Up Close with Filmmaker Richard Griffin

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


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The horror: Richard Griffin's old-school scares

Though the current mainstream horror landscape consists of an abundance of unoriginal sequels and prequels, the old-school horror genre is alive and well thanks to Providence director Richard Griffin. After getting his start directing local shows and commercials, Griffin graduated to helming feature films in 2004 when he co-founded Scorpio Film Releasing with Ted Marr. Since then, Griffin has become a major player in the independent film community due to original offerings like Nun of That, Atomic Brain Invasion and The Disco Exorcist.

Just one week away from the world premiere of his new movie Exhumed, GoLocal decided to check in with Richard to discuss his latest movie, his filmmaking inspirations and future projects.

First off, can you give me an overview of Exhumed?

Exhumed is a rather gothic horror story set in a house where six people live. The movie is set over the course of four days, and during that time loneliness, solitude, fear and longing will lead this unlikely group of house mates to the darkest edges of life and death. The less I say about the movie, the better. I want as much of the plot to remain a mystery. I think us filmmakers tell too much about our movies before the audience has a chance to see them. It ruins the surprise and sense of discovery.

I will say that Exhumed has one of the finest screenplays I've ever had the pleasure of directing, and the acting is top-notch. Exhumed is a truly original film in a time of endless retreads. I think for that reason alone people should see it.

Exhumed seems like a major departure from your previous films like Nun of That and The Disco Exorcist; what inspired this new approach?

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Griffin's latest, premiering this weekend

Every movie I make, I want to try something different. My thought is, if you're making films with a really low budget, you might as well experiment. There's nothing more depressing than watching an indie film that just tries to copy what Hollywood is doing. A fifty-cent version of a 50 million dollar film, you know?

When we did Atomic Brain Invasion, I was making it a direct homage to 50s science-fiction horror films like The Blob, so I wanted to make it PG, which was a first for us; a movie everyone could enjoy. And it was awesome having children in the audience really digging the film. But after that, we followed it up with the very NC-17 rated The Disco Exorcist. But that change wasn't really a conscious decision on my part. One day the title just popped into my head... and I thought, well, that would make for a really great film!

Exhumed actually came from a nightmare I had years ago. It was just an image, a single image of a corpse being hid away in a dumb waiter. I wrote up a very rough outline of a screenplay, but it really was screenwriter Guy Benoit who brought it to life on paper.
Speaking of Guy Benoit, what type of script did he deliver for Exhumed?

I've known Guy since the early 90s, back in the stone age where there were basically four filmmakers in Rhode Island. Guy was always the apt pupil, the brightest light, smart as a whip, funny as hell and a brilliant filmmaker.

Guy and I hadn't seen each other for almost a decade, and when we ran into each other around 2009, I asked him to re-write the screenplay for Atomic Brain Invasion. The script he handed in was so damn witty and clever I knew I wanted to work with him again on an original project.

Guy's screenplay for Exhumed, as I mentioned before, was breathtakingly original. When you've seen as many movies over a lifetime as I have, it's hard to find something that doesn't remind you of another film. But this was so beyond what I was expecting, and it really was the quality and originality that made people want to work on this movie. It excited people in a way that another run of the mill slasher, monster, or slacker comedy might have not.

The trailer for Exhumed, especially the black and white aspect, reminds me of a Hitchcock movie. Was this deliberate?

I think any filmmaker worth their salt is inspired by Hitchcock. He coined an entire visual vocabulary that is still in use today. But the main reason I shot the film in black and white is when I read Guy Benoit's screenplay, I just pictured the movie in black and white. There's was just this quality to the script that demanded that, so there seemed like there really wasn't any option to use color as the tone of the movie is so bleak and hopeless.

Also, it was a subtle protest on my part because of the way movies are done now. It seems like a lot of current filmmakers no longer actually use color. Everything is tinted in post either teal or orange. I find it lazy. If you're not going to actually use color as a tool to tell your story, to create a mood, you might as well shoot in black and white.

Exhumed marks the fifth time you've worked with actor Michael Reed; what makes him such a good fit for your films?

Michael is simply a dream to work with. I really believe he is one of the finest actors of his generation. He comes to the set prepared, he knows his character inside and out, and he's not afraid to take risks. Any actor who is self-conscious and is unable or unwilling to take risks... to look foolish or corny, or in the case of The Disco Exorcist to pretty much spend a good deal of the running time in various stages of undress... is not an actor I want to work with. I want someone who is going to be behind the project 100 percent. Anything else is fraud.

Another thing about Michael is, there's zero cynicism about him. He really believes in what he's doing, and he tackles it full on. That's very rare, and he has my undying respect for that.

Likewise, you have worked with Sarah Nicklin on six features; what makes Sarah so appealing to you?

Well, for a lot of the same reasons I love working with Michael Reed. Sarah always comes to the set with a great attitude. She's very positive, extremely beautiful and works harder than 10 actors put together. She's deadly serious about her work and the performance she's giving, but there's zero ego with her.

You also have to remember that Sarah and Michael did more than act in these films. Sarah was the co-editor on Atomic Brain Invasion and The Disco Exorcist, and Michael created a lot of the art design for the movies he worked on with me. They've both done everything from painting sets to building costumes. Sarah spent countless hours at my place cutting and sowing the multiple nun robes for Nun of That.

And finally, we're really good friends. And now that they've both moved to Los Angeles, I miss them a great deal, but the friendship survives!

You have been able to attract some notable cult actors like Lynn Lowry, Ken Foree and Debbie Rochon to your projects; do you have any other stars on your wish list?

If I had my wish, I would love to work with Ernest Borgnine! There's not too many members of "old Hollywood" left, and it would be such a great honor just to be in the same room with him, never mind directing him.

I had the same feeling when I was directing Ken Foree in Splatter Disco. Here's this legend... Peter from Dawn of the Dead.... and he's on my set saying my dialogue! After the first take on his first day on the set, I was so star-struck I forgot to call "cut"! But he was a big sweetheart and the same goes to Debbie Rochon and Lynn Lowry. Absolutely no ego whatsoever.

In 2008 you directed Beyond the Dunwich Horror, which is based on a story written by Providence native HP Lovecraft; how has Lovecraft and/or Providence in general influenced you?

I think everyone who loves this genre owes a great deal to writers like Lovecraft and Poe. I remember in grade school reading my first Lovecraft tale and he mentioned Benefit Street in Providence. I was amazed! That was the street my father lived on as a kid!

There is a rather gothic atmosphere about living in Providence, and in New England in general. There's so much rich history here, and thankfully we preserve it. The architecture really lends itself to all things gothic, haunting and mysterious. Our buildings, our historic graveyards. Anytime I need some inspiration for a story, I'll take a long walk in Swan Point cemetery and just let it all that history sink in.

Lastly, what projects are you currently working on?

We have three pictures that we're gearing up to shoot in 2012, including Murder University written by Rhode Island playwrite Lenny Schwartz, Frankenstein in a Woman's Prison written by Guy Benoit and The Disco Exorcist II: The New Wave written by Tony Nunes. We're also planning on producing our first original Web series titled Hell Week, which was written by genre screenwriter Matthew Jason Walsh (The Killer Eye).

Exhumed premieres on Friday, November 11th at the Orpheum Theater in Foxboro, MA. If you would like to purchase tickets simply visit www.scorpiofilmreleasing.net.


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