A few weeks ago I was afforded an opportunity to view an upcoming film at an exclusive test screening that had been flying on my radar for a while. Curiosity murdered the feline, so I agreed to attend and also had the chance to finally meet in person the producer of “Herschell Gordon Lewis’ BloodMania”, James Saito. As a fellow Canadian, and Calgarian, when the chance to interview him was discussed I naturally jumped at the chance. Since then I’ve discovered more about this fellow, his sense of humour, his extensive knowledge of music and film and the insights of a producer and fellow wordsmith.
It’s a rarity to find someone who knows the genre so well and is willing to share, and even rarer to find such a rare gem in one’s own city. James, I am so pleased for this chance and thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule.
How bout them Seahawks?
It is a glorious time to be a Seahawk fan. Bear in mind that they have been my team since they entered the league in 1976. The first 30 or so years of fandom were disappointing, heartbreaking, and filled with ineptitude. It is such a delight now that they are a powerhouse, and can beat anyone on any given Sunday! When they won their first Super Bowl, I remember thinking, “I can die now, they finally did it”.
Now, I’ve never been accused of being meek, so James, I want to get this out of the way. Are you single? Looking? I know a few ladies out there are wondering.
Ha, oh boy. Okay I was expecting almost any question except that. (Pauses) First let me say that I usually avoid questions regarding my normal personal life, but I guess it’s safe to say…I am single, but I’m not available. Though we are no longer together I am very much still in love with someone, one of those, “I found my soul mate, it seems she didn’t” scenarios. Mistakes were made. She has my heart in a box, and unfortunately love has no off switch. So I guess I will love her until I don’t. In the meantime I have nothing to offer anyone else emotionally, so it wouldn’t be fair to get involved with anyone at this point. However having said that shoot me some pictures of these girls who are wondering………..
Who have been your literary influences? Film? Television?
God there are so many, off the top of my head:
Literary: Harlan Ellison, William Goldman, Tom Robbins, and I attribute my dirty, politically incorrect, and sexual sense of humor to the golden era of National Lampoon magazine.
Films: Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, Akira Kurosawa, Peter Sellers, The Marx Bros. W.C. Fields, Ken Russell, David Lynch, Hammer Films, Universal horror films, early Bond films – I could go on for hours.
Television: The Twilight Zone, Deadwood, Boris Karloff’s Chiller, Thunderbirds, and of course Star Trek. (OS, TNG, and DS9, the rest with the exception of the final season of “Enterprise” was utter rubbish. That’s right, suck the snotty end of my fuck stick “Voyager” fans!)
Tell me about what first drew you to the horror genre and how its kept you its prisoner all these years?
This would be hard for a modern kid to understand, but when I was growing up most television was black and white and we had two channels. Sometimes the only thing to watch later at night were Creature Features and such. What young boy doesn’t love monster movies? I would watch all the late night Universal films available, and as time passed Hammer films began showing as well. I found that it was kind of fun to be scared, and that is why I think horror has been around since we sat in caves telling stories by firelight. I believe it is cathartic to hear or see something scary, to experience it vicariously without personal consequence.
You grew up in Lethbridge Alberta. What was life like then for young James? Were you firmly entrenched into horror even then?
Oh yeah, I would scour the TV listings to see what horror films would be on every week. By the time I was eight I was collecting “Famous Monsters of Filmland”, reading “Eerie” and “Creepy”, and building Frankenstein and Wolfman model kits. At ten I wrote a story called, “Operation Werewolf” about a young G.I. who is given an experimental lycanthropy serum so that he could combat Nazis as a werewolf. If anyone steals this idea please at least give me a “based upon a concept by” credit.
What was the first horror film you remember seeing? Why does it stick with you?
I think that would have to be “Mr. Sardonicus” a 1961 film whose details escape me as this was like 50 years ago. I remember this guy wearing a mask and he removed it to reveal this huge, horrible grimace/smile on his face. I seem to recall that this was quite disturbing to a very young me.
Who is one musician/composer or band you would want to meet and why?
Igor Stravinsky – he wrote a mean fugue.
Thank you, try the veal !
Seriously though, having worked in the rock world for many of my formative years allowed me to meet and work for a lot of my musical favorites. I would love to buy a pint for Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and chat. Obviously I would buy a pint for each of them, I wouldn’t make them split one. They deserve that much respect for their body of work, by God!
