Eric Eichelberger: An Interview with the Director of Exploit This! The Complete History of Exploitation Cinema in America

Be it the films of yore or films from the new turks on the scene, low-budget and independent cinema is our jam at B&S About Movies. And one of those movies by one of those new turks who tickled our “brains” was writer and director Eric Eichelberger with the comedic horror Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre. His feature film debut, it paid a dual homage to ’70s grindhouse and exploitation flicks and ’80s Italian zombie flicks.

So it makes sense that Eric’s next feature film would be a documentary to honor the filmmakers and films that lead to the creation of GSZM. And when he announced the kickoff of his Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign to finance the project, we knew we had to do our part to get the word out to you, the lovers of the same movies we love.

Exploit This! The Complete History of Exploitation Cinema in America is a currently-in-development documentary that will explore the history of the exploitation film from its development with the birth of cinema itself, to its golden age in the 1940s and 1950s, its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, its death and then makeover in the 1980s, and ultimately, to its revitalization in the present. Exploit This! features interviews with all the major players in the exploitation film business, as well as film experts, Hollywood directors and actors, and those of what is now known as “adult cinema.”

We had the opportunity to sit down with Eric to discuss his latest project — and understand how a nice kid from Northwest Indiana who graduated from Chicago’s Columbia College ended up making movies about zombified girl scouts giving birth to ravenous zombie babies.

B&S: To prepare for the interview, I re-watched Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre, this afternoon. Eric, you’ve got problems, man. You’re damaged. Just one too many viewings of Basket Case and Brain Damage.

E.E: I think you’ve understood the movie more than any [reviewer] I’ve seen write about the film. I appreciate that.

B&S: That’s the one thing that perturbs me when I watch a movie: I read the reviews and wonder if the commenter actually watched the movie. I think the issue with streamers today is that they’re younger than you and I, so they don’t have the same reference points that we do. They’ve probably never seen Basket Case and can’t make the connections. Your film requires a deeper set of film references.

E.E: Yeah, the people that have reviewed it, just didn’t understand it [for those reasons], mostly. They’re looking for a more ‘traditional’ horror film.

B&S: So, it all started at the age of 8 in a cornfield? I can hear your mom, ‘What’s Eric doing all day in those cornfields?’ I am hoping life didn’t imitate art. Anything you want to clear off your chest, Eric?

E.E: No, no. There’s no bodies out there. There was just nothing to do [as kids], so we just played in the cornfields, you know hide-and-seek, in the cornfields of Indiana. That’s what we’re known for: cornfields, Axl Rose, Kurt Vonnegut, and Larry Bird. Yeah, there wasn’t a lot to do out there, except play in the cornfields.

B&S: But those cornfields inspired your filmmaking, to make movies out there?

E.E: Not so much the cornfields, but I was just attracted to films that were spooky, since I was born on Halloween. So, at age four, I was watching movies like Poltergeist and getting spooked. And I like that: watching scary movies. My parents weren’t concerned, so I could watch what I wanted. By the time I was in my preteens, I watched most of the Jason and Freddy movies, Hellraiser, and all the major horror films. When I got a little older as a teenager, I became interested in [Alejandro Jodorowsky’s] El Topo and those weird art movies, like Peter Jackson’s movies at the time, with Meet the Feebles and Bad Taste.

B&S: And what about the J-Horror cycle?

E.E: Yeah, I liked The Eye, The Ring series, and Takashi Miike with Visitor Q, and Battle Royale. There was a guy I knew — I grew up an hour-and-change from Chicago — that I’d see at Cons and he got me into all of these horror movies; he had a Starlight Video bootleg catalog with everything off Japanese laserdiscs that he duped onto video tapes. So I would find stuff through him and buy it. In fact, I spent all of my paper route money on it.

B&S: You continued to make films in high school. Did you take photography classes in high school or did they have a film program? What were the titles of some of those films?

