Michael Hoffman Jr.-The Creator of Horror Films You'll Die Laughing With.... by Greg Tiderington

Florida native Michael Hoffman has been in the independent film industry since he was a kid. He enjoys making horror films but aims for them to be funnier than scary but still the horror film fans can enjoy his work as he has a unique style with them. He is famous for his recent work in the horror film anthologies of Scary Tales which stars character actor Joel D. Wynkoop who plays the demented storyteller Mr. Longfellow. I had the honour to interview this fine filmmaker as he has a busy schedule coming up of more slaspstick horror that will star Linnea Quigley, Reggie Bannister and James Palmer.



Greg: At what age did you see yourself as an entertainer?

Michael: I starated making "movies" very young. About 4 years old. I would re-enact police chase scenes, with my mother playing a cop, sitationing me.

I recieved my first camcorder (a Fischer Price black and white, which recorded on audio cassette tapes) when I was 6, and began shooting mini-features. Usually variations on films like "The Pink Panther" or television series like "Get Smart".

When I was 10, I was given my first color camcorder and began making flicks like "Friday the 13th: Jason's Revenge" and "Halloween: The End of Michael Meyers".

Greg: Did you see yourself directing and producing horror flicks?

Michael: I haven't really seen myself doing anything else (aside from maybe a sales job; I've always been great with commissioned pay).

Greg: What was your first gig?

Michael: My first official job was on a shoestring budgeted flick called "Truth or Dare 3: Screaming For Sanity". I just helped with casting and production assistant duties. I wasn't on set very much.

Greg: Who was in it and what was the story about?

Michael: It starred Joel D. Wynkoop ("Killing Spree"), and was the third entry in the "Truth or Dare" saga, which follows serial killer Mike Strauber. The original "Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness" was a huge success on the video market in 1986.

Greg: Did it have a theatrical release or film festival or was it just direct-to-DVD and video?

Michael: Straight-to-video, baby; with a theatrical premiere at the now-defunct Festival Theater in Ft .Pierce, Florida. That was a really neat place! Unfortunately, the smoking ban in Florida killed it. The movie's currently available from Sub Rose Studios.

Greg: What was the experience like with it?

Michael: I had fun. I was only 16 at the time, and didn't have a whole hell of a lot to do.

Greg: Any familiar actors work in it?

Michael: Just Joel, really. I guess Bill Cassinelli (who stars in the "Scary Tales" series) also had a cameo.

Greg: What kinds of a response did the movie get?

Michael: I think pretty negative from the fans of the series, to be honest. Tim Ritter had kind of run out of budget by the third entry. Ashame; as the script was definately there.

Greg: What was it like making "Scary Tales"?

Michael: A lot of fun. It was my first feature, and was a hell of a learning experience. I was 19 when we started.

Our main goal was to keep the script as small as possible; within our (tiny) budgetary constraints.

Bill and I had the same concerns. We'd rather do as much as we can with a small concept than try to do too much with too little. Our on-set budget (not counting equipment and post) was basically just enough to cover our needs.

Greg: What inspired you to make it?

Michael: Renting a slew of bad straight-to-video movies that were unintentionally funny. We decided to make a horror film that we knew was cheesy/campy, and if folks decided to take seriously, the joke would be on them.

Also, the little-seen 1980 film "Fiend" starring Don Leifert as Mr. Longfellow. In fact, all the major character names in the "Scary Tales" series were inspired by this turkey.

Greg: I remember the opening had a comic book title page on it and it very much reminded me of "Creepshow" as that was how the film started as. Were you hoping to have that same feel as well?

Michael: Absolutely. As a big fan of EC comics, Bill Cassinelli (who also served as co-writer) and I wanted to make sure the stories contained irony, rather than just horror and plot twists; much like the old comics/graphic novels.

Greg: How did you find Joel D. Wynkoop to play the role of Mr. Longfellow?

Michael: I was walking out of a store one day, and this drunken homeless guy asked me for some spare change. I gave him a couple of quarters, and started a conversation, only to find he was a failed actor! We spoke for a while, and he told me his name was Joel Wynkoop...

Just Kidding.

I had worked on "Dirty Cop No Donut" and "Truth or Dare: Screaming For Sanity" with Joel a few years back. I thought he had the perfect demeanor and attitude for a character like Mr. Longfellow.

Greg: What was he like to work with? Is he really a character like Mr. Longfellow?

Michael: Yes. Joel enjoys telling stories and then slaughtering those who aren't interested in listening. One thing you learn on a Joel D. Wynkoop set is to NOT argue once he starts talking!