What keeps you in Calgary when there are other, perhaps more lucrative cities to live in?
You mean Los Angeles or Toronto? Let me paraphrase the great Hunter S. Thompson,
“The film business is a cruel, shallow one filled with con artists, sycophants, wannabes, clinger-ons, and delusional folk who think one should be handed success without regard for paying dues. But, there’s also a negative side.”
That is a fair evaluation. As for California, it is a wonderful place to visit, but I want no business dealings there whatsoever. Allow me to quote Herschell, “Hollywood is a fraternity that I have no interest in joining”. With all due respect, the film environment in Vancouver and Toronto isn’t much better.
Working in Calgary allows me the freedom to create my own little world, and one enters by invitation only. I have been fortunate enough to assemble a core team of industry veterans and we are all compatible. Any success in this industry is a combination of hard work, luck, and fortuitous timing. Should I go on to find any level of success, I will be grateful because of those factors. I stay in Calgary because it is going to be a much busier location for filming in the next five years. We have a major studio opening soon, so that combined with our relatively weak dollar make it desirable and sought after.
I know you’ve seen likely more films than anyone I know. How many film have you seen?
Obviously I don’t count, but if I say around 10,000 it would be fairly accurate. I have a friend in Vancouver who has seen at least twice that, I consider him a true cinephile.
Why specifically zombie film reviews?
I have been a fan of the zombie genre since I saw the original “Dawn of the Dead” in 1978. In the late 80’s a friend and I decided to try to review every zombie film made, of course back then there wasn’t the glut of substandard shit that assaults the viewer on an almost daily basis. I can barely find the time to watch them now, which is probably good as there are maybe 3% that are worth spending precious hours of one’s life watching. I still have around 200 to watch and review, but I have to really space them out otherwise I will simply end up hating a genre that I once had a great deal of affection for.
Let’s discuss BloodMania.
First, let me personally dispel a few misconceptions about BloodMania, and I am sure that James will expound further upon this as we chat. Herschell Gordon Lewis’ BloodMania surprised this girl into giggles more than once during the film. Not horrified giggles but full on guffaws. I actually laughed out loud, though at an entirely inappropriate segment. Several friends of mine are in the film, and I can never see them in the same way again and that is great.
Herschell Gordon Lewis’ BloodMania is simply not your expected gore fest. Oh I’m not saying there is none, just that anyone expecting that this anthology to be only that is in for a bloody surprise. Having stated my opinion, working with the Godfather of Gore must be an interesting experience. What can you tell us about him?
I love Herschell, I mean that literally, not in a Hollywood talk show way. He has become like a second Father to me. It is indeed a privilege to have spent so much time in his company. He is funny, sometimes acerbic, witty, and far more intelligent than I think people give him credit for. He is a truly complex, one of a kind individual who represents a gentleman from another era to my way of thinking. I guess he is literally that. We speak all the time. I have managed to learn so much from his counsel not only in regards to the business, but life and how to conduct it as well.
Diabolique Enterprises will also be publishing the definitive book on Mr. Lewis and his storied career sometime this year. There is also some talk that we may film a documentary entitled “Architect of Destiny”: One on One with Herschell Gordon Lewis”.
How did you come to be able to involved in the project?
The anthology was my brain child, I grew up loving the anthologies produced by Amicus studios like the original “Tales From the Crypt” and “Vault of Horror. I have come to believe that the short horror film is a preferable format, not individually however. Many young film makers will make a short that may or may not receive accolades at festivals and such, which then sit on a shelf. Once they are combined however it provides a variety of ideas to the viewer.
Everything starts with an idea, but sometimes they fall prey to what I refer to as “Saturday Night Live” syndrome. Your premise may work effectively in a 25 page script, but ultimately becomes diluted in a 90 page version; it requires padding and affects pacing in many cases. From a practical business standpoint if you present 3 or 4 well conceived stories the viewer is likely to enjoy a number of them, and will spend money even if he or she doesn’t care for one segment.
Initially Herschell and I wanted to do a feature, but due to a bit of fuckery and circumstance that didn’t prove viable. A few months later we decided on the anthology format and that was that. The project then went through several incarnations, potential directors, writers, and wrap around segments before we were finally satisfied. At times it was like a fucking comedy, one that I will provide details regarding should I ever write my memoirs. I would love to go apeshit on the Blu-Ray commentaries and tell the unadulterated truth with actual names, warts and all. But that would not be politic and undoubtedly actionable. But someday……..