E.E: When I was in middle school, my friend and I made films; we were making comedic films, shorts really. In freshman year of high school, I made a film in a class called Freshman Seminar. It was a class where you were allowed to explore what you wanted to do for a career: I wanted to make horror films. So I made a little horror short called Flesh and a little horror documentary.

Through a friend, I met someone who had an [Commodore] Amiga 2000 which ran the NewTek Video Toaster, which is a very early film editor before Final Cut. He put together these clips [for the documentary] that I taped-to-tape on video tape, then he allowed me to put my voice-over on them. One of the girls in my class was a very serious Christian and she was so offended by the clips; there were clips from Faces from Death, as there was a whole section on Mondo Films. The teacher gave me an ‘F’ on the assignment. And since the film was the whole purpose of the class, I failed the class. I thought I did something really cool: this little short-form documentary about cult and exploitation movies, sort of what I am doing now [with Exploit This!]. But the grade was based on the [offensive] content and not the work itself. But I went on and made more, anyway, on my own.

B&S: And how did you handle your home-grown gore effects? Back in the day, I learned from the master, Tom Savini: All you needed was Elmer’s Glue, Wheaties, Karo Syrup, and red food coloring. Oh, the memories of Mom banging on the bathroom door, ‘Richard, what are you doing?’ ‘Nothing Mom! Making blood.

E.E: Yes. We used Karo Syrup and red food coloring. For the guts we’d use spaghetti. I had a friend back in high school who was a very serious special effects fan; he wanted to get into that for a career, and he helped out with the more complicated stuff.

B&S: Then, at the age of 18, off you went to Chicago’s Columbia College to study film, which led to your first feature film, the shot-on-video Cannibal Teenage Riot. Did you shoot-on-video out of financial necessity or was the format in homage to the SOV format that gave birth to such direct-to-VHS classics such as Blood Cult and Spine?

E.E: I have seen some of those films. I didn’t see Spine until later and I really liked that a lot. But I did see SOV films like Boardinghouse and Gore-met Zombie Chef from Hell, so I knew I could shoot on video. But yeah, it was also out of necessity. We didn’t have a budget, we just had a Hi-8 camera, you know, before Mini-DV, but after Super-8. It was the first, sort of, video format after VHS, you know, the real big, blocky cameras. Hi-8s were a little bit smaller. So we shot on that.

But that inspired me to expand on the six-minute short Flesh I made in freshman year. The idea behind [Cannibal Teenage Riot] is that there’s a town of cannibals. Everyone in this town are cannibals and it’s a known secret. So a family moves into the town and there’s a high-school peer pressure situation for the girl to become part of the cannibals. Initially, I wrote a short story called Dinner Party and adapted that into Flesh. Then, when we made Cannibal Teenage Riot and expanded on that, we made it more funny and sort of campy. Someday, I’d like to make a more serious, a more dark-comedy version of [Cannibal Teenage Riot], that will be more, sort of like The Night of the Living Dead.

B&S: Are there any other ideas or concepts that went unfinished that you may also bring back?

E.E: I have a couple of concepts. I wrote another movie in high school, more of an idea for a movie, based on an urban legend in our town called Old Man Dewey. He goes crazy — like in The Crazies — and kills his family with an axe; then the whole movie is about high school kids, again. They dare each other to spend a night in the Dewey House. But these kids take psychedelics and go to the house to spend the night and things start happening. You’re not quite sure if Old Man Dewey is back or is it a copycat killer or is it hallucinations. But that’s the film, Old Man Dewey.

B&S: Then, after college, you came to work with the author and director of Hellraiser and Nightbreed, Clive Barker, and Stuart Gordon of Re-Animator fame. How did you come to work on Gordon’s King of the Ants (2003), and what was the project that you worked on with Clive Barker?

