Rue Morgue readers are likely familiar with the atmospheric music of Midnight Syndicate. The duo of Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka are fixtures at our annual Festival of Fear conventions, and their atmospheric albums are essentially spooky soundtracks to films which don’t exist.
So it came as little surprise to learn that Douglas had actually made a horror film himself. The Dead Matter tells the tale of a young woman who comes to possess an amulet which controls the dead. She wants to use it to bring her dead brother back to life, but dark forces oppose her, including ancient vampire Vellich (Wishmaster’s Andrew Divoff) who is himself battling fellow bloodsucker Sebed (Tom Savini).
We spoke to Douglas about his filmmaking ambitions, working with horror vets Divoff and Savini, and the future of Midnight Syndicate.
What is the origin of The Dead Matter story?
I think the basic production concept came from playing Dungeons & Dragons. In the adventures, the evil undead villain (often a vampire) was always surrounded by an army of animated skeletons and zombies that he controlled. That gave me the idea of this relic that had the power to raise and control the dead. Then it was just a progression of what if this relic existed in today’s world and fell into the hands of a guilt-ridden person who wants nothing more than to contact a deceased loved one.
I think the humour elements, like some of the Mark the Zombie moments and the fact that the relic could animate any type of dead matter were influenced by Lost Boys and some of the campier films of the ‘80s, like Night of the Creeps. This is a remake of a 1996 micro-budget version of the film I did. Most of my favourite parts of this new version (the new ending, dream sequences, etc.) were created by co-writer Tony Demci (who also co-wrote the original). Although the basic production concept remained the same in this new version, Tony’s contributions to the story led to a far superior script then what we had in ‘96.
In what way is The Dead Matter a Midnight Syndicate film in terms of ideas and feel?
The Dead Matter is its own separate entity, in many ways different from Midnight Syndicate. However, many of the influences and themes of the film, like supernatural elements, fantasy elements, classic horror creatures, Hammer Films, and ‘80s horror, are the same influences for Midnight Syndicate, so they are tied together by that. The music and some of the more atmospheric scenes in the movie are what really convey the Midnight Syndicate connection.
In some ways the film is very different from Midnight Syndicate, though, most notably in the “camp” factor. The goal of The Dead Matter was to tell a good story, throw in a few twists, a bit of dark humour, a few things that audiences don’t see every day, and entertain them for 90 minutes. With Midnight Syndicate, our music, themes, and what is going on in our discs are left completely up to the listener. The listener creates the world and the story. We don’t want any camp moments on our discs, as we are all about creating an atmosphere and then doing everything we can to pull or drag you further into the dark world of the disc.
You made The Dead Matter once before on a $2,000 budget. What lessons did you take away from that experience and how did they inform this version?
The biggest thing was that we had almost nine years of watching audiences react to the old version as well as nine more years of life experience (including watching and reading more horror) to make this script infinitely better than its predecessor. We spent a lot of time re-writing the new version. Script writing is crazy, though. We spent so much time changing, editing, and reworking this script and we even had the advantage of making an earlier version. Still, when I watch it there are changes I wish we could have made. Certain elements that we weren’t blatant enough (like the fact that the drug allows vampires to stay in the sunlight) and other bits of exposition that we felt would slow the film down but now some audience members are asking for. That’s just how it goes. Overall, though, I’m really happy with the final product, and what’s most important is people are having fun watching it.
Tom Savini and Andrew Divoff are your marquee names. How and why did you cast them and what was the experience like?
From the beginning I wanted Tom as Sebed. I just felt that he’d do well in that role and he really did a fantastic job. He brought his own ideas to the character and virtually every bit of improv he did on set made the final cut. It was great to finally work with him on a project. He’s been a friend of mine and a long-time supporter of Midnight Syndicate so I was happy to have him be a part of our first film.
I have been a fan of Andrew’s work since Wishmaster, but it was actually his performance on The Rage that got me thinking about having him play Vellich (the lead villain) in The Dead Matter. Vellich is a very old-school vampire, traditional, Eastern European. To pull that off I felt we needed a really strong presence and that’s what Andrew has. It was great working with him. All the actors around him fed off his energy and intensity, elevating performances all the way around. Tom, Andrew, and Jason Carter were all veteran actors who really came through for us.
What involvement did your local Gothic community or Midnight Syndicate fans have in the film’s production?
Well, there wouldn’t be a Dead Matter film if it wasn’t for the support of Midnight Syndicate’s fans. I know that may seem obvious but it cannot be overstated. A lot of our zombie extras were fans and friends from local haunted houses, including the group that has worked on Midnight Syndicate’s CD release parties over the years. Robert Kurtzman, Lazy Lane, and actors like Tom Savini, Dick Dyszel (a.k.a. Count Gore DeVol), Big Chuck Schodowski, Jim O’Rear and Patricia Valestin (our undead maid) are all friends, fans, and/or long-time supporters of Midnight Syndicate.
Describe how your ambitions as a filmmaker co-exist with your ambitions as a musician.
Although most of my schooling was in theatre, film, and writing, my first love was music and that’s always been the primary focus. I really enjoy filmmaking, too, and horror films have been my obsession for as long as I can remember. So the music and the filmmaking have always both been there feeding off each other. I’m happy doing either so it’s really just a matter of waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.
There were times (like the first Midnight Syndicate shows) where I was able to mix both. For those shows I shot short films and music videos and then scored them live with a band in a concert setting. That was fun to produce, although I’m not a huge fan of the unpredictability that live shows bring.
What is next for Midnight Syndicate and Midnight Syndicate Films?
Gavin and I are currently in the studio working on a new Midnight Syndicate album called Carnival Arcane. It’s our take on the classic dark carnival theme and will be out in August (in time for Festival of Fear). We’ve been talking about tackling this theme for about as long as Midnight Syndicate has been around, so to finally be able to do it is exciting for us. The Lancaster-Rigby Carnival is coming to town.
As far as the next project for Midnight Syndicate Films, it will likely be a music video or short film to support the Carnival Arcane disc. I have several ideas floating around for the next feature and we definitely plan on producing another, but for 2011 I’ll be focusing primarily on music.
Go to http://www.midnightsyndicate.com/ for more information.