Saturday, October 17, 2015

Artist Interview: ROGER A. LETIZIA by Dave Wolff

Interview with ROGER A. LETIZIA

Our mutual friend Joe Zuchowski told me you did makeup work for Cabaret Diabolique’s Nightmare Circus. How long were you involved with Cabaret Diabolique and how much work have you done for them?
I came on late, in August I think. The first effects artists didn't work out. I knew Jezibell Anat and Joe Zuchowski from working with them before on another Christopher Forbes film. I think it was Jez that asked me to do the effects. They wanted at least five major stage deaths and a few minor effects. I designed the deaths, built the props and laid out how they were to be shot and did the effects with my wife and assistant Scarlett with help from Christopher and Kelly Forbes. Kelly Forbes assisted when Scarlett was not available. We executed the major effects at about one a week.

Discuss the previous project you worked on with Joe and Jez before working on Cabaret Diabolique. Were you acquainted with them before you started working for them or did you meet them when they were seeking makeup artists?
I met Jez and Joe at a production meeting for the film Blood River by Chris Forbes back at the end of 2011. February 29, 2012 was my first day of work. I had to do a head to toe make-up on Jez and turn her into an ancient female vampire. I did many effects on that day to include a double stake in her body, a throat slashing and her demise. I was introduced to my all-time favorite scream queen Linnea Quigley while working on Blood River. I also did work on Vengeance Without Mercy, Confederate Calvary and Billy The Kid 2.

What was it like to meet Linnea Quigley after having been a fan of hers? Was she involved in Blood River when you met her?
When Chris Forbes came to me about making Blood River back in 2011 he told me Linnea had agreed to do it, and if I agreed to do the film I would get to meet her. We drove to her home in Florida; I think it was in April; and when I met her she was everything I had imagined. She was so friendly and flattered that I knew more about her career then she did. She signed all the videos, DVDs and a poster I brought for me. Linnea first came to my attention back in 1985 when she played Trash in Return Of The Living Dead. I also liked 'seeing' her in 1984’s Silent Night Deadly Night. She was great in 1987’s Night Of The Demons. I believe Linnea will be involved in future Forbes productions, so I think I will be working with her again. Through the times I met Linnea she agreed to be the pre-credit kill in my film Fun-n-Games. What more could I ask for getting my Icon in my very first film, heaven. I killed her as a zombie (my make-up) in Stephen Gilliam’s (local filmmaker) Confederate Zombie. I also did Linnea’s zombie make-up. I played her bodyguard and did her "Queen of the Dead" make-up for Forbes' Miss Strangelove. I murder her in the opening scene of my film Fun-n-Games and did the death make-up. I had two acting scenes with her in Blood River. This was the highlight; sharing screen time with Linnea was great.

Describe your experiences shooting scenes with Linnea Quigley. What was it like to work with her?
When I was first introduced to Linnea in 2012 it was like we were friends forever after a few minutes. While at her house I called my wife and asked Linnea if she would say hello to her. I expected the cordial amenities but to my surprise they chatted for over a half hour. Sharing screen time with Linnea was a dream come true, a highlight of my life and considering some of the stuff I have been through that is saying a lot. She is so easy to work with. I am by no means an actor; I did the role because I was there and hoped I didn't embarrass myself but she was so easy to work with and treated me as though I was a professional. She did whatever you asked, never got uppity and never wanted "star" treatment. If getting to share screen time with Linnea wasn't enough I also got to dunk my grandson Jackson in a baptism scene and share some screen time with my son Roger II and his wife Addy. The scene was a family affair for me. After I had applied her make-up for Miss Strangelove she told me the procedure was painless and fast, as she had suffered long procedures with previous make-up artists that didn't look as good, and she wouldn't mind working with me again. I hope very much to be able to work with her again.

What sort of contributions do you feel Linnea Quigley has made to indie horror? Are there other scream queens whose careers you have been following, and whom you would like to meet and work with?
Chris Forbes and I are both over 50 so we were well into life when the 80's horror boom began. I was always a horror fan and rented Return Of The Living Dead from a local rental store and this cute punk proceeded to strip off her clothes and dancing on a crypt in the cemetery and a lifelong love affair began. Now at this time Linnea still is a name and indie filmmakers use her because she is so easy to get along with; she is always prepared and professional. Unfortunately she is often given little screen time and it pisses me off. Every time I buy a DVD with her name attached and she is only onscreen for a few minutes. In Blood River she has more screen time than the last five indies (or more) I have seen her in. While not a "real" scream queen Adrienne Barbeau, star of The Fog, Creepshow, Swamp Thing and Escape From New York is another that I would love to work with. Today’s scream queens are so generic, lack talent except for disrobing and looking fake.