E.E: I met Clive Barker while I was still in college when I was around 20 or 21. I was a huge fan of his and read all of his comics and his books and saw his movies. I went to this convention in Atlanta called Dragon Con. One year they decided to do a Barker Con. Clive was there for the three-day affair. So I went to that while still in college. I met Clive there and had him sign things, like at a regular convention. There was one night where Clive and Doug Bradley, and a few of us from the convention, went to a nightclub with a BDSM theme. What was funny is that Doug Bradley got really squeamish about the blood, considering he’s Pinhead from Hellraiser.

But I got to know Clive and his producer, at the time, Rob. So, when I took a road trip out to L.A., I went to see The Cult [in concert] with Rob and just got to know the guy a little bit and stayed in touch. When I moved to L.A. from Chicago, I took a meeting with Rob and asked to intern with Clive’s company. So I ended up being Clive’s assistant, going out on photo shoots and production meetings and stuff. I was helping him setting up his paints, anything he needed. Through Clive, I began to make connections with fans within his fan-based community, and got involved in festivals of his work.

That’s how I got in touch with Stuart Gordon: I had a friend from that world who knew Stuart and I requested a showing of Re-Animator. Stuart ended up coming to the festival. The next year, he came back and showed Dagon, which he was promoting at the time. After Dagon, I stayed in touch with Stuart and asked what his next project was and that I would love to work on one of his projects. The next project he had in the pipeline was King of the Ants. It’s a great film, an underrated one. It stars George Wendt, you know, Norm from Cheers and House. It’s a $500,000 movie and Stuart’s wife made sandwiches. Daniel Baldwin (Stealing Candy, Trees Lounge) was in it and he, I think he felt bad we were eating these grilled cheese sandwiches, so he bought Starbucks for the cast and crew.

B&S: In December 2019, when Walt Disney Studios announced director Wes Ball (The Maze Runner trilogy film series) was hired to direct an untitled fourth film in the Planet of the Apes franchise, we did an “Ape Week” blowout reviewing all of the official ape movies and all of the knockoffs and ripoffs. And one of the films we reviewed was Lou Vockell’s Planet of Erotic Ape (2002), where you worked as the Second Unit Director. How did you end up in Cincinnati and come to work with Lou?

E.E: That’s an interesting film, a piece-together. You know how Al Adamson would make these movies where he’s putting in other footage and gives it a new title. There was a guy who I worked for several times, named Mike Roscoe, who ran a company, EI Independent Cinema. Now they’re called Alternative Cinema. I worked for those guys several times making a number of different films. Well, they had a production that was short and they wanted to stretch out the time. So I went to San Francisco and filmed some actors, where we filmed these little vignettes to include in the film. So it was one of those weird ‘Al Adamson’ type of things.

B&S: The great Jim Wynorski is, of course, royalty at the B&S offices — and by working with Lou Vockell, you were one degree away from the man who made Chopping Mall. So cool! How amazing was it to work with Julie Strain (Psycho Cop Returns, Naked Gun 33 1/3, Beverly Hills Cop II, Battle Queen 2020) and Monique Gabrielle (Jim Wynorski’s Transylvania Twist, 976-Evil II, Munchie) on Planet of Erotic Ape?

E.E: I worked with Julie Strain, but not on that. I worked on a movie, Blood Gnome (2004), and she was in that movie that was shot in L.A. I also have a scene in the movie with my wife, who was acting at the time. I met Julie for the first time on that production. I was writing for a website at the time, B-Movie, where we had different stories and articles each month about a particular Scream Queen. We were going to do a whole spread on her, so I went to her house. She was so nice. She was living at the time with Kevin Eastman who created the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles. And he was so nice, as well. So we went into her backyard, I had a professional photographer with me, and she just took her clothes off. I was in shock. Later, recently [for Exploit This!], when I interviewed Debbie Rochon, I mentioned working with Julie Stain and the interview. She told me that Julie just wants to be naked all the time! At the Shock-a-Go Go Festival that I did, we ended up showing Blood Gnome. But, yeah. That’s how I ended up working with Julie. Babes in Kong Land was the title [at the time], but it had alternate titles.

