Dante Tomaselli: The King of Indie Psychological and Supernatural Horror films by Greg Tiderington

Dante Tomaselli is a master at psychological horror films as his stories are completely original and bizarre. After his flick 'Desecration' was out on DVD he became a name in the indie horror film industry. He made a follow up titled 'Horror' which sold well too and just completed post-production on his biggest budget flick 'Satan's Playground'. He is now in pre-production with a new flick titled 'The Ocean'! He has cast many horror icons from the 60's, 70's and 80's like Felissa Rose, Ellen Sandweiss, Edwin Neal, Lynn Lowry, Judith O'Dea and Adrienne Barbeau to appear in his films. I had the pleasure talking to Mr. Tomaselli about his career in horror filmmaking as he is a huge fan of 70's and early 80's horror flicks!

Greg: How did you get into the horror film industry?  

Dante: By being relentless.   

Greg: I understood that you started out making short horror films which is normal for any filmmaker that's starting out. What was your first horror short?

Dante: My first horror short was called 'EMOTIONAL VIOLENCE'. Actually there was one before that -- a short film I made to get into Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. It was about an Ouija Board experience -- but it had no name. So - yeah - 'EMOTIONAL VIOLENCE'. I was 17. It was a collage, totally nonlinear, color-saturated. It centered on a girl terrorized by uncontrollable images in her mind. A theme I've always been fascinated by.       

Greg: Where did it play and what kinds of response did it get?  

Dante: It didn't play anywhere. It was just something I showed to people to get them involved in future short films. In my late teens and throughout my twenties, I made a series of shorts. The next one was 'MAMA'S BOY'. These NYC-based 16 mm experimental horror films made me a lot of allies...and a lot enemies. I was polarized from the beginning. There's a lot of horror that inevitably goes on when your in such early stages of independent fimmaking. A lot of crazy, insecure cameramen and special effects artists...a lot of fear, paranoia about money, or I should say raising money....and overblown egos -- sometimes your own.

Greg: What inspired you to make the feature flick of Desecration?

Dante: When I was in college, I made a strange painting of faceless nuns. It was pretty much celebrated at Pratt - I got a lot of good comments about it. Then the weekend I brought it to my family's house - I went into some kind of weird spell and started destroying it. In a trance, I went to the kitchen, opened up the refrigerator and pulled out mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, anything gooey and disgusting that I could find. I splattered it all over the painting. I...desecrated it. When I started writing the screenplay for my first feature, I just knew it had to center on the image of a faceless nun. I knew it had a lot of power...that vision. And with that image, I meshed it with my childhood nightmares...things I couldn't shake from my psyche. Desecration was born. I wrote in a very stream-of-consciousness way. It was like automatic writing, playing with an Ouija Board.

Greg: What kind of budget was the film made on?  

Dante: $150, 000.

Greg: It was an unusual story. What made you decide to make it different than most horror flicks?

Dante: It came out that way naturally.    

Greg: It was a little difficult to follow the story but I remember possessed nuns and Danny Lopes playing a full grown kid named Bobby Rullo in a cage like he was still a baby and Christie Sanford playing his Mom scaring him. What was it all about? 

Dante: I know it was hard to follow. It's a puzzle film. 'Desecration' is about a boy haunted by his mother's death. This Catholic boy believes he's going to hell. The only person who can possibly save him is his dying grandmother. They share a psychic bond.     

Greg: How did you find Irma St. Paule who played the crazed Grandma Matilda? She has been acting in many other films and TV shows and is a name in the industry.  

Dante: She sent me her headshot and resume in the mail and auditioned. Irma responded to a casting call in Backstage Magazine. She came in and read for the part and got it...immediately.

Greg: What was she like to work with?

Dante:  It's exhilarating working with Irma because she's such a fine actress. She's a veteran - I'm in awe of her abilities. I have to say, she did have some diva moments on the set of 'Desecration'. But in retrospect, it was justified. Because the conditions were so cold and she had to go through so much physically...climbing stairs, getting attacked by balloons... I love Irma. She's spellbinding in 'Satan's Playground'. Wait till you see her in that!

