Interview with director, writer and artist Bret McCormick

Bret McCormick directed one of my absolute favorite films of all time, The Abomination, but that’s not all he’s done. From 1984 to 1996, he released a treasure trove of films that hit nearly every shelf of the video store, including Rumble in the Streets and The Protector for Roger Corman. Now, McCormick writes and paints from his home in Bedford, Texas.

His prolific writing projects include Road Kill Volume 4: Texas Horror by Texas WritersThe Toilet Zone (32 short horror stories perfect for bathroom reading) and the novel Skin Dreams AKA Poor White Trash Part 3.

He’s also put together a non-fiction book called Texas Schlock, which examines b-movie, science fiction and horror movies produced in Texas from the late 1950s up to the present day. The films and careers of such cinematic trailblazers as Larry Buchanan, S.F. Brownrigg, Tom Moore, Edgar G. Ulmer, Robert A. Burns, Glen Coburn and McCormick, himself, are explored from a fun and appreciative perspective. You can get a signed copy right here and to see all of Bret’s books, check out his Amazon page.

With an upcoming reissue of The Abomination as well as a book about the film, we connected with Mr. McCormick who was kind enough to grant us an insightful and far-reaching interview.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: It seems like you grew up a monster kid or at least really interested in horror movies. What was your gateway into horror? When did you realize you were really obsessed?

BRET MCCORMICK: My folks were teen parents. Mom was 16 when I was born. In fact, I attended her high school graduation. That’s not something everyone can lay claim to! The TV was the babysitter in my family. My earliest memories are of watching movies, then acting out what I’d seen. Buck Rogers, Tarzan, Hercules and Roy Rogers. A local station played lots of Universal horror films and I became fascinated first with the Frankenstein monster, then Dracula and finally all of them. I had a rope swing in our yard and would pretend to be swinging and kicking the monster into the sulphur pit as I’d seen in Son of Frankenstein.

B&S: I’ve read you started sending out stories in your early teens. What kind of things were you writing? Did it inform your films in any way?

BRET: My mom worked in a real estate office and one day one of her business associates found out I liked horror and SF and gave her an anthology of Ray Bradbury stories to pass on to me. That changed my life. In Bradbury I found a path to the weird side without abandoning all that is beautiful about being human.

When I was 13, I wrote a novella about a private detective who encounters a series of murders and a zombie. Women’s rights was in the news a lot then and Ms. Magazine was a fairly new thing, so I threw in some subplot male/female friction between the main character and his landlady. It was about a hundred pages and got a couple of very polite rejections from publishers.

There were lots of markets for mystery/crime fiction back then, so I wrote a lot of that, but always with a supernatural or horror element added to the mix. I encountered the same situation in film distribution – distributors wanted action, not horror. I always tried to slip in a little weirdness. Like in Blood On the Badge where the cop’s partner is in a coma, but reaching out to him telepathically.

B&S: So how did you go from film school to just plain doing it?

BRET: It wasn’t a quick jump. I struggled for about three and a half years trying to get a job in the film business. It was all freelance and sporadic and most of what I found did not pay well. I already had a wife and child, so I decided I needed to raise money and create my own projects. Andy Anderson, the film instructor at UT Arlington, had shot a cheapie feature and licensed the rights to Vestron for $90,000. I was encouraged by that, but things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for me.

A movie that just might change your life.

B&S: Obviously, The Abomination is where so many — including me — came into contact with you. How did you come up with the idea for the film? 

BRET: I wanted to do a sort of homage to Herschel Gordon Lewis, but in my mind at least, I was creating a fusion between Herschel’s gore and the otherworldly horror of H.P. Lovecraft. Lofty aspirations for a project shot in 10 days on Super 8 film. But that was my thought process.

I write novels and short stories these days and when I do book signings a lot of folks ask where ideas come from. I believe every idea, word and action originates in the spiritual realm. I think there are discarnate entities around us all the time, ready and willing to influence our thoughts. Our thoughts establish a frequency and attract entities (or as the Greeks called them, geniuses or muses) which resonate with our vibration. These entities can direct us in creative endeavors, business, politics or weirdness like the Son of Sam or Charles Manson. I wrote a bit about this subject in a book called The Horror Writer, published by Crystal Lake.

B&S: When you speak of entities that give us ideas, do you connect that to the collective unconsciousness? Or an explanation of how some musicians say, “It just came to me?” I can see how some can get the right ideas — a song like “Blackbird” and others can misinterpret that song as a call to violence…

BRET: I speak of them as entities because to most people it feels like something “other” than themselves. Yes, you can call it Jung’s collective unconscious. I think of it as various “streams of consciousness” which I happen to find myself navigating. Almost all of my creative endeavors took on a life of their own as soon as I began them — the characters and incidents arise without my conscious intent. The characters do what they want, whether or not they are acting in accordance with my plot.

