Alpha Man: Talking Mr. Alpha Studios Himself -- Ricardo Islas by Owen Keehnen

Ricardo Islas has been drawn to horror films almost his entire life. When he was 13 he wrote script and at 16 he saw ‘Posesion’ (1985) filmed and broadcast in his native Uruguay. It was wildly successful and the experience helped put the young man on the map and whet his appetite to make more movies. Other horror flicks followed – ‘Crowley’, ‘Crowley’s Ashes’, ‘Feather Cushion’, ‘Bad Blood’, and ‘Into The Darkness’. In 1998 Ricardo moved his base of operations to Chicago. Since then he’s managed to continue to write, direct, and produce several damned scary films. – ‘Headcrusher’ (1999) – a gloriously gory tale about a uncovered virus which causes those afflicted to --- bash their heads in! Then he took on the ambitious project of writing/directing/and producing a 330-minute horror mini-series ‘Amor Brujo’ in 2000/01. Talk about epic! In 2005 Alpha made their most ambitious film to date --- ‘Night Fangs’ – a winning tale of lesbians, vampires, Bathory, and more! And very soon Alpha and Mr. Islas are going to commence work on their newest horror flick ‘Lockout’.


Hello Ricardo.  Thanks for chatting with us today.  First off can we have a visual and describe the room where you are answering these questions.

Sure... I'm writing from my office at a local TV station in Chicago, where I work as a producer. I do not make horror movies for the station... I make documentaries. So picture a small cozy blue walls office with a computer, a small poster of Night Fangs that I keep just to me and tones of papers everywhere. And I'm wearing... nah. I don't think that matters... 

Can you tell me about how Alpha Studios began starting with your 1985 film 'Posesión' in Uruguay?

I was 13 and I wrote this half an hour rip of-… I mean this movie inspired in The Exorcist and took the script to a local TV station. Since I was so young the showed me door in a polite way. Three years later, when I was 16 I came back and insisted. They told me: If you get 10 sponsors, we'll produce this thing for you. I took my bike and rode all over town looking for sponsors for the first horror movie ever produced in a small town in South America by a 16 year old kid. As crazy as that probably sounded, I got 20 sponsors and the TV station produced the movie, which I directed also. First time I saw the truck with the cameras arriving at the location, I had to literally pinch myself to find out if I was dreaming or not. Hey... maybe I still am...

As a filmmaker who or what do you consider to be your greatest inspirations?

I've been doing this since 1985 and never sat my butt in a film school, so my mentors have been several filmmakers whose work I have admired throughout the years. In the beginning I used to get inspiration in John Carpenter, De Palma and Hitchcock, mostly because I was concerned about filmmaking structure and language. As years went by, I decided to focus more in content, so my admiration for more visceral filmmakers such as Scorcesse and Ford Coppola took me in a different direction. Also let me mention two of my favorite: William Friedkin and Stanley Kubrick

Back in 1997/98 production moved to Chicago.  Since that time you've made some wonderful horror films - 'Headcrusher' in 1999 (with Stephanie Beaton), 'Amor Brujo' in 2000/01 -- which was actually a horror miniseries -- and the 2005 feature 'Night Fangs'.  I know you have also done other non-horror projects through the studio, but has horror always been your focus?

Yes. It has to do with my fascination with the genre since I was a little kid. I grew up watching Hammer movies and collecting the Spanish translations of Tales from the Crypt comics, so ... I guess horror has always been in my blood. Horror is a shortcut to basic emotions and when you are an indie filmmaker working under low/no budget conditions, you put yourself in a situation similar to the filmmakers who started this all in the early 1900s. So you have to keep it simple and basic. Nothing more basic than horror or laughter and that's why I have produced also a few comedies.

I want to hear about your most recent effort 'Night Fangs' which you wrote and directed.  Give me a plot teaser that will make it irresistible to horror fans?

It's a real homage to Hammer in terms of simplicity, gore and sadism... some combo. I wrote it in 1999 and decided to revamp (very appropriate... "revamp") it in 2004. A lesbian couple in search of eternal youth manage to get Elizabeth Bathory's diary and perform some rituals, including murdering virgins to bathe in their blood. Something goes wrong with the ritual and vampires start to come up left and right. Basic premise, basic violence, basic fun. I think people who enjoyed Hammer films will enjoy Night Fangs. Kids who want to see MTV paced horror flicks in the style of Van Helsing, might not... Oh well...

Part of that film was shot at the Aragon Theatre in Chicago, which has a reputation for being haunted -- did you find there was anything there that gave you a chill?