Actually, Joel is a very quiet, reserved guy. He's appeared in about 30 films/television shows, and everytime a director meets him, they seem to have the same reaction. "Wow. I thought that guy would be a LOT louder."

The best way to describe Joel is as a determined actor and loving father.

Greg: Did Bill Cassinelli feel awkward playing a nerdy type named Dennis Frye?

Michael: It's amazing to think that Bill really is a ladies man...He actually gained thirty pounds for the role, and began using intentionally bad one-liners at bars when picking up women; just to steady his character.

No. Actually, I'm sure Bill will tell you...he is very much a self-proclaimed dork; with weekly "Dungeons and Dragons" games held at his home. The role was tailor written for him ;-)

Greg: I remember the first chapter "I Aint Got No Body" as Lindsay Horgan did a great job playing a nasty girl named Jamie. What was she really like in person?

Michael: She's my ex-girlfriend. At the time, great in person! Now...well, I'm bitter. So, I'll pass up this question. That said; I'm sure if she reads this (years later), she'll be happy to see your positive comments.

Greg: My favourite chapter is "Hit & Run" as I laughed so hard with the dolls invading Dennis Frye after accidentally killing that little girl. The Cabbage Patch Kid was the funniest one but the horror came in the end of the chapter. What brought up the idea to do that one?

Michael: Bill wanted to write a variation on both the "Talking Tina" episode of "The Twilight Zone" and hitchhiker segmeng of "Creepshow 2". He was in charge of script; and I found it rather interesting that we shot a whole segement as primarily one big montage - with very little dialoge.

Greg: The chapter totally reminded me of a Twilight Zone type of feel to it. Did you feel the same way about it?

Michael: Sure. Absolutely. Mr. Cassinelli's intentions all the way.

Greg: Were you a fan of the Twilight Zone?

Michael: A huge one growing up. I used to catch all the re-runs on PBS before bed.

Greg: The last chapter “The Death Of….” Was very much like a Tales from the Crypt chapter. Have you enjoyed watching that series and it gave you an idea to do that chapter?

Michael: That was definately my favorite show for a long time (well, that and "Monsters"). Again, a lot of inspiration came from there; between the campy humor and acting.

Greg: Now it was shot at a Motel. Did that cost a lot to do as they can be pricey.

Michael: Nah. We kept the whole movie on the cheap, and came-in under budget.

Greg: It ran at some film festivals available to the public. What kinds of responses did the film get and where did it play at?

Michael: Usually very positive. That said, a lot of people do dislike the film (which I don't blame them), as I'm not quite sure if they got what we were going for. A very campy throwback to 80's cinema, with homages to some of the lamest films of all time. That said, I consider "Scary Tales" a comedy as opposed to a horror feature.

Greg: Were viewers excited about the upcoming sequel and returned to watch it?

Michael: Not as many as we've hoped. It's really weird. The first did so well; and we loaded part 2 up with horror icons and some really great make-up effects artists. Hell, even the first segment became the film "Identity" with John Cusak.

It's been a favorite with critics, and film festivals; but the general public who hasn't screened the film has been luke-warm. I wonder if it we didn't do a good job getting the word out.

We had great showings at the Rebel Film Festival (Tennessee ), Screamfest (Florida), Dark Xmas (Ohio), Cinema Paradiso (Florida); and so many other places. With TONS of audience choice awards. That said; it has sold extremely well at conventions nationwide; with return customers either bringing friends, or sometimes, buying extra copies to mail to relatives (overseas!).

A lot of distributors had made offers; but we decided it would be best to try direct sales. I recently signed it with Disruptive Media, Los Angeles; who currently offer it directly through the internet (order at www.scarytalesonline.com *hint hint*).

Greg: I enjoyed the sequel so much better and it also had some familiar horror film faces like Felissa Rose and Joe Estevez. Did this one have a bigger budget to pay everyone?

Michael: Sure. A lot more. That was the priciest thing I'd ever been involved with (at the time).

Greg: I liked the fact that there was another killer named Don Leifert getting away from the slaughterings of some hookers he killed. Now the actor named Jason Daly played that role and he wrote and directed the film with you. Did you feel that it was less pressuring having someone else on board to help you with the film?

Michael: Absolutely. Jay was a HUGE asset; and a lot of the more polished look (especially when it came to the editing/visual fx) are on Jay's part. It's ashame he couldn't make it for Felissa's segment.

Greg: What is Jason like to work with?

Michael: A really good guy; easy going. I'm bringing him up to Illinois to assist me with my next two features.

Greg: In the first chapter "Charlies Demons" the story was complicated but it came altogether and it was a lot darker than the chapters from your first one. Did you feel it was necessary to have a dark chapter in the film?

