Ginger Nuts of Horror
“Sometimes you have to be willing to go places you'd rather not to get what you need for a scene”. I knew what he was saying but I didn't get the gravity of it till now."
This May it was a great privilege to present Film Gutter's first ever event, and one that will hopefully be the first of many. We had the even greater honour of hosting the UK premiere screening of American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock, the breathtaking second installment in the new revival of the 80's Japanese movie series. For anyone with an interest or passion for extreme horror, this is a flat-out must see and a rare movie in scoring 10/10 from us. And what's more, we also had the opportunity to chat to lead star Dan Ellis about his role in Bloodshock...
Alex: Bloodshock certainly is one of the most striking movies I've seen in recent years - how did you come to be involved?
Dan: I've been friends with Marcus Koch for years and we had always wanted to work on a project together. I was on the fence about my acting career, not sure where I was going or what I was doing, and was really having a rough way to go because of it. One night I'm sitting on the couch and there's Marcus on the phone... We talk for a bit and he says “Hey, any plans a few months from now? I'm doing a film and wondered if you'd be interested”. I said yes and he asked me if I wanted to know what it was about first and I told him it didn't matter... Had a laugh and then he got me the treatment. I read it and the answer was an even more enthusiastic YES!
Besides wanting to work with Marcus, this was an actor's role, as I saw it, and I knew it would be a challenge for me. I needed some kind of sign and this was a good one. I know it sounds kind of hippy-dippy but I do believe life sometimes gives you hints, if you are paying attention. That call couldn't have come at a better time.
Alex: Did you have any awareness of the Guinea Pig films, either the Japanese originals or the more recent take?
Dan: I was familiar with the Japanese series but had never seen any of them; I plan on changing that. Shortly after talking with Marcus I was introduced to Stephen Biro and he filled me in on his vision for the American series and how it came to be. Even though it had nothing to do with Bloodshock Stephen wanted me to watch the first one, Bouquet of Guts and Gore, to get a gauge of what had been done. I have to be honest though, snuff films and such aren't really my thing, but I thought it was good and, as usual, Marcus did a fantastic job on the effects.
I knew, much like the Japanese series, all the films would be different and share in title only but it really was a good first film to kick things off. It got me even more excited to be involved because I wanted/want to be part of what Stephen is doing and the series itself. I think, when all is said and done, it's going to be a must-have for any fan of the genre because, from what I know, there will be a little something for everyone.
Alex: What were your thoughts when you first saw the script, and what was involved for your character?
Dan: Well, the term script is used loosely here hahaha. I thought it was a good story and, without giving too much away, the ending was just too good. The most obvious thing was the complete lack of dialogue for my character but that was also the most enticing aspect. I knew it was going to be a challenge for me, not just because it's the other side of the coin and very different from the characters I normally play but I was going to have to express a range of emotions without the aid of dialogue. It was going to be a good test and a bit cathartic at the same time, win win.
Alex: Was it a difficult experience having to portray everything that your character went through? Did you find there was any emotional or physical toll on you personally?
Dan: I was a wreck for about two weeks after. I got home and found myself in a deep funk for several reasons. I get very attached to any production I'm involved in so there's always this postpartum depression, so to speak, that hits me. You work side by side with people for weeks and you get attached, they become like family sometimes. When it's time to say goodbye, it's painful.
The other part was the damage I did to myself mentally. In order to really feel what I needed to I had to drum up some pretty bad memories and go to some dark places in my mind I hadn't visited for some time. Some things I had shoved down real far started to bubble up unexpectedly; it kind of snowballed. The scenes would end and everything was fine but once production was over all the emotions resurfaced and it was really hard to deal with. It was like aftershocks and it wasn't fun but I wouldn't change any of it. An actor I met when I was younger told me “Sometimes you have to be willing to go places you'd rather not to get what you need for a scene”. I knew what he was saying but I didn't get the gravity of it till now.
My body wasn't as bad, I was pretty sore and tired, but mostly it was a psychological toll.
Alex: The setting for the movie was so bleak and unsettling - where was it all filmed?