Unfortunately nothing gave me the chills. After all I was the kind of kid who would go alone into a haunted house craving to find something and would be disappointed if nothing happened. But the place certainly had very nervous some of the girls in my crew and specially the janitor did not want to stay in the basement with us during the shoots.

I am so curious about 'Amor Brujo’, which you wrote, produced, and directed.  It was a 330 minute horror mini series.  What was your inspiration for doing something like that? 

The Omen was my inspiration to do something about the end of the world and the Antichrist. Amor Brujo is the story of a young Mexican girl who crosses the border and has a mission: to get pregnant and bring the Antichrist to the planet. Then we have those who want to protect her and help her succeed in her mission and those who want to kill her before she gives birth to the Antichrist. Basic premise again. The fact that it lasts 6 and a half hours is because I chose to turn this story into a mini-series targeting the Spanish speaking community who have never seen anything like this. It's doing pretty well in DVD now. One day I might dub it into English for audiences who don't speak Spanish. 

Was that venue for television?  And since it was in Spanish was there a ready-made Hispanic audience for the show?

I was surprised at the fact that many people watched it. It was shown in a local cable station in Chicago twice and then they showed it in some suburban areas as well. It's also been shown in theatres in episodes!! In South America people get into it and live the different stories. Horror is very universal, but besides I also put there many elements that Hispanics would recognize, such as the cross over the border with Mexico , problems with La Migra. Devotion to the virgin, etc, etc.

Somewhat going along with that -- do you shoot every scene twice once in English and once in Spanish to double your market potential?  Do you prefer subtitles?  How does that all happen at Alpha?

We only did that once, with Para Matar a un Asesino/ To Kill a Killer. We would shoot the dialogues twice (English and Spanish) and the action scenes once. This is possible because I am bilingual and also because I could work with a great bilingual cast. Subtitles are fine when there's no other option, but if you have a cast that can originally speak two languages, shooting dialogues twice is just like doing another take. Some people think it's like making two movies, but not really. Just another take and you end with two movies for the price of one and a half or less... not bad

So what sets Alpha Studios apart from other studios?  What was your mission statement when you began the company?

I don't think we have such a thing as a "mission statement", but I would say what sets us apart from other studios today is that we operate like a studio from yesterday. We are not operated by business MBA guys, but by guys who love filmmaking. We also believe in matching new upcoming talent with established one (as we did with To Kill a Killer, where we had two well known Mexican stars and the rest of the cast was unknown). This way we help create new stars. Not many studios can offer the opportunity to new cast and crew members to put their name on key positions in movies that do get distributed all over the world. You can find our movies in any major store in America and also abroad, besides online and festival circuits as well. If I had to define in a main concept why we are different, I should say we are not goal oriented, but process oriented. And that's a whole different perspective to produce movies. We don't do 16 hour days shoot, just thinking of how to strike fast. We do 8 to 10 hour days where we can pay attention to detail and have everyone enjoy the process.

Often you are listed as the writer, director, and producer for Alpha projects --- which of those roles comes the most easily to you and which proves to be the most challenging?

I'm a writer first. I became a director because I couldn't find one to direct my scripts and I ended up producing because I didn't find a producer who would hire me as a director...

Do you have any other projects you would like to tell the horror-hungry racks and razors readers about?

We start shootingLockout’ in a couple of months. It's a very dark edgy horror movie in the vein of The Ring or The Grudge. Once again: basic, direct, shocking horror. We don't believe in high concept and poor delivery, which seems to be the Hollywood formula these days. We shoot up high from script to post-production. Lockout might also become a controversial piece, since it has to do with how racism can push people to the edge and turn them into real monsters.

So we are pulling the car into the Ricardo Islas Drive In.  What three horror movies are you going to be showing on the triple bill and what goodies are they going to be serving up at the concession stand?

We are a very special production company, so we have two drive-in theatres... like a cineplex, but for real and not a plastic one... In one drive-in, we have Headcrusher, Night Fangs and Lockout. We might run some shorts like in the old times too: A silent film I produced in my country, titled Silent Fear; and some extra features on how we shot Night Fangs.

In the other one, we would be running three Spanish films: Para Matar a un Asesino, El grito de la Llorona y El Dia de los muertos. With also some shorts.

Goodies for the concession stand? Salty heavily buttered popcorn and never-diet sodas. If you are going to see these movies, you should have a strong stomach anyway...

What scares you in real life?

Only one creepy hairy word... SPIDERS