The first Linnea Quigley movie I saw was Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama in which she had a major role. Escape From New York and Creepshow I particularly remember Adrienne Barbeau appearing in, along with Cannibal Women In The Avocado Jungle of Death. Would you like to work with Adrienne at some point?

In SB Linnea got to play the hero, Her character was tough, sexy and sassy. She got to show off her fighting skills, she didn't do nudity and she was alive when the credits rolled. Nice change from her playing the victim. In Cannibal Women, a not too funny comedy, I think Adrienne was there for name value as she didn't have a great amount of screen time in this mediocre film. I liked her slasher film turn in Open House; she had a topless scene and played the victim. Linnea was already working with Chris Forbes when I joined up so that was a done deal. As for working with Adrienne I don't think that will happen. At this level of filmmaking the distributors usually supply the star to make the film more marketable and I don't have anything to do with that.

Can Vengeance Without Mercy, Confederate Calvary and Billy The Kid 2 be acquired on DVD? How long ago were those three films made and how much effects work did you do for each of them?
Vengeance Without Mercy and Confederate Calvary are being shopped around now. Billy The Kid 2 is still in production. On Vengeance Without Mercy I worked only one day. I supplied whip marks and some bullet wounds. I also made a burned body for the opening scene. Her name is Burn-nadette. I name all my full size props. On Confederate Calvary I had two big effects scenes, One involved a soldier being blown off his horse, having his arm shot off, getting shot through the mouth and getting a bullet in the head. The other effects were a man being torn in half when a mortar is fired directly at him. I like working on horror films better then westerns because there is more to do in horror. But distro for a western is easier since fewer westerns are made than horror films.

What was the best era in which to be a scream queen, and how much has the meaning of that term changed in your view?
The true scream queen era was the Eighties. Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer, Monique Gabrielle and to a lesser extent Linda Blair and Adrienne Barbeau. Today modern scream queens can't scream. They are instantly forgettable and have numerous body mods that are distracting. Linnea looked like the girl next door in peril; these new ones either look like plastic dolls or simply cannot act.

What was the nature of the stage deaths you designed for Joe and Jez at Cabaret Diabolique? What were the materials you used, and how realistic were the results once the jobs were completed? Where can any promotional photos be viewed?
The Toasther was an electric chair. The Heater was a laser beam cutting a man in half. The Tenderizer was a grinding machine, grinding up a man from neck to waist. The Stretch-O-Matic was the rack and The Magic Machine was my take on the old Iron Maiden. There were minor deaths, poisoning and a throat slashing. I built the props with items Chris Forbes had and some store bought stuff, paint, nails, duct tape etc. The Magic Machine was the highlight kill. It was actually Joe who wanted a medieval torture device. The original effects people tried to make something out of plastic garbage cans; I didn't like it. Joe and Jez didn't like it either so they said you make something and I did. About the realistic part, half of that comes from the way the effects are filmed and how long you are going to show it. I have no professional training and my bible for my knowledge is Tom Savini's book Grand Illusions. I have always loved horror films and when I watch their effects I think "I could do that simply with this and that". I started doing effects about eleven years ago. People hired me to work because I could do something with only a few dollars and a vivid imagination that, when filmed correctly, looks good enough for micro budget film making. Example: when Jez was turned into an ancient vampire using only a mixture of flour, water and black paint, with a little liquid latex on the face. Plus I can work very quickly. When you work on micro budget films you rarely get a "second bite at the apple". If it's good enough to use let's move on. I had made a micro budget film called Fun-n-Games that Chris saw. He liked the effects and asked me to duplicate some on Blood River. The Cabaret Diabolique production photos can be view on the Cabaret Diabolique Facebook page. There is even a shot clip of the electrocution. I have worked with Jez and Joe on all the films I have spoken of but only made up Jez on Blood River. My effects are done cheaply; anyone can do a great effect with the proper equipment, supplies and time. Most effects are trial and error and handmade by me. I can only do the basics and how good they look are in the eye of the beholder. I guess that they are good enough as I am asked to continue. Jez, having undergone an ordeal on that first day of shooting, loved the results when she saw them on film so when the other people they hired couldn't deliver the goods she asked me to please do the effects, so I did. I also storyboard all my kills to ensure all the shots needed to make the gag work on film are gotten.