Greg: Was there problems with Desecration during post-production?

Dante: Um, actually...no. It ran pretty smoothly. 

Greg: Did it make it to any film festivals? If so which ones?  

Dante: Oh yeah. It was in lots of festivals. The Fantafestival in Rome Italy - that's where it made its world premiere. Was standing-room only. I don't like Festivals.

Greg: It did well on DVD and you had a cult following with the flick. Do you think a sequel will arise?  

Dante: Hmm, you never know. I doubt it. I'd be surprised.  

Greg: I loved your film Horror about kids escaping from a rehab and evil things happening to them. It was almost like a psychological Stephen King experimental type of a film. Were you influenced by his work like The Shining?

Dante: Thanks. Yeah - actually Stephen King and 'The Shining' - the book by him and the movie by Kubrick - huge influences. Definitely growing up in the 70s and 80s, I always had a book by King around. 'Carrie', 'Cujo', 'The Stand', 'Salem's Lot'. So many great ones. But this film, Horror, was really kind of like a sequel to 'Desecration'. Bobby's still going through hell. And the kids escaping from the drug rehab have developed a psychic bond with him. Guilty and sinful, they're going down too. Pure Grace is the sacrificial lamb. 'Horror' is about being trapped in your childhood.

Greg: What brought up the idea to make it?  

Dante: I guess I just wasn't through exploring the universe that I had started with 'Desecration'.

Greg: Were these kids really just imagining zombies, evil parents and reverends attacking them cause of their drug addictions?

Dante: Yes - it can be interpreted that way. Reality is just a perception. And guilt is a very powerful emotion.  

Greg: What made you cast the Amazing Kreskin as Reverend Salo since he was never an actor?

Dante: He contacted me out-of-the-blue. Kreskin wanted to audition for the role of Reverend Salo. Apparently, his agent saw a casting notice.    

Greg: Were there any bloopers during the shoot or scenes you had to cut out?

Dante: Bloopers? Um, hmm, I'm not sure. I'd have to to go back and look at the footage. There were no major scenes I cut out. I shot Horror in only 18 days.

Greg: I thought Christie Sanford's role as Mrs. Salo was great as it was similar to her part in Desecration. Why did she turn evil on her daughter?

Dante: Why did she turn evil on her son...in Desecration? Why do people turn evil? The mysteriousness, the lack of reason, of logic...is what scares me.

Greg: My favourite part was Felissa Rose's cameo as the Art Therapist. Did she have any other footage that was never shown?

Dante: That was my favourite part too! It was exciting filming that scene. I was in heaven. Felissa Rose. We have an electric chemistry. She's a force of nature. No - there was never any footage that wasn't shown, just different takes of the same shots you see in the film.

Greg: Her psycho side in the film was a lot like the ending in Sleepaway Camp. Were you trying to make her role resemble it? Either way I thought it was terrific and effective.

Dante: Thanks, yeah that one shot of her mouth wide open is an homage to her "scream" in 'Sleepaway Camp'. I saw that movie in theaters when I was like 14. I'll never forget that final frame. You don't get any more freaky and bizarre than that.

Greg: Horror got accepted at many film festivals before it went to DVD. Which venue did it have the best response at?

Dante:  DVD. Elite Entertainment ('The Evil Dead', 'Night of the Living Dead', 'The Re-Animator') put it out in May 2003. It was An Amazon.com Top 10 Bestseller under different horror categories. Horror was also, for one week in 2003, # 7 on the IMDb-Pro, out of all the movies. Do a search on the Internet - there are many many reviews. Some hated it. Some loved it. But like Desecration, it did got a lot of attention in the horror world. It even got reviewed in Variety Magazine.

Greg: Now you have just finished post-production with Satan's Playground as Felissa has a lead in it this time. Will this be considered your best work?

Dante: I think it will, yes. I feel I've grown as a filmmaker. It's definitely my most accessible work. But it's bizarre and dreamlike too; I just can't help that. 'Satan's Playground' will have a much wider audience than my other two films. I just know it. We screened 'Satan's Playground' for an audience in NYC recently and the response was excellent.