B&S: Then you followed up Cannibal Teenage Riot with your second feature film, Fear of a Limp Planet. What year was that shot and released? Did you shoot on video or 16mm or 35mm? Could you tell our readers about the plot?

E.E: It was shot in 2002 and it had a very small, festival release and played in Indianapolis and L.A. a few times. It was shot on Mini-DV, as we couldn’t afford 16 or 35. It was funded by William Hellfire and his company, Factory 2000. He has several movies, but I met him because I was a huge fan of his movie Caress of the Vampire 2 (1996). I found his contact on an old video tape that I had and called the number and they put me into contact with him. I told him that if he came to Los Angeles I’d love co-directing a movie with him; that I wrote a sequel to his movie. He ended up flying out to work on a different movie; but we worked on [Fear of a Limp Planet], as it was meant to be part of the Caress of the Vampire series. EI Cinema, that is, Alternative Cinema, bought the film. So the film ends up with a distribution deal at Walmart [with other EI titles]. A huge deal. So Walmart made these promises they didn’t keep and returned all of this product and almost bankrupted SRS Cinema, the distributor.

So, I’ve got this movie. And I reached back out to Mike Roscoe, who initially didn’t want the film. So he took the movie and gave it a small release, a self-release. Things went down hill from there, as [the studio] went into hardcore and got away from B-Movies. So [Fear of a Limp Planet] basically sat on the shelf. They bought it and didn’t release it, at least not in a wide release. So that movie is still owned by them, as they bought the rights in perpetuity. Unless they go out of business, I really can’t do anything with the movie.

B&S: Then, starting in 2010, we’re assuming to pay the bills and ‘work’ as a filmmaker, you moved into the world of reality TV, where you worked in the suites as an assistant editor. Two of the series you worked on were Steven Seagal: Lawman and UFC Ultimate Insider. You usually don’t rub elbows with the talent or celebrities in the suites, but did you get lucky and meet any UFC fighters? Is there a Seagal-Eichelberger selfie you Smartphone-sling to impress your friends?

E.E: No, not really. Steven did come, once, to the office. That was a weird show. Steven was accused of human trafficking and they had to shut down the show in the second season — and they had worked up a whole third season. There was a giant scandal. It was huge at the time, with TMZ and all. But, yeah, around the time [my wife and I] had kids. I had been working on sets a lot and I needed to do something in the industry that wasn’t so crazy with the hours; many of the jobs I’ve had, like in the art department, I was working 18 hour days — long days — all the time. It took its toll and I needed something that wasn’t so crazy now that we had a kid. So I got into editing and have done a lot of post-production work in the last ten years. But Steven’s Lawman show was really the first show I worked on in post and I basically learned AVID on that show. It was a fun experience and fun show to work and those people are still my friends. But I didn’t really interact with Steven and there’s no selfies. To tell you the truth: he was kind of a jerk. He’d say some pretty outrageous stuff. And he was mic’d 24/7 and it was my job to go through all of that footage and edit it down.

But I still do editing. I just worked on a pretty fun film, a horror film last year: Dolly Deadly 2: Run, Dolly, Run (read our “Ten Evil Dolls” featurette). It’s about a kid who grows up playing with dolls and becomes a drag queen serial killer. It was a whole lot of fun to edit. I do editing as a day job and I also teach. I’m a film professor, but not a full professor, yet. And I make movies.

B&S: Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre seems to have taken forever to make and get into the streaming-verse. I am sure your actors, as well as yourself, are ecstatic — and relieved — over the film’s reception.

E.E: Yeah, it took about nine years from the time of the idea, to the script, to the casting, and then raising funds, which we did with a trailer to promote the film. A lot of it was post-issues. We finished principal photography in 2012, so it was a long time in post, it was mainly a post nightmare. And there’s the issue of finding the right distribution and the right fit and festivals. We started releasing the movie to festivals in 2018, so that’s why, on some platforms, you see the date of 2018, because that’s when it played festivals.