Michael: Yep. We still tried to keep it campy; with the dialogue and characters cliched of the genre. That's why I didn't care for "Identity". It went too damn serious for me.

Greg: Was it meant for the audience to wonder “Why is this all happening????”

Michael: We were hoping the audience would guess the first plot twist, and tried to make it obvious as to what was going on. The second, however, was what we wanted to stick. Of course, it's now ruined for anyone who's seen "Identity".

Greg: I remember the actor Neill Cotter who played the bad ass Shoogy. In real life did he get along with everyone and laughed about his character?

Michael: Neil's a great actor; and is starring in Jason Daly's latest project. He's definately a laid-back, easy going guy. It's so funny...people look for things to complain about in low budget flicks all the time. Just at a recent screening, some guy said - "Who's the guy with the phony, English accent?". I was like, "uhhh...He IS from England".

Greg: The gore effects were quite good. What did you use for them?

Michael: Jay has a special mixture for blood he refuses to give away. For the fake head; he used a wig and styrofoam. He actually built a fake body for the final kill, and mixed latex applications with other goodies.

Greg: Now we have Bill Cassinelli return as Dennis Frye employed at a store as some of the same dialogues were used but in a positive way this time. Was it a joke to his chapter of "I Aint Got No Body"?

Michael: You caught that! Yeah. I wrote the whole thing as an homage...Trying to be careful that people who didn't see the first one wouldn't be lost...or have it ruined if they decide to watch the chapters backward in order.

Greg: Felissa played his girlfriend Sarah. What was it like working with her?

Michael: She was a sweetie. Provided wine for the crew/actors after the shoot; and was extremely easy to get along with (and on they eyes). She didn't have much time to prep; and the shoots were grueling (shot over 2 nights); but she did a damn fine job. I read on Racks And Razors that she wasn't happy with her performance(?). That's a shame! I think it's definately a side of her that the general viewing audience never sees.

Greg: Did you ever see her in any of her films or stage work?

Michael: Stage work? No. Films, sure! I was a big "Sleepaway Camp" fan growing up. I also have "Grandma's Secret Recipe" and have checked out "Horror" and "Corpses are Forever".

Greg: She seemed to have good timing with the comedic lines and the action in it fighting the zombies. Were you amazed by her performance?

Michael: I thought she was extremely natural; given the ludicriousy of the situation/dialogue.

Greg: The film was almost like Buffy the Vampire Slayer but with zombies in it. Was this what you were basing it on?

Michael: Nothing, really. Blatant silly-ness. I guess maybe a campier "Evil Dead"?

Greg: Now the final chapter was my favourite titled "7:23" as you did great with the darkness as it gave a perfect touch to it. It was again like a Twilight Zone/The Shining edge to it. Was this chapter a favourite to viewers like the Hit & Run one was?

Michael: Thanks for the kind comments!

It's weird, because while "7:23" has definately been a viewer favorite (but not mine; I prefer Felissa's segment); "Hit and Run" was not well liked! You may be in the minority, there. But, hey. The sign of a strong anthology is a different favorite segment from the majority of the viewers.

Greg: Joe Estevez looked like he had fun in his role as the Desk Clerk and he reminded me of his brother Martin Sheen in every film I see him in. How was he like to direct?

Michael: Joe was a lot stronger in the role than we expected! I just told him what we'd like, and then...bam! There was this great character. He really chewed the scenery with our dialogue (that segment was co-written by Richard Cecere with myself). He's picked up quite a few awards and rave reviews.

We love Joe; and I'd work with him over his brother any day.

Greg: Another amazing actor in that chapter was Jesse Furman who played the nasty criminal Frank Draven. How did you find him? Has he done other acting gigs?

Michael: Jesse starred in a mafia-drama called "Christian Soldiers" which I co-shot and edited for Richard Cecere (the "7:23" co-writer). The minute I saw his work, I knew we had to have him. It's no surprise, however, that he's a (successful) professional stage actor, with a lot of credits under his belt. His next release is "Bad List" which (again, no surprise) is directed by "Scary Tales 2" veteran Jason Daly. It's an action film with some truly outrageuos scenes.

Greg: He made his character so believeable. How did he relate to his character?

Michael: I think he saw the character as a yuppie, and went with it. Jesse's not like that at all. The hardest thing for me was framing the segment, as Mr. Estevez (as with all his family), is quite short, and Jesse's about 6'4.

Greg: The chapter reminded me of a chapter I starred in called "The Horror Seasons" which was titled "The Darkest Secret". Look out for it as it’s available on DVD at Amazon.com if you’re interested. But anyhow, Robert ZDar made a special appearance as a police officer named Cordell who catches Leifert thinking it was Longfellow in the end of the film but he worked for Longfellow too as he reveals that in the end. Was his character kind of like a joke to his role in "Maniac Cop"?