Greg: What budget was this film made on? Was it bigger than Desecration and Horror or about the same?

Dante: 'Satan's Playground' was made for around $500, 000 - my highest budget yet. 'Horror' was $250, 000 and 'Desecration' was $150, 000.

Greg: Where did you find Ellen Sandweiss since she decided to retire after her work in Evil Dead to start a family?

Dante: We were both featured on the cover of Rue Morgue in June 2002. Inside the magazine, I read that she was touring with the other Ladies of the 'Evil Dead'. I sent her an email. We talked on the phone, met some months later...and the rest you will experience when you watch Satan's Playground. Ellen is a classy lady and a great friend now. I think she's terrific in the film.

Greg: You were wanting Linda Blair to star in it. What happened with that?

Dante: I never pursued Linda after I heard from a very reliable source that she no interest in doing any more horror movies.  

Greg: Will she be in your future projects?

Dante: Probably not -- if she has no passion for working on horror films then I probably wouldn't want to work with her, even though I loved Linda in 'The Exorcist'. But who knows?

Greg: Another disappointment was that Michael Berryman had to drop out shortly before shooting time. Did he have too many commitments?

Dante: Hey - that's life. Michael was shooting something the exact dates we needed him. This is no one's fault -- it's just that our filming schedule kept changing. I'm sure we'll work together on a future film.

Greg: This must've been very intense for you to find a replacement. Felissa brought in Edwin Neal who worked with her in Zombiegeddon and he was a cult favourite as the Hitchhiker in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Were you happy that she found him?

Dante: Luckily, it was very easy to find Edwin Neal as a replacement. Because not only did Felissa have his number, but so did Chris Garetano, the editor of Are You Going? Magazine. They both gave me his home phone number and urged me to contact him. Of course I loved his performance in 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre', so I was eager to communicate with him.

Greg: What was he like to work with? I heard that he's quite a character.

Dante: He's phenomenal to work with. A professional performer. He's a surreal guy, very quirky. We got along very nicely.     

Greg: Who does he play in it as he plays a role named Boy? His pic looks scarier than when he was the Hitchhiker in TCM.

Dante: Edwin's pretty scary in 'Satan's Playground'. He plays a backwoods beast. He sure treated Felissa's character roughly.

Greg: Is Felissa's character as Donna Bruno a victim? Is she intense or scary?  

Dante: She's definitely the victim in this movie. She's not scary -- she's being scared. You experience the film through her eyes, really.

Greg: What about Ellen Sandweiss who plays her sister Paula? Does she turn evil like she did as Cheryl in Evil Dead? Any possessions?

Dante: No - she plays an innocent victim in this film. No possessions.

Greg: Ron Millkie has a supporting role in this flick as police  Officer Peters. It kind of makes me think of his role as Officer Dorf in Friday the 13th. Is there a resemblance to this character?

Dante: Yes, in a way...the swagger. What's different is that in 'Satan's Playground', he's on the receiving end of the gore. Ron didn't get any blood splattered on him in 'Friday the 13th'.

Greg: I also understood that pre-production was tough for you cause the violence in it is way more graphic than in Desecration and Horror, but I'm glad you finally got it off the ground. What is different with this flick than the others?

Dante: It's not that this film is ultra gory. It's not. It's more suggestive. But the violence is very intense, very emotional. It's a dark film. Throughout, you get the feeling of being stalked, relentlessly chased.

Greg: There are rumours that this film is similar to Evil Dead. Is that true?

Dante: Well, yes and no. It's not a gore movie like 'The Evil Dead', that's for sure. But in its stripped down, cabin-in-the-woods feel, I can see how someone could say the atmosphere is a bit similar. Certainly 'The Evil Dead' is an influence. That's one of my Top 5 favorite horror movies of all time. And Ellen Sandweiss had many moments of de-ja-vu on the set of my movie. But 'Satan's Playground' is a conglomeration of all of the horror films I loved from the 70's and early 80's. Lots and lots of films, too many to mention.

