By WILLIAM J. WRIGHT
At some point, everybody from comic legend Paul Lynde to your crotchety uncle has lamented, “What’s the matter with kids today?” As the older generation’s influence on politics, art, and culture wanes, young people have always been an easy target on which to hang the perceived downfall of civilization. However, if 13-year-old filmmaker Nolan Tucker of Ottawa is an example of what the future holds, horror fans of all ages can rest assured that the genre is in good hands.
The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its seemingly endless lockdowns, brought dramatic changes to everyone’s lives. Particularly hard hit were young people who faced long school closures and time away from their friends. While some kids may have been content to spend the hours between the forced march of homeschooling sessions playing video games or simply vegging out, Tucker harnessed his passion for movies and recruited his father Darren Tucker, mom Natalie Poulson, and younger brother Carter Tucker to make his first feature-length horror movie, 608.
Heavily influenced by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Evil Dead, 608 might best be described as Home Alone as envisioned by Herschel Gordon Lewis. The gory and largely improvised film stars Tucker as typical suburban kid Ben Cooper. When eight escaped psychopaths invade his house, Ben finds himself locked in a bloody fight for survival that puts his life and sanity to the test.
With the help of his friend and filmmaking mentor Lee Demarbre, programmer for Ottawa’s Mayfair Theatre, Tucker was able to score a public premiere for 608 at the historic movie house. According to Demarbre, the film’s premiere made quite a splash at the Mayfair drawing a bigger crowd than many of the classic horror films the theater has shown.
Recently, Rue Morgue received the rare opportunity to speak with Nolan Tucker about 608, his horror heroes, and what the future holds for the teen filmmaker.
Before we dive into 608, let’s go back to the very beginning. How long have you been a fan of horror?
[I’ve been a horror fan] for just a few years — maybe three years. But in those few years, I’ve been loving it so much. I couldn’t even tell you how many films I’ve seen. Sometimes, I would watch four films a day. All of it is so inspiring to me. That’s why I decided to make my own film. I was watching so much inspiring content, I just couldn’t wait to put everything I’d learned into a little film.
Who are your horror influences?
For 608, I think mainly The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. You can really see its influence in 608 as well as Bad Taste, one of Peter Jackson’s first films, because we were shooting on really grainy video and using a lot of super-cheesy gore and stuff. But my favorite filmmaker is David Lynch. The next project that I’m working on is very strange and different and Lynchian. My favorite films are Mulholland Drive and Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More with Clint Eastwood.
How did you come up with 608?
It started out with us just watching videos and learning how to make cheesy gore effects. We just started filming stuff and trying it out. Gore is my favorite thing in movies. When I’m putting everything into it and I’ve got all this gore set up and I get to watch all this unfold before my eyes as the bloodiest thing I could imagine, I love that! The first time I did it, I thought it was the greatest thing ever. So I wanted to keep doing it. And now I know that that’s absolutely what I want to keep doing.
How did you come with 608’s “psychos on the loose” plot?
[Laughs] It’s not the most complex or most well-made story! 608 is the first film I’ve ever made. I didn’t make any short films before then and I hadn’t met anyone to teach me how [to make a film]. It was more about the special effects and gore. I wanted it to be suspenseful, so we decided on a boy trapped alone in his home. Originally, it was going to be two killers, but I wanted there to be more gore so I made it eight! It’s definitely not the most original plot. We were really doing it for the fun of it and because we loved it whereas with my next films I’ve written scripts and they’re much more professional and higher budget. 608 was just about the fun and the gore and just because we loved doing it so much, and that’s how it should be.
You mentioned 608’s signature lo-fi look earlier. What format did you shoot on?
I used an old ’90s Sony Handycam, so it looks really grainy. It’s terrible video, but I liked the look. I wanted that to give it that Texas Chain Saw Massacre vibe. When I started shooting 608, I really didn’t know much about it. We had this old camera that my parents had from the 1990s. I loved the grainy look of it.
I used iMovie to edit 608, but now I’m using Adobe Premiere. iMovie was great for this one because it’s really easy to teach yourself how to use it. The formatting is very simple, but it really works. It can’t do as much as Adobe Premiere, obviously, but iMovie is an amazing editing software for beginners which is what I was.
Obviously, there’s much more to making a film than just pointing the camera at the actors. How did you learn to direct?
I watched a lot of interviews with directors talking about how they do things. Most of my day when I’m preparing to make a film, I’m being inspired by either watching films or reading tons of interviews about what directors are saying about things. That’s mainly how I learn.
Also, I’m great friends with Lee Demarbre, a local filmmaker who’s one of the owners of the Mayfair Theatre. We talk for hours and hours about filmmaking, and he tells me all about other things directors have said and he gives me his advice. He’s just been so inspiring to me. If I didn’t know Lee, I would probably never have made a film. Not everyone who owns a theater would play a 13-year-old kid’s independent, family horror film.
Were there any sequences in 608 that were particularly challenging to shoot?
The challenges were mainly gore challenges with how we would do the special effects, but it’s so fun coming up with that stuff! My dad, Darren Tucker who also plays all eight of 608’s killers, is really good [at coming up with gore effects]. My dad was so amazing making this film with me. I’m so grateful – It’s not every dad who would want to get soaked in blood for their kid’s horror film!