Dan: Stephen used to run a comic store in Ybor City in Tampa back in the day and, ironically, he discovered the upstairs wasn't occupied. He got in touch with the landlord (you'll have to ask him for more specifics, I'm paraphrasing) and, after looking around, the landlord agreed to let him film there. He sent me pictures and I was pretty impressed. Lots of history in that building and it was very creepy indeed. It was also one of the hottest places I have been to in a long time! The worst was when it would storm, you'd think that would cool things off but no, we had to shut the windows to keep the water from coming in since the sub floors were exposed and it just made it even hotter. I think that may have helped in the long run with the whole miserable vibe.
Alex: What did you think when you first saw the movie in black and white – did it feel like a different animal to when you were filming?
Dan: The first cut I saw was in colour and I really liked it, it was a lot shorter than the final edit but it was good. A while later Marcus and Stephen said they wanted to go black and white because they had been experimenting with the edit and liked it a lot. I have to agree with Marcus on doing it in black and white, blew me away! I think it fits the mood better and adds more than it takes away. It definitely has the Marcus Koch thumbprint on it, if you've seen his earlier stuff he's directed. It fits his style of directing, the guy is an artist and he really has a fantastic journey ahead of him if people are smart.
Alex: What was it like performing in that final scene? As a viewer it left such a dent in me, which is intended as a compliment!
Dan: Hahahaha! Well, it's supposed to “leave a dent” so to speak. Stephen and Marcus described that scene to me with such passion and enthusiasm, I'm glad people are responding the way they are to it. That was the last scene we filmed, literally. We had been filming for like 16 hours I think when we wrapped that scene. Everyone was pretty exhausted by the end of it. But, in answer to your question, it was pretty insane to do. When you're “in it” it doesn't feel awkward or anything because you believe what you are doing is real so it gets kind of organic and you just go. Marcus was really good at guiding us through it without screwing up our timing or energy. Insane, yet fun to shoot also, I love what I do!
Alex: Are you happy with the reaction to Bloodshock so far?
Dan: Very! After every screening I see the posts online about how blown away people have been by it, so I'm very happy. Not just for myself but, regardless of them being my friends, Marcus and Stephen are really good people, I'm so happy for them more than anything. We have all been busting our asses for years, some good some bad, so when you get the reactions you wanted to get from a project you've put so much into it makes all the hard work worth it. That's the reward for me.
Alex: Is there anything in a movie that you'd feel reticent to do as an actor? You've certainly been in some extreme movies before, including Ryan Nicholson's Hanger and Gutterballs...
Dan: I used to be okay doing whatever and usually it was fun but my views have changed and part of that was from having kids I guess. Now I tend to stray from excessive vulgarity just for the sake of doing it. If it applies to the story and it's justified, sure man I'm cool with whatever! If its just something you want in your film because you think it would be “Cool and fucked up” then odds are I'm not cool with that. There are a ton of things I don't like or agree with in real life but acting is different, you have to be willing to do some unsavoury things to tell the story, regardless of your personal beliefs especially in horror. It's not real, no one gets hurt and you need those elements sometimes.
Some people can't compromise, they can't separate films or acting from their “real life” morals and ethics, I respect that, but I can and that's not to say I'm any better or worse than anyone else, just different.
But the most important thing is that it has to be relevant or there's going to be a problem. Shock, for shock's sake, is cheap and obvious so what's the point?
I hope that doesn't make me sound like some pretentious asshole. Hahaha!
Alex: Can you tell us anything about what you're working on next?
Dan: I just finished working on The Valley of the Rats with Vince D'Amato in Vancouver. I worked with Vince on a film called The Hard Cut a few years back and I'm pretty excited to have worked with him again. He's another very talented film maker and all around great guy.
As far as upcoming projects go, I have been talking to a couple people but I never like to talk about projects till they are confirmed and I get the okay to spill the beans.
I'm pretty focused on my family right now, my mother has cancer and is in the middle of her battle. She's my best friend, I am an admitted “Mamma's boy”, so I have been dedicating whatever time I have to helping her as much as possible. I started a gofundme to try and help with the bills and essentials. It's been rough because she lives so far away and I can't visit as often as I'd like. I'm doing the best I can and I'll be there when she needs me come hell or high water. If it wasn't for her, her love of film and unwavering support of me, I wouldn't be doing what I am today and I can never thank her enough for that.
To support Dan's gofundme page, visit https://www.gofundme.com/s4sstcp8
Read our Film Gutter Review of Bloodshock