Michael: Absolutely. Same name. Different demeanor.

Greg: The fellow who talks to Cordell was that Longfellow with a quick plastic surgery? I mean he was shot to death by Leifert.

Michael: Nope. That was the homeless fellow who shuffles about the car lot. All is explained in part 3 (if we ever get that far)

Greg: I understand that Robert ZDar can be difficult to work with. Was there any issues on set with him?

Michael: Where'd you get that idea? He was great!

In other words, no comment.

Greg: I read on the closing credits that there will be a part 3. Will that one see the light of day? Who will it star?

Michael: Well, it's set to star Wynkoop, Daly, Cassinelli, and the other series veterans. Will it see the light of day? Well, I've already had the money offered to make it, but turned it down to persue other films. My main concern is making sure fans enjoy part 2 before we shell out the final segment. That said, "Scary Tales 3 or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Longfellow" is by far my favorite of the scripts; but I want to make sure it guarantees a fiscal return for the investor.

Greg: Now you had a difficult time distributing the films onto DVD. What were the reasons?

Michael: I really just don't want to be ripped off by the distributors. We've run into trouble before, and I don't want to ever go through that again. Have we had offers? Yeah. From large companies? Sure. Was there any up-front money involved? Nope. And that smells trouble.

That said, Disruptive Media's done a fine job.

I'm just concerned it's going to end up with an overseas release only!

Greg: How well is it selling on your site?

Michael: Pretty well. We haven't advertised a lot, but word of mouth has kept sales steady enough. We could definately use some support.

Greg: Will it ever be available at amazon.com as well as selling and renting in DVD stores?

Michael: It should be! Until then, again... www.scarytalesonline.com

Greg: Did you ever get reviewed or interviewed in magazines like Fangoria?

Michael: Personally, no. The projects I've worked on have gotten quite a bit of coverage. I've usually remained in the background.

Greg: What is your next project?

Michael: I'm directing 2 films with (surprise) actual budgets.

Disruptive Media very kindly let me split $100,000 into two features, which I'm shooting in Illinois this October. The first is "Spring Break Massacre", which is an 'old school' slumber party slasher. It stars Reggie Bannister (the "Phantasm" series), Linnea Quigley ("Return of the Living Dead") and a LOT of other genre veterans. It's also written by a first time screenwriter, Meghan Jones, who really knows the confines of the genre. And, get this, she's actually a poet!

I'm following "Spring Break" with "R.O.T. - Reunion of Terror", which was co-written by Bill Cassinelli ("Scary Tales"). The only attached star is James Palmer from ("Jigsaw"), but Disruptive Media hasn't even started casting yet. Definately ecpect some big names. It's a slasher film based upon the ten year high school reunion of old friends, one of which with a dark secret.

We're set for 20 brutal filming days over the Halloween month.

Greg: Now here’s some fun stuff:

What are your favourite horror films?

Michael: I have some wierd ones; "In The Mouth of Madness", "Suspiria", "Deadtime Stories", "Psycho", "Blood Freak" (it's SO BAD - you HAVE to see it), "Requiem For a Dream", "Silent Night Deadly Night", "Halloween", "Dawn of the Dead ('78)"...and a whole slew which I momentarily forgot. I'm a big fan of campy stuff.

Greg: If you have a film you’d like to change. What would it be?

Michael: "HorrorTales.666". I billed myself as Alan Smithee after a personal issue with the production, source matrial and those in charge. I wish to remain private on those problems, however.

Greg: What is the film you produced & directed that you cherish the most?

Michael: "Scary Tales: The Return of Mr. Longfellow" definately showcases my writing/editing style, as well as my sense of humor. I'm a very campy person, so I'd say that very campy movie with it's corny one-liners is definately the most private. Plus, despite a lot of the silliness, I tried to showcase a lot of my own flaws through some of the charcters, especially Frank Draven (in "7:23"). I try to be honest about myself when I write.

Greg: If you were a top horror filmmaker for one day whether this actor or filmmaker was alive or dead who would he be?

Michael: I really don't have an answer. I appreciate my own personal style, and it would be hard for me to even look at cinema through the eyes of another. That said, Carpenter in his prime is my favorite. I love the way he delivered so many great films on such shoestring budgets.

Greg: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Michael: No worries.

Greg: What are your ambitions in life?

Michael: To be successful, no matter what I do. Without some sort of fiscal success, it's hard to obtain personal happiness. Nothing puts constraints on a relationship or family like monetary concern/hardships.

Thanks for the interview! It's been fun!