When I chop one of the killers’ heads off with the trap door, that was really hard for us to figure out. We shot that in three takes and it was really hard for me to cut together. It’s really cheesy, but I like the way that it turned out.
You take nearly as much abuse in 608 as Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead. A lot of the sequences in the film remind me of Sam Raimi’s early style.
Evil Dead was a massive inspiration for 608. I watched documentaries about all the gore that they did in that film. Along with Bad Taste, Evil Dead and Texas Chain Saw Massacre were the biggest inspirations for 608. Definitely.
There’s some pretty adult material in 608 including the graphic violence and some rough language. How did the grown-ups in your life respond to that?
[Laughs] Well, my parents will tease me about it, but they don’t really care. They just think it’s awesome that I’ve made a film. A lot of other people have commented, “Wow. That was a lot of bad language!”
We didn’t have a script for 608. It was all ad-libbed. I guess I wanted it to be realistic. In that situation, the characters would be cursing a lot because it’s so insane what’s happening to them. I don’t know. I just like swearing in movies! When I was a kid, when I watched movies that had a ton of cursing, I would do a tally for each swear word so I could tell my friends “I watched a movie with like 150 ‘F’ words in it!”And they would think that was so cool.
With the gore, I just love gore. How special effects work, it’s just crazy thinking of that stuff. I think most of the people who have seen the film just think that it’s awesome that we pulled that stuff off. I really wanted someone to throw up in the crowd at the premiere. That would have been awesome for me. I love seeing people’s reactions to the gross violence and swearing and stuff.
John Waters once said something to the effect that if someone vomits at one of his movies, that that’s better than applause.
[Laughs] Yeah! I wanna give out barf bags at my next screening!
You’re also the lead actor in 608. Do you enjoy acting or did you take the role out of necessity? Would you rather stay strictly behind the camera?
I do love acting, as well. I think I’m going to keep acting. For me as a director, though, I think it would be good for one of my projects to be just behind the camera. Acting is so fun. To improve, I’ve been watching videos of even just Clint Eastwood walking and DeNiro and Harvey Keitel —just watching the way they talk and their facial expressions. I do love acting, as well.
With a totally improvised script, did you storyboard or plan sequences in advance?
I had an idea in my head, and I wrote some stuff down. I kind of had a scene list in my head. I knew what was going to happen in the film, but that was basically it. Like the dialogue, the shots were mostly improvised.
I find that surprising because some of your shots are really complex and composed. There’s one floor level shot in the film where you’re hiding under the bed that’s straight out of Argento or Hitchcock.
Thank you. Yeah. Whenever I watch a film I take note of every single camera angle and pan and tilt and dolly. I watch and I try to figure out how they did that. Seeing all that super-inspiring stuff made me want to try out different shots even if it took hours and hours to get it right. I just kept thinking of cool places to put the camera and cool tricks to do that ended up being in the film.
What was it like seeing 608 with an audience for the first time?
It was great! Instead of watching the film, because I had seen it a lot, I concentrated on watching the audience because I wanted to learn from their reactions. Every facial expression that someone has is like an indicator. If someone laughs at one joke but not another one or how people react to the violence, I love seeing all that. That was really helpful to me. I learned a lot from how people reacted to the film.
Do you think you’ll continue to make horror movies or so you see yourself branching out into other genres and types of films?
I love horror movies, but I don’t think I’m always only going to make horror movies. I think I’ll definitely make more horror films but not only in that genre, I just finished writing the script for my next film; I wouldn’t say it’s really horror. Like I said, it’s really Lynchian. It’s surreal, I guess. I’m taking inspiration from David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino. That’s kind of the vibe of the film. I believe after that, I’m going to try to make kind of a gangster film but still add some surreal aspects to it. I don’t like being confined to one thing.
How have your peers reacted to your devotion to film?
They think it’s really cool. After they saw my film, a lot of my friends wanted to make their own horror films, and they’ve started to go out and film some stuff. We’re working on stuff together. Everyone thought it was really awesome and they were inspired. I love inspiring people.
Can you give us any more details about your next film?
I don’t want to say too much about it, but I can say a few things. The title is Eyes of Shattered Glass. That title is very inspired by Italian cinema. They have the greatest titles ever. I wanted to give my film a cool title like that, and the title does tie into the story. I think people will be shocked by it because I don’t think they’ll expect a young filmmaker to make a film like this next one. This next project is very different from 608. I think it’s really going to surprise people.
Do you have any advice for all the aspiring young filmmakers out there?
One thing that I would absolutely tell them is just don’t give up on doing it. It can sound cheesy when people say that. Oftentimes on a big project like making a feature film, you kinda get bored and stop doing it. If you love it enough, you will make a good film. I think Quentin Tarantino said that. Just don’t give up. Keep filming! If you truly love it, you will be able to make a full feature film. It’s all about loving what you’re doing. If you love it enough, you will get your film shown in a theater or on a streaming service. If you love it enough, keep working at it and you will do it. And that applies to everything, not just film.