Visual Vengeance has just unleashed a double feature of director Jonathan Mumm’s shot on video movies Blood of the Chupacabras and Revenge of the Chupacabras. I was so excited to sit down with Jonathan and learn how these movies came to be.
B&S About Movies: What has it been like re-releasing your movies with Visual Vengeance?
Jonathan Mumm: It’s really, really nice. They’ve been available streaming but to have them come out with the poster art and all these extras and commentary tracks is very, very cool. It’s like a low budget horror movie version of a Criterion Collection release
B&S: How did you get into directing from acting?
Jonathan: I started in broadcasting but always wanted to be an actor. My uncle, Claude Akins was a successful actor and he let me stay with him and his family when I went to Hollywood. I got small parts in big things and big parts in small things and for awhile made my living as a voice-over artist. I thought my big break had come when Brookside Winery hired me to do a series of radio commercials for them. They had never advertised before and told me if sales went up, they would hire me full-time to be their spokesperson. Well, that kind of a regular job is the Holy Grail for commercial voice-over actors. So, the production company that made the spots and I kept watch on how the company’s sales were going. They went up 14% and we started celebrating, ready for the call that would tell us when our day job was going to start. That call never came. Instead, one day I’m driving home listening to the radio and here’s an ad for Brookside Winery voiced by none other than Vincent Price! I guess they figured if sales would go up with a nobody, they’d really go up with a movie star somebody! I went back to broadcasting.
I did keep my hand in Hollywood, though, taking those reporter parts you often see in movies and TV shows when crews would shoot on location in Sacramento where I worked as a reporter for a TV station.
And then one day I read an article on this Puerto Rican-Mexican-South American myth about a creature that supposedly killed goats, sucking their blood. It was called the Chupacabras which, in Spanish, literally means “sucker of goats” (hence the “s” at the end).
B&S: And that moment inspired these movies?
Jonathan: It was an editorial taken from the New York Times and it was about this creature — at this point no one in the United States had really heard of it — and I thought that if somebody made a movie about it, they could be the first to showcase a brand new monster. So why couldn’t that be me?
I wrote a script and John Alexander Jimenez, one of the guys I worked with, had a 16-millimeter camera and he came on as our DP. We shot a couple of scenes that we used to find investors. We knew once people saw these scenes and recognized the potential, they would just throw money at us. Of course, that didn’t happen.
Nobody seemed interested in dipping into their bank accounts. I did think it was a good sign when one of the investors asked for a copy of the script, but then he said, “I want to give it to my son because he really likes these movies.” (laughs)
We put the film cans on a shelf for a year because I didn’t have the money to finish it on my own. And then Mike Strange, one of the engineers at the TV station where I worked, came up to me and asked, “Are you ever going to finish your movie?”
I told him I wanted to but didn’t have the money. Well, he had just bought one of the early digital video cameras, a Canon XL 1. He said, “I’ll loan you the camera to finish shooting your movie on one condition. When you’re done, you teach me how to use it!”
I said, “Sure. We can do that!” And suddenly the movie was back on.
B&S: So the whole inspiration came from articles you read on the Chupacabras.
Jonathan: Yeah, it really was that! Once I had read this editorial, I looked up everything I could about the Chupacabras and threw it all into the script. Some viewers didn’t like the fact that I tied it up with earlier sightings of a creature called the Mocha Vampire, but actually that’s part of the legend in Puerto Rico. So is the Mago, the white witch.
I’ve always been into low budget, schlocky horror movies since I was a kid. I didn’t want to make a modern day gory horror film. I wanted to make a throwback to the old Roger Corman drive-in movies I got a kick out of back in the 60s.
B&S: That’s the Corman influence I thought I saw. It’s just as much about the town as it is about the monster!
Jonathan: There’s that sequence in there where they go down the river and they’re in that old World War Two vehicle, the amphibious duck. Well, the reason that that’s even in there is because the fellow who owned it, Mike Mattos, had a military vehicle and tank collection he would loan out to Hollywood. His vehicles were in the Robert Mitchum TV miniseries War and Remembrance and the movie The Second Civil War. He told me he had a friend who had a yacht we could use for our scene. So we show up. No friend. No yacht. And he says, “Don’t worry, I’ve got something.”