I paint, too, and sometimes after just a few strokes, literally in a matter of less than ten minutes I have a finished painting. There is no way I planned that. No way, my conscious mind can take credit for that. Some unconscious aspect of mind is controlling my movements. That doesn’t always happen. But I have found that if I make myself available on a regular basis, at the same time every day, these influences are reliably available to me. This is the reason I tell aspiring writers to have a schedule and stick with it.

Things get wild in The Abomination.

B&S: What works for me in the film — the whole thing works, actually — but most importantly, the effects work for the film. It’s just a world that you built. And unlike the CGI would now, those pieces were all over the place and a real thing. What was the experience like?

BRET: I have a real love of creating things: paintings, sculptures, monsters. I learned a lot of tricks from reading Dick Smith’s make-up guide – the one published by Famous Monsters of Filmland. I read Cinemagic and books on creating puppets. It’s so much fun to me. In this case I was doing it and making a little money, but I’d often created things simply for the joy of doing it. The production was grueling, hard and messy. Stinky, too. I’m glad we did it, but I don’t think I’d want to do it again. Not at my age. I’ll keep writing and let others make movies. Writing is a fairly comfortable enterprise and extremely satisfying to a compulsively creative person like me.

B&S: The film seems so of its time, when UHF channels were the Wild West and televangelism really hadn’t been prosecuted yet. Did any of the preachers of that time influence the film?

Robert Tilton and his gospel of prosperity in action.

BRET: Texas was full of those televangelists. People like Robert Tilton. Actually, I do not condemn these people. They saw a path to wealth and it worked for them. A leader cannot succeed unless there are willing followers. By condemning these preachers what are we saying? That we need to protect gullible people from these manipulators? Is the government any better? I don’t think so. Instead of people grumbling about churches not paying taxes, I say, start your own church. Doesn’t that make more sense? Robert Anton Wilson felt the same way, so I’m in good company.

The stories of Tabloid.

B&S: Tabloid is a pretty interesting anthology. We’ve kind of moved from tabloids being a supermarket joke that no one admitted to reading to so much of mass media. What were the theories behind the film?

BRET: In the early 80s there was a huge focus in mass media on tabloids. Johnny Carson and others on TV regularly did comic bits about them. Lots of DJs had regular segments on their shows that delved into the tabloid world.

Tabloids were the precursors of Youtube in a way. A place where the line between fantasy and reality was blurred. It’s in such places that magic happens. It just seemed like the right time to do a tabloid movie. The Talking Heads obviously thought so, too. I just wish we’d made a better movie. But Bob Ross says there are only happy accidents. Maybe I should say I wish our accident was a happier one.

B&S: You’ve moved around genres quite often, from action to horror to, well, some non-categorizable films. Do you have a specific genre you gravitate to?

BRET: Had it been entirely up to me I probably would’ve made nothing but horror and SF films. These were my true love. But I loved making movies and to keep working I often had to do things in other genres. Horror was really a disrespected genre back then. Less so today. Truth is I love story telling. I appreciate every genre and even some bizarre little films that are difficult to categorize. Like last night I watched a very low budget movie on either Netflix or Amazon called The Vast of Night. I loved it. Maybe you’d call it suspense. I suppose labels don’t really matter, only responses matter. I responded very favorably to that little film. And it was shot in Texas.

Real vampires inside

B&S: You’ve also made some docs, like Children of Dracula, which seems ahead of its time now in shining a light on a culture some would see as aberrant. What was that process like?

BRET: We ran ads in an alternative newspaper in Dallas and one in LA and then screened through the respondents. It was a very quick production. I was very glad Joe Estevez agreed to narrate. I didn’t take it very seriously at the time.

B&S: Is there a reason behind your alternate names? Did it put you in a different headspace or was there another reason?

BRET: Very intuitive of you to mention the different headspace. Yeah, I consider myself an artist and beyond just the movies, my life IS my art. I created the alter ego Max Raven in high school. In the early 80s I created Bando Glutz. In my mind Bando is a sort of fusion of Dan O’Bannon and Terry Southern. Old hippie who lives on the fringe. I’ve become more and more Bando Glutz as I’ve grown older.

From left to right, Bret McCormick, Roger Corman and cinematographer Scott Wilson.

B&S: What was it like making films with/for Roger Corman?

BRET: We’ve all heard the horror stories told by other film makers and actors about working with Corman. The main complaint seems to be how cheap he was/is. That is, of course, true. But after having made a couple of movies in the less-than-$20,000 range, when Corman give me $150,000 to do one, it seemed like a breeze. He made few demands and let me work on my own turf, so I had a blast. He visited the location in Ft. Worth for a couple of days. I have nothing but respect for that venerable schlockmeister.

