[Rue Morgue intern SJ Crompton contributed this mighty fine Sinister Seven.]
Anthony D.P. Mann is a Canadian actor/director who has worked in film, television, radio and on stage, performing in classic roles such as Scrooge and Sherlock Holmes.
Living and working in Kingston, Ontario, Mann has co-hosted TVCogeco’s The Lounge, Kingston’s weekly arts and culture program, and since Halloween 2007, co-hosts a weekly horror podcast called Horror Etc. He most recently took the lead on an ambitious feature film project, writing, directing and starring as the immortal Count Dracula. I recently talked with Mann about Terror of Dracula, his lifelong love of horror, and being fangful for what you have.
To start, how did Terror of Dracula come about?
This is the film I wanted to make since I was a kid, my dream project. And it’s a testament to the power of independent broadcasting and the internet – the power of fanboys, for want of a better term.
A gentleman by the name of Bill Bossert came into a little bit of money. When he was younger he wanted to get into the movie business but thought that he had no talent as a filmmaker. But he’d seen the Sherlock Holmes film I’d done the previous year [Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow Watchers], and he’d reached out and asked me, “You always wanted to do a Dracula film, how much could you do it for?” We shot [Terror of Dracula] for about fifteen grand in Kingston, Ontario. To remain faithful, if not in letter, but certainly in spirit to the Stoker novel, we had to make some concessions. Instead of trying to attempt something, and the cracks showing through, we’d have to excise material. I would’ve loved to have done the Dracula wall-walk, crawling down the side of the wall, but I knew we couldn’t make it look credible, and that would’ve betrayed the film’s budget.
One of the main challenges was trying to sell the story with the basest means. I wrote a first draft, which was revised by Bill, who really brought the caliber of the script up a notch. Thanks to the power of independent media, I was put in touch with a fellah who helped make my dream come true. That blew me away.
[Laughs] More people saw Canucula! than probably should have. That was done on a lark, for $250. It was a 45-minute, I’m going to say “amateur film,” that I shot in black-and-white. A lot of people got to see it, which was fun, but by no means is it a legitimate film. So I’ve done this role a couple times. But I really worked hard at it in Terror of Dracula to get a performance that would both be my own and pay homage to the book.
There was a comment that “I can’t do sexy but I can do scary.” That really sums up our vampires. We wanted to create creatures bent on survival, because survival’s the most basic instinct, inherent in all species from ants to humans. We don’t do shimmery vampires or some love story. It’s all about survival, about feasting, and the eventual decay of the soul. I approach Dracula as the old, isolated man in the castle. Very little humanity left. We’re going back and taking the romantic or the sexy Frank Langella angle out and I think it’s gonna seem fresh, although it really is harkening back to the roots of the character.
Having given the character a lot of thought, how do you ac-COUNT for Dracula’s UNDYING popularity?
Dracula really is the original, mass-marketed boogeyman. He’s the Freddy Krueger or the Jason Voorhees of the Victorian Age – pure evil. There are a lot of do-gooders out there with great morals. But I think everybody, regardless of background, adores the darker side, especially the people who say they don’t like to watch – that’s because they get scared, absolutely absorbed by it, and it’s an addictive quality. I think Dracula holds the record for the most adaptations of all time, a lot of which has to do with the evolution of the book into that first film, and that first English film with Lugosi, which I think harkens back to that original boogeyman, one name that everyone’s grown up with for the last few generations – “If you don’t keep on the straight-and-narrow, Dracula’s gonna get you!” And it’s just a damn good story.
So what’s the big scare that got you hooked on horror?
Barry Manilow scares the hell out of me. But I remember distinctly my very first experience with horror, when I was four years old. I woke up in the middle of the night and I walked into the den. My mother was watching one of the late shows,
The Changeling with George C. Scott – the best haunted house movie ever made – and there’s a chilling scene with a wheelchair and that’s what I walked in on. I was both horrified and drawn to it at the same time. New Year’s Eve the following year, I’m with friends and our parents are playing Trivial Pursuit in the kitchen so they gave us cartoon tapes to throw into the VCR, but amongst the tapes, unbeknownst to them, was The Exorcist. The Changeling was kind of the precursor, but when you see The Exorcist at five years old, it changes you. And it changed me for the best!
Nowadays, children are being so sensitized in their upbringing, you can’t show that stuff to kids anymore, it’s not considered apropos. But anybody out there who’s a fan of the genre got introduced at a young age, and I think we’re healthy and balanced, don’t you? But mainstream horror has become very cruel, very cold. The first Saw film was a work of genius, and it succeeded in getting under your skin. But that opened the floodgates – you know, Saw 1 though 32, and the Hostel films. I’m a big fan of the horror films of the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, and I like the Vincent Price and the Peter Cushing films. These were people and films that scared you, but you were always being terrified by someone who had a twinkle in their eye. Horror was FUN. But the genre’s become very cruel.
That said, thank heaven the indie scene is just blossoming – these films that are well-thought, scary, but don’t rely on the torture-porn aspect to sell their point or make their money. The Innkeepers is easily the best horror film of the last year. And people either loved or hated Insidious, but I really loved it. They shot it for peanuts, but because they had such a strong story, performances and technique, that really sold it for me. I just wish that horror was as fun as I remember it being when I was a kid.
Working in the horror vein, are there any other roles you’ve been hoping to sink your teeth into?
[He laughs. The Mann appreciates puns.] I do have an idea for a sequel for Dracula, and it takes place in a Nazi bunker toward the end of World War II. Whether or not that’ll actually see the light of day, I don’t know. But my next story will be another classic adaptation. We’re very close to moving ahead on Phantom of the Opera. I’ve always wanted to do Phantom because I look fantastic behind a mask.
Finally, Anthony, what advice would you offer to other performers and filmmakers starting out?
People ask me quite frequently about the challenges, and I’ve got two key messages in life: the first thing is, always fulfill your dreams. Make the movie, you know? And the second thing is, whatever you do, NEVER MAKE A MOVIE [laughs]. It’s HELL.
If you would’ve asked me a year ago I would have said, “Don’t take my advice, because it’s not working!” But that’s changed. Without getting too Sesame Street here, it really is a matter of following your passions and doing it your way. The best musicians are the ones who not only sing, but they also write their own material and they can play an instrument. The same should be said for filmmakers and actors. If you want to do it, DO IT. It’s all about finding ways to work within your limitations and maximizing what you can do with what you have. Any challenges that we faced were overcome by having the right crew and cast, a wonderful ensemble of people. By doing projects that you believe in, not trying to satisfy the flavour of the month, you want to create something that has meaning, that has life.
I was so impressed by watching Jess Franco’s Conde Dracula, and it’s a lousy film, I know that, but I love it! In twenty or thirty years’ time some kid maybe goes through a bargain bin, or whatever replaces the torrent, or bootlegs a copy of Terror of Dracula and watches it and it touches them in the same way. To create something that has staying power is the most valuable thing you can do. Many artists were never recognized in their time, but look at the legacy. Look at what survives.
To hear more from Anthony D.P. Mann and his thoughts on horror, check out Horror Etc., the long-running podcast that he co-hosts with a man known as King’s Town Ted.