How did you think up the ideas for the torture devices in Cabaret Diabolique? How does storyboarding help with this?
Chris has a huge warehouse full of all kinds of stuff. I looked at what was available and based my ideas on doing it the cheapest way possible using what we had on hand. Except for a sheet of plywood and some wooden dowels all the devices where made with stuff on hand. When you do gags quickly and cheaply you cannot linger on them too long. Chris knows that I will devise a series of quick shots that will allow us to pull off the gag without lingering on any one shot. Plus it makes it a whole lot easier when it comes to editing them together for maximum impact.

Describe Cabaret Diabolique; its storyline, characters and the cast members you worked with. When is Cabaret Diabolique to be unleashed upon the independent film community?
Cabaret Diabolique is about a theater group that performs "fake" deaths onstage. They have an agenda in which real deaths occur. With occasional assistance from my wife Scarlett Letizia I do all the work. I only got to know the victims. Cheryl Martin was the victim of The Toasther. Chris Duff was lasered by The Heater. Will Adams was the victim of The Stretch-O-Matic. I worked with him before; I killed him in Confederate Calvary and he was in Blood River. Bryan Norris I only met when I killed him in The Tenderizer. Schuyler Hart who dies in The Magic Machine I met twice and killed her the second day. The world premiere will be at the seventh Annual Poison Peach Fest on January 2 to 4, 2015. Many of the cast members will be present.

Name specific materials you usually work with while designing effects for horror movies?
I make my own brands of mouth blood and scab blood. I use mostly household stuff; flour, corn starch and corn meal. When layered with newspaper or paper towels I have made a set of shoulders that a like made head sits on. Using tubing from a local hardware store and either a syringe, plump or air compressor I can shoot or spray blood as far as I want. I use liquid latex, cotton, gauze and the like to make wounds. I hollowed out real wooden stakes so they would be light enough to stay on Jez's chest. I look for people throwing away old couches and I use the cushion foam to sculpt bodies and parts. Always have a good supply of duct tape. PVC piping for certain effects is used. Anything I see can be used for something.

How did you first meet Christopher Forbes and what led to you two collaborating on horror movies together? How experienced was he in indie horror cinema before you and he met? Was Blood River shown in theaters or released directly to DVD?
I knew of Chris Forbes while I was working for another filmmaker. When I split with him I had a store at the local flea market and Chris would occasionally set up. I met him there. He was working on a film called Miss Strangelove and asked me to supply some props and effects for the final slaughter. I worked a single night on that one and then he asked me to do work on Blood River. Blood River has not yet been picked up for distro yet. Chris is shopping it around. It premiered at the Poison Peach Fest at the Imperial Theatre in Broad Street Augusta 2013 and was well received.

Your work must have made a favorable impression on Chris Forbes if he asked you to design effects for his next project having known you for so little time. What was the movie Miss Strangelove about? Did anyone seeing it take note of your work?
After doing the single day work on Miss Strangelove Chris came to me to talk about work on Blood River. He was leery as he had had bad experiences with prior effects artists that their ability claims didn't match what they could do and cost him money and time on previous projects. So when I asked what I would get for my work, he said it would depend on what he saw I could do. The prior artist wanted hundreds to thousands of dollars and did badly. I said I would do your effects for a very low cost. So we did that first day with Jez (full body make-up and two stakes in her chest in her death scene). All went well; it filmed beautifully and was done quickly. He was sold and offered me more then was usual of I expected and the rest is history. Miss Strangelove is a vampire musical that Jez, Joe or Chris can speak more on than I can. I do not know about others liking my work. I don't do this for the money. I have to like the people. I do this because it is a form of immortality, I insist on a cameo role in most films I work on.