Greg: I think it's great you had four familiar horror film actors in the film as already it's getting publicity. You are trying to distribute it to theater's. Any luck with that. If so what company is interested? I think Cineplex Odeon would be great!

Dante: The movie was just completed. So now the producers have to sell it to a distributor. They are definitely aiming for some kind of theatrical release. I do know that.

Greg: When do we expect to see this film as I heard the storyline is terrific?

Dante: Thank you. I hope you'll be seeing 'Satan's Playground' within the next five or six months.

Greg: Now you are in pre-production with The Ocean and again you cast Felissa in this flick. Is Ellen and Edwin going to be in it? Any other names we might know of?

Dante: Yes - next up is 'The Ocean'. And it does star Felissa. Ellen and Edwin? Ya never know. Ellen's daughter, Jessy, who has a cameo in 'Satan's Playground', will be in it. She'll be possessed actually, just like her mom was in The Evil Dead. I love the idea of interlocking characters.

Greg: Have you ever considered Jonathan Tiersten, Brinke Stevens, Judith O Dea, P.J. Soles, Bruce Campbell or Gunnar Hansen for this flick?

Dante: Oh yeah...Judith O' Dea ('Night of The Living Dead') will have a cameo in 'The Ocean'. So will John Fallon (aka The Arrow) from the well-known site Arrow in the Head. He'll be a surfer. More names will be coming soon.

Greg: What is the story all about?  

Dante: A small coastal community terrorized by mysterious and deadly riptides. It's really about a woman haunted by the violent drowning death of her husband and son. She inherits a mansion overlooking the crashing surf. Very gothic, atmospheric, twisted and scary!

Greg: When will you start shooting it?  

Dante: Summer 2005.  

Greg: Your next flick will be the sequel to Alice Sweet Alice. Who do you have in mind to play in it? Do you think Felissa, Edwin and Ellen have a chance?

Dante: I can't think of 'Alice, Sweet Alice 2' right now. After 'The Ocean', I'll talk about it. Each project is different. Whatever feels right each time. Felissa, Ellen and Edwin will definitely be in my future horror films no matter what.

Greg: Do you still plan to make the film Apparition?  

Dante: Actually 'The Ocean' IS 'Apparition'. Same story - I just changed the title.

Greg: Now here's some fun stuff:   What are your favourite horror films?  

Dante: In no particular order...'Don't Look Now, Halloween, The Brood, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Suspiria, Nosferatu, Night of the Living Dead, The Fog, Tourist Trap, Carrie, Rosemary's Baby, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, The Shining, The Omen, The Evil Dead, The Changeling, The Exorcist, The Sentinel, The House with Laughing Windows, The Incubus, Black Christmas, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, The Premonition, Trilogy of Terror, The House That Dripped Blood, Creepshow, The Blob, Videodrome, The Fly, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, Legend of Hell House, The Thing, Damien Omen 2, Dolls, The Sender, Mother's Day...of course Alice, Sweet Alice...'

Greg: Who are your favourite horror film actors?

Dante: You mean people who I haven't worked with yet? Male - I'd say...hmmm, I'm not sure. No one pops into my mind immediately. I'm more in awe of women in horror...Jamie Lee Curtis, Jessica Harper, Glenn Close, Karen Black, Debbie Harry, Sissy Spacek...

Greg: If you were a big time horror film director whether he's alive or dead just for a day who would that be?  

Dante: Lucio Fulci.    

Greg: What makes you happy out of life?

Dante:  Ummm....making movies and having really good sex. Those are the main reasons I live. I'm not kidding.

Greg: What would you change out of a film that you made if you wanted to change it?

Dante: The model plane attacking Sister Madeline in 'Desecration'. I purposely edited it in a fragmented, unreal way. But I went too far and everyone thought it was a mistake. Bad judgment there.

Greg: What is your most treasured work you have done?

Dante: 'Satan's Playground'.  

Greg: What is your ambition in life?

Dante: To have a whole catalogue of movies, horror movies, by the time I'm old and withered in my 70s. It's always been my ambition in life. In this life.