Was it a conscious choice to film locally?
There was never any question that it would be shot anywhere but Calgary. The mission statement of my production company states: “HGB Entertainment Ltd. will endeavor to promote the film and television industry in Calgary Alberta”. I want to give back to a community that has been nothing but good to me.
There are many rumours floating about that speak to whether or not BloodMania is just another gore fest. How does it differ?
Herschell and I decided early on several criteria. The idea being was that first and foremost we wanted the film to entertain the audience, we wanted to put them through the entire spectrum of emotion. If the audience laughs, and gets a little scared and uneasy then we have succeeded. So scripts were the priority, and we went through quite a number of them before deciding upon the ones in the film. We also decided that there had to be a prevalent element of humor as there are many dour films out there. There is no gore for the sake of gore, what is there is organic to the story. I will say that the one segment that contains no humor I was responsible for, it is straight out psychological horror. But then one of the other criteria was that each segment be an entirely different take on horror, a little something for everyone. So in the end we have one that is psychological horror, one that is a comedy of errors, one that is a creature story, and another which is an homage to 80s slasher films. I’m certainly not implying there is a lack of blood, it would not be a Herschell film otherwise. I will say that the effects are 95% practical and we used over 20 gallons of stage blood to implement them.
What can audiences expect from Bloodmania?
I would say the unexpected, go in with an open mind. This film was originally conceived as a bridge between the H.G.L. of the 20th century transitioning into the 21st. Casting was pretty much done by the time Mr. Lewis arrived in Calgary, and he was pleasantly surprised to have actual actors on set. There are also a lot of Easter eggs in the film for Herschell’s hard core fans to keep your eye out for. Watch it and have a good time, and if you say to a friend, “You have to see this” then we have done our job.
Your segment contribution to Bloodmania is much different than the other journeys we take. Truthfully and I’ve mentioned it more than once, all the stories included in Bloodmania have their own flare and style, but the one you wrote is the one segment of the film that has really stuck with me. What inspired the story? What can you tell us about it?
Every once in awhile Raven Banner Entertainment will play a horror film across North America for one night only. On one particular evening I went to see “Nothing Left to Fear” produced by Slash from Guns N’ Roses’. It was preceded by a short film that I recall wasn’t all that good. As I sat in the theater I recall thinking that a person has to be able to do better than that. At that moment the idea for the anthology began taking shape. So enticed was I by the idea, that as I lay in bed that night the entire idea for my segment came to me. I now knew the story, and the more I thought of it, the action sequences came to me. I grabbed my phone and made notes. The next day I hammered out a first draft in one sitting. It changed very little from conception to filming. Any changes that were made were predicated by whatever actress was going to play the central character, and there were three that were associated at various points. Director Melanie Reinboldt made several wonderful suggestions, and I am very happy with how she interpreted the script and brought it to life.
What is upcoming for James Saito in 2016?
That depends on so many factors. I am fortunate to have a number of large distributors wanting the film. I have been blessed by a confluence of circumstances, a legendary cult icon director, affiliation with the Premiere genre horror magazine and their amazing marketing abilities. Once contracts are signed, we begin promoting the release heavily. After that…..I don’t think most people believe me when I say that I could walk away from this deplorable industry anytime and never look back. That is certainly one option. However I believe the future of horror is in television, and there are a couple of non horror scripts and a horror remake that I would like to do. Nothing is etched in stone.
In my personal life I want to devote more time to my volunteer duties at The Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society. I am currently taking my raptor handling training so that I can take owls and hawks to various locations – classrooms, senior’s centres, etc. to give seminars on the importance of bio diversity and raise awareness of the importance of preserving species around us. I will also be shooting some PSAs to raise the profile of this important organization and am trying to put together a fund raiser for them as the money provided them to operate is deplorably low.
Economic conditions being what they are, I would finally like to see what kind of property I can acquire in Kelowna, British Columbia, which I consider Eden on Earth. The world today is a mad house, and I am becoming a bit of a bitter recluse, so the idea of a beautiful getaway home where I can have cherry and peach trees, and one day open an animal sanctuary is more appealing every day. I love animals, humans not so much. And hope does spring eternal, maybe one day I will find someone who would like to share this life with me.
Thank you again James. Watch for Bloodmania coming soon to slay you with salacious delights.
January 14, 2016