How long have you been a makeup artist, and when did you start developing a professional interest in it? Were there makeup artists who helped fuel your interest in designing movie makeup?
Tom Savini is my effects idol. Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead) who was a student of Savini is another. I have loved horror films all my life and being 59 years old I have no one else in my age group that shares my passion. I am US Army retired. I did twenty-one years from 1975 to 1996. I was born and raised in New York. I joined the Army in 1975 at age 19. I travelled the world as a combat engineer (four years) and aviator (seventeen years) and ended up teaching pilots from the US and allied nations how to fly the Blackhawk and Kiowa helicopters. I retired in 1996 and in 2003 I was put I touch with a guy who was making a low-budget film in Atlanta called Come Get Some. They needed bullet hits and squibs. So I went and did it. Then we collaborated on Come Get Some More. Both films finished and went nowhere. I was then working at my store at the flea market when a local (then) filmmaker had heard from somebody we both knew that I could do cheap effects. I won't mention his name because he turned out to be somebody that never finished what he started. Shortly after that I decided why not make a film myself. I had written a script called Fun-n-Games (in October 2006) and asked my wife (then girlfriend) if she would consider doing this effects laden short film. She agreed and part one was filmed in two days with numerous bloody effects. Since I never edited anything before it took six months. I sold over a hundred copies online and to friends and was asked to do a sequel. We did it in 2009 and it sold okay. After I met Chris and Linnea I asked her to be the pre-credit victim for my film, she agreed and did the scene. I then edited that footage and both parts into one film. Chris is now in the process of trying to get a distro.

How familiar are you with movies featuring Tom Savini in the cast or crew or both? What do you most like about his work?
I have been a fan of Tom Savini since I first saw Night Of The Living Dead in 1969. I like his early work with Bob Clark on Deathdream and Deranged, his followup work with George Romero on films like Dawn and Day Of The Dead and Martin. At one time Chris Forbes had hopes of Tom Savini starring in one of our films. Tom’s book Grand Illusion simply explains how the effects were accomplished on the previous films and Stephen King’s Creepshow. I learned all the basics from him and use a lot of the same things to do my effects.

When did Tom Savini’s Grand Illusion become available, and how strongly would you recommend it to horror fans?
The fourth edition of Grand Illusion from 1989 came into my hands in 2002. Every horror fan should know who Tom Savini is. His former assistant Greg Nicotero now has his own company, KNB FX, and is responsible for all the carnage on The Walking Dead. I think any budding effects artist would benefit from reading this book.

The social relevance of the first Living Dead trilogy (Night, Dawn, Day) has been discussed at length by reviewers and fans. What is your own take on the subject?
I don't think George started out to make political statements when he made Night Of The Living Dead. A lot has been made about the leading star Duane Jones being black. The simple fact was that he was the best actor they had at the time. Since I don't get into politics I don't really have anything to say except if a person is looking to find some social or political relevance in any work they will find it.

Having been a makeup and effects artist for so long, for what reasons would you prefer physical effects over computer generated effects? Name some movies or TV programs where the computer effects are not overdone.

CGI is great in large productions when they are well done, but at the level that hires a guy like me CGI usually looks bad. Younger folks love CGI laden effects extravaganzas, where acting takes a backseat to the explosions, I do not. Having grown up in the pre-computer age I grew up with practical, mechanical effects so that is what I prefer. The best example of practical/mechanical effects complimented with CGI is The Walking Dead. Greg Nicotero’s effects are enhanced with well rendered CGI. Another show on the Sci Fi channel, Z Nation has lesser practical effects and lower grade CGI. World War Z spent a very large amount of their budget on the spectacular CGI effects, even though the scenes of zombies en masse didn't look as good as the smaller scenes. You want to see bad CGI, watch most films shown on the Sci Fi channel.

Do you attend many horror conventions near you or in other states across the US? Which of them do you attend most frequently and how often have you been going?
I don't like attending horror conventions where fan boys are en masse saying they love horror movies but didn't know a film was a remake, or Scream is the best horror movie ever. When I owned my store Horror VHS were a big seller. One guy came in and asked to see "vintage" horror films. I proceeded to show him Universal and Hammer films and he looked at me not knowing what I was showing him and stated "I mean stuff from the 90’s.” Newsflash: few good horror films were made in the 90's. I did attend a single event way back in 1982, a Fangoria Convention at the Manhattan Hotel in New York City. This was back before every wannabe jumped on the bandwagon and you didn't have to stand in line for hours to pay high prices. The convention was The Fangoria Weekend of Horrors. I went because Tom Savini was there. I got to meet and talk to him and got his autograph. I also met Michael (The Hills Have Eyes) Berryman and Caroline Munro. Caroline Munro was another fav 80's scream queen of mine for her roles in Maniac (effects by Tom Savini) The Last Horror Film and Slaughter High.

You mentioned that your wife Scarlett has assisted you in your effects work. Does she have experience in the horror field?
Scarlett was a fan of horror films when I met her while we both set up at the flea market. I was scouting actors to do finish up scenes for Come Get Some More and I asked her if she would be interesting in being in the film. Her answer threw me because she was sitting right beside her mother: "I'll do topless if you need it.” I said thank you but that wasn't needed, but I will keep you in mind. So she came over and took part in a zombie feast and also ate an eyeball. That was her start in films. She did a great job in Fun-n-Games and is always available if I need her help, but before meeting me she had no interest in making movies.

