’ve always known him to be a passionate and motivated individual. We had a great and talented team not only in the core, but in every member of the cast and crew.
Van Gore has been shown at the front of Hobo with a Shotgun in the cinema and now on the DVD release. What has been the reaction been like to the trailer?
Keith: We really sought out to make something that was fun and enjoyable to watch and people seem to like it. We’ve received a lot very kind words and praise and I still don’t know what to think about that, it’s very weird when people douse you with praise and well-versed words. It’s touching for sure, but I still don’t know how to handle it properly. It certainly makes me blush.
Peter: We’ve received great responses to the trailer. It was a surreal experience watching it with a live audience and really rewarding to see jokes or situations you plan play out perfectly and have the audience respond to it exactly as you intended. We have had some people call us out for the similarities to Roger Corman’s Bucket of Blood which was just one of those funny coincidences. Neither Keith or I had seen the movie, or the trailer, so when we watched it afterwards we were amused by how the ideas carried over. It’s like a sort of parallel thinking, only 50 years apart.
The runner-up trailers in the contest have been posted on the Hobo website and on youtube as well. What were some of your favourites?
Keith: Honestly I have never been more nervous in my life watching those other videos come in because a lot of those trailers were done amazingly well. I literally sat on my computer for days watching new videos come in and watching nearly everyone of them. Naturally everyone in the top five crafted some fantastic, imaginative and hilarious stuff. The three of us actually also loved an unrecognized one called Sweet Fucking Bunny . It was made by a few teenagers with a lot of heart and it is a lot of fun to watch. Also Demonitron had some amazing effects!
Peter: My absolute favourite is Earwigs done by a filmmaker in New Brunswick. I thought they lampooned that era of monster movie flawlessly. The cheesy monsters, the prop tank, the music, and most of all the title design. Just perfect.
The trailer has received over 27,000 views on youtube, how do you see how online sites like this have changed how short films and projects like this get shown and promoted?
Peter: It goes without saying that YouTube has revolutionized film distribution. There was a time where we could have made this trailer and it be seen by only a handful of people and winning this competition would have been a much smaller deal. The speed in which a video can move around the world changes not only our fan base, but our exposure as filmmakers.
Keith: It makes filmmakers believe that they no longer need film festivals to get recognized. Sometimes this is true, sometimes it’s not. I like websites like Vimeo and YouTube, I’ve made friends with fellow filmmakers who I first met on YouTube, but I feel like it has really diluted the importance of film festivals. I recommend that all filmmakers take the initiative to shell out a few coins and submit their films to festivals. A lot of great experiences are on the horizon and they have a great potential for networking.
Has there been any offers to make the trailer into a feature film?
Peter: We have had discussions about the prospect of a feature film, it all simply depends on the script and our own commitments. Only time will tell if it comes to fruition, and we can only ask fans to continue to share the trailer with friends because each new view makes the dream more a reality.
Keith: We’ve been brewing some ideas for the feature film that will really add to what we’ve already done and surprise a lot of people. I also don’t want people to think that we assume that because we’ve won this contest that we deserve a feature film automatically. We know this will take time, we know we’re going to have to work really hard, and we really want to write a great script that will be enjoyable for everyone watching. If we get to make this feature film, we’ll be very, very privileged. I have my fingers crossed, but at the same time, I know something like this is all about the initiative from myself and our team.
One of the interesting things about Hobo was they kept the location of the film in their hometown of Dartmouth Nova Scotia. If your film for Van Gore is made, do you plan on keeping it in a Canadian location?
Peter: Absolutely, we had never even considered it as anything other than a Canadian film. We would like to keep it in an urban environment since we are poking fun at art movements and cultural zeitgeists with the artist who preys on beatniks. We’d love for Van Gore to be Toronto’s evil twin of Warhol, factory and all. It’s important for us to keep it Canadian and try to keep promoting and pushing more Canadian horror and develop a new era of Canuxploitation.