Ghoul Scout played in a lot of festivals. There were a couple in India and one in the Amazon Rainforest. There was one in Wisconsin. One in New York. We had a big premiere in New York at a theater in Brooklyn and Lloyd Kaufman came. He never made an offer, but shortly after that premiere, I was contacted by the guy who handled the festival distribution. And that got me in touch with Boobs and Blood, which runs a festival and also a distribution platform. They’ve been really great getting it out on all of the streaming platforms and brick-and-mortar stores with physical media. And they’re going to expand onto pay cable platforms, like Comcast. And iTunes is next, along with Blu-ray. (Another B&B release we’ve recently reviewed is Blood Freaks.)

B&S: Now it’s time to complete the history of exploitation cinema in America through the lens of the people who lived that history. And for the past 13 years, between your various projects, you’ve compiled interviews with the movers and shakers of exploitation cinema. The cast of filmmakers you’ve secured is impressive: Roger Corman, Hershell Gordon Lewis, Jack Hill, Fred Olen Ray, Joel M. Reed, David F. Freidman, Larry Cohen, Ted V. Mikels. Then there’s the actors: Mary Woronov, Rhonda Shear, Debra De Liso, Brinke Stevens, and Debbie Rochon. How difficult is it to get a sit down with all of those celluloid icons. From the looks of your fundraiser trailer, they all certainly seem welcoming to your vision.

E.E: It really started out with these festivals that I worked on from 2001 to 2004. We filmed Clive Barker back then. I became friends with Joel M. Reed. When we showed Blood Feast 2, I met Hershel Gordon Lewis. When I was in Florida vacationing with my family, I traveled three hours from Orlando to Hershell’s condo to film. David F. Friedman came to the festival when we showed She Freak. We went out to Las Vegas to film Ted V. Mikels. At the time, Ray Dennis Steckler owned a little video store in Vegas and we filmed him.

B&S: So, then you’re looking at a late 2022 release.

E.E: Yeah, with the editing and all, definitely 2022.

B&S: Well, hopefully, when we post this interview — with the Kickstarter link — and with your B-Movie pedigree, I believe readers will say, ‘This guy’s really cool,’ and will want to support the film and make a contribution.

E.E: Yeah, our goal is $12,500. The Kickstarter journey has been a crazy ride. Just yesterday, we had a stranger donate $7000 and then, hours later, retract the donation and disappear. It felt like a roller coaster: one minute, we’re funded, we made it!? And the next minute: it’s back to the drawing board. It’s an emotional journey because this project is all or nothing. So, please if anyone can donate and share our dream. We are almost at $8000 and our goal is $12,500 and we have 6 more days.

I really appreciate how you looked at the [Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre], R.D. You really understood it and you’re the ‘audience’ of the film, for sure. And I think you’ll be the audience for the documentary, too. I feel it’s going to be the most interesting and most comprehensive documentary on the subject of cult movies and grindhouse movies. I can say that with almost certainty.

Many thanks to Eric Eichelberger for sitting down with us and giving B&S About Movies the opportunity to spread the word about his exciting project. And when Exploit This! hits the streaming-verse, you’ll hear about it first at B&S.

If you love the films that Eric loves, you can help him make the film a reality, with a target release date sometime in 2022. You can learn more on how to pledge to finance the film’s post-production by visiting the film’s official Kickstarter page — which features a preliminary trailer and more information about the production. You can learn more about Exploit This!, Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre, and Eric’s other works at Anxiety Films. There’s more information about the film — and the gifts you can receive for donating to the production — at the film’s official Facebook page.

And don’t forget to check out our review of Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre.

We have since spoken to Eric regarding his Shock-A-Go-Go Film Festival happening on April 22, 2022. You can learn more about the festival with this interview and announcement.

During our new interview regarding the festival, Eric also discusses the latest, post-production developments with Exploit This! — which is still on track for a late 2022 to early 2023 release.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

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