B&S: I See World Peace seems like a departure from your work. What brought that up? Do you feel it was a successful project?

BRET: I See World Peace was never intended as a commercial project, but as an exploration of spiritual ideas. Is world peace possible? Some think so. Others believe it’s worth striving for even if it is impossible. The project was inspired by the bumper stickers which were issued in the 80s by Carmel Temple in Houston, Texas, which read: Visualize World Peace. That idea captured my imagination and I wanted to interview the people behind it and like-minded others. If you don’t have a copy, let me know and I’ll send you a DVD. Labor of love. The sound mix is terrible, but I had a lot of fun doing it. 

What I said earlier about life being a work of art – I think it’s important to remember that. People are multifaceted and to brand oneself as exclusively a ‘horror’ guy or exclusively an “action” guy is short-sighted, unrealistic and really serves no one other than the distributor or publisher who is trying to get you to go along with such nonsense. People who insist on seeing more of the same from their favorite “artists” are not deep thinkers and are really just sheep always moving toward the familiar. A commercialized form of xenophobia.

B&S: If you could remake anything, would you? Where would you see those stories taking place today or how would the world change them?

BRET: I was always prolific. I still am. I have way too many ideas. No way I can even write them all down before I die. There’s always a new avenue to explore, which is why I’d never remake anything. I’ve written four screenplays this year, though. And I’ve always wanted to write a sequel to The Abomination. If the opportunity arises and it makes sense financially, I’ll do it.

B&S: Where can that movie go from here…not to ask you to give it away for free?

BRET: Well, you’ve seen The Abomination. Anyone who has seen The Abomination knows it consists of two distinct narratives: what you see and what you hear. Ever notice how what we hear in our lives (on TV news, radio and films) is often distinct from what we see with our own eyes? Yet, both have a definite influence on us and become part of the story of who we are and who we choose to become.

Manos showing up in Texas Schlock (taken from https://severed-cinema.com/review-of-texas-schlock-by-bret-mccormick/)

B&S: I love Texas Schlock. It seems like so much of the films and culture from Texas reflect horror differently, from the way Brownrigg views the world to the budget fun of a Larry Buchanan film to something people have seemed to forget like Robert Burns’ Mongrel (hell, even Roky Erikson’s whole solo stuff is so horror obsessed). What is it about the great state of Texas?

BRET: Not much has been written bout it, but Jameson Film Studio out of Dallas was a highly influential enterprise, not just regionally, but nationally. Maybe I should write a book about them. S.F. Brownrigg, Larry Buchanan, Tom Moore and Larry Stouffer all did work for Jameson before exploring exploitation films. Jameson was in business for about 60 years. Because Jameson’s alumni got into the B-movie racket, I think other Texans were inspired to give it a go. Texans have a reputation for being extroverts and bragging a lot. I think they’re the sort of folks who think, you’re telling me I can’t do that? Just watch me!

I LOVE Roky Erikson! The poor guy got a raw deal for sure. I go on binges of listening to his music. Slip Inside This House really haunts me. I wrote a short story based on If You Have Ghosts. 

Lone Star State. What is the lone star if not a pentagram? Not to generalize about the entire state, mind you. I definitely believe in honoring the light and realizing that the dark exists only as a shadow thrown by the light. But I will say a lot of evil has been committed in the state of Texas by people who seem oblivious to the fact that they are behaving wickedly. I’m talking about the lynchings and incarceration of immigrant children, that sort of thing.

As the great awakening continues, I think we’ll see less and less mindless evil. More and more mindful cooperation and a general raising of consciousness. There will still be people who choose to act out dark impulses, consciously choosing evil, but there will be less spontaneous evil arising from misguided sense of virtue.

Oops. Sorry I didn’t realize I’d climbed up on that soap box.

B&S: I’m intrigued by this Great Awakening concept. Jodorowsky claimed that this time of plague was almost like the cards of change in the tarot, that this was an opportunity, if people wanted it, to change art to be about empowering the human spirit and encouraging connection. Sometimes, great change comes with great sacrifice, as you know.

BRET: Anyone with an awareness of their own spiritual nature has noticed we are in the midst of a great awakening. It’s been going on in earnest for about twenty years now. People feel it. Some don’t want to talk about it. Old systems of control are breaking down and people have more access to information than ever before. More people are making the choice to act in cooperation rather than competition. Jodorowsky is right on. And you’ll find the same sort of perception emerging from artists and philosophers and seekers all around the world. A human who sees him/herself as fundamentally spiritual knows that sacrifice is an artifact of illusion. One’s destiny is controlled by one’s mind, by one’s intent.

Thanks to Bret for all of his time and amazing answers. Stayed tuned for big news on the re-release of The Abomination and the book. Until then, you can get a signed copy of Texas Schlock right here and to see all of Bret’s books, check out his Amazon page.

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