How involved was Scarlett in Fun-n-Games? What other work has she done since she began collaborating with you? Are you and she planning to work together again?

Scarlett was remarkable in Fun-n-Games. She endured long hours of being tied or chained up. She had to run the gamut of emotions and survive a couple of misadventures while filming. Scarlett also looped all the music for part one. Gags Scarlett had done to her in part one: hand smacks, cuts with a razor blade, toe smashed with hammer, wires attached to nipples and electrocuted, rape, letters carved into her ass, spanking, pliers pinching nipple, nipple cut off, whipping, drilling into her leg and finally having her throat cut. That was only in part one. Without Scarlett there would have been no film. Scarlett had worked on six films with that other director but nothing ever happened with them. Scarlett is a full time Ebay seller but she would help me if the need arose. Some gags need two people to bring them off and she is always my second pair of hands. If I need her help on future projects she would and who knows what the future holds.

You mentioned that you have an extensive collection of horror memorabilia. Describe your collection to the readers?
Ever since videos were being made in the early 80's I tried to glom onto any horror films I had read about in Famous Monsters Of Filmland and the rest is history. I have about 20,000 VHS mostly horror, DVDs, lobby cards and stills, collectable cards, some 8mm and 16mm films, theatre posters, books, autographs, action figures, dolls, and plenty of one of a kind made by me props. Linnea Quigley also gave me a zombie arm she thinks was used in Return Of The Living Dead. Also a Creature From The Black Lagoon pinball machine and a life size Michael Myers. Plus I make and sell zombie dolls. I take broken or cheap dolls and transform them into zombie babies.

How long have you collected horror memorabilia? Does your collection include back issues of Famous Monsters Of Filmland?
While I was in the military I was somewhat limited to what I could acquire and ship safely so I was limited to non-breakables like VHS, lobby cards, magazines and stills. When I retired in 1996 my collection grew to its present size. I have about forty to fifty issues under #100. They are safely packed away so I am unsure. Forrest J. Ackerman was the founder of Famous Monsters, the very first horror mag that I would save my allowance (late 60's) to buy and kept buying until I joined the army in 1975.

I take it you intend to keep the back issues you have of Famous Monsters instead of selling them to other collectors? Does your collection also include classic comics such as Creepy and Eerie? Are there mags or comics you want to add?

As with my collection I never sell anything. I have a few early copies of Creepy and Eerie as Warren Publications were the bomb in the late 60's-70's. I also have some rare EC comics, black and white ink drawn mags with lurid color covers like Vault Of Terror, Witches Brew, etc. One of my prized possessions is my Herschel Gordon Lewis (Blood Feast) book signed by him. I don't believe in just going to a store or online to pay high prices for back issues so if I find them while hunting for Ebay I scarf them up. I got a great many back issues of Rue Morgue mag and Fangoria in lots for low prices at the flea market. A friend of mine who buys and sells like I do lets me know when he has something and I get them from him. I was an original subscriber to Fangoria when it was first published in the early 80's and have many of their early issues. My last nice haul of horror books and mags came from Mike Weldon's Psychotronic Store on Broad Street. In the early 80's when the video boom started I was on recruiting duty in New York. All these rare horror films that you had seen stills of in old horror mags finally came available. I bought his first book The Psychotronic Encyclopedia Of Film (November 1983) and my goal was to watch every film reviewed in it. In 1995 he published his second volume, The Psychotronic Video Guide (1995) I started by that time getting hot and heavy into VHS horror collecting and looked for films reviewed in this book. I still own my very first new VHS I bought back in 1983, Thorne EMI's release of Dawn Of The Dead. I watched that video twenty to thirty times when I first got it. It still plays like new.

Do you have future projects in mind that you would reveal to the readers at this point?
I just finished my part on Billy the Kid Showdown in Lincoln County. I am not working on anything until January when we will start work on the horror film Wretched. I won't know much about it until Chris finishes the screenplay and we discuss what will be needed. Chris will show me the screenplay and we will rewrite effects as we figure out what we can do for the money and time we have. I hand make all my props and gags and reuse them if I can. I am not sure what Chris has planned in the future but I am sure I will be there.

Cabaret Diabolique

-Dave Wolff

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