And here comes this amphibious duck. (laughs)
B&S: The second movie feels more like a traditional monster movie.
Jonathan: That’s due in large part to the way our distributor advertised the first movie. One of the actors in the movie — Kevin Hale, who has gone on to become quite a successful movie editor these days in Hollywood — kept checking their web site for signs the movie was coming out. He called me and said, “Well, there’s a Chupacabras movie on the website but it doesn’t look like our movie. It doesn’t even have the same title.”
It was our movie! The cover of the DVD had this horrible-looking, hideous creature, you know? And they’re giving you the impression that you’re about to see a really gory movie. Ours was tongue in cheek, this was out for blood!
I do think a lot of people were disappointed that the movie they watched did not quite match the advertising.
Now I admit, if we had seen their drawing before we made the movie, I think we would have made the monster look more like that! Still, it was in keeping with our Roger Corman approach. I mean, how many eyes do you think his The Beast with a Million Eyes really had? Now reaction online may have been vicious, but interestingly all the print reviewers seemed to get a kick out of it including Fangoria Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, Mick Martin’s DVD and Movie Guide and even a punk newspaper called The New York Waste.
In the midst of all the bad internet attention though, I realized other low budget independent movie makers might find themselves in the same boat, so I wrote an article called On Getting a Bad Review that was published by Indy Slate Magazine. And a few months later one of the actors in the film, Mark Halverson, asked me, “Do you think the distributor would be interested in a sequel?”
Almost to spite all the naysayers I wrote to the distributor and asked if they’d be interested in part two? Well, boy, I’ll tell you what, they must have made some money off our movie because I got an answer right away. They even sent a letter of intent.
For the second film, we actually had a production schedule. We actually had a production budget. We actually held auditions for the roles. It’s still super, super low budget and done really fast, but our computer effects guy, Rob Neep, went to town on the monster which this time looks like the monster on the cover of the first movie. We also used better, more sophisticated equipment and 16×9 framing.
B&S: You answered your critics.
Jonathan: The monster appears a lot in the second one because of people complaining how little it appeared in the first movie. I wasn’t sure how effective the monster was in the first movie so I limited its appearance.
Oh — you know in the first movie when the monster bites the landlord? That was a head that we’d had made to decide if we liked the way a rubber monster suit might look. Our make up artist, Mike Arbios, said he could make the suit for the amazingly low price of $800 which didn’t seem all that amazingly low to me. So I said, “Go ahead and make the head first.” It looked great. But it didn’t have room for someone to put their head in it, it just had a small hole at the bottom of the neck. He said, “Oh, it’s not the real head, it’s just a mock up.” Well, I paid $75 for it. When you make a movie for as low a budget as this one, you can’t afford to pay $75 for a mock up. We used it like a puppet for that scene!
Our main set in the second movie was the Preston Castle which as the Preston School of Industry was the first boys’ reformatory in California. It was built in 1890 and in use up to the 60s. There were a lot of famous wards of the state that went to the Preston School of Industry including country singer Merle Haggard and actor Rory Calhoun. After it closed down, it was pretty much abandoned. In later years, a non-profit group, the Preston Castle Foundation bought it and has been working for years to refurbish it. But back when we shot there, it was still a condemned building. The first day we were delayed getting there to check it out and didn’t arrive until after sunset. The electricity wasn’t on and I’m walking through this creepy place with a flashlight when a bat comes flying right at me.
When we came out to shoot, we fixed up the rooms with furniture we bought at thrift stores and even wallpapered some of the walls. It looked good, but no going upstairs. Watch out for huge holes in the floors of upstairs rooms! We call it the Hagerthy Psychiatric Institution in the movie which is kind of an inside joke. It’s named after an old Hollywood pal of mine, Mike Hagerthy. We did an episode of the Movin’ On TV show together and plays at the Glendale Center Theatre.
I think Blood of the Chupacabras was the first movie ever shot at the Preston Castle, but it’s been in at least a few low budget movies since and even some TV shows like Ghost Adventures.
B&S: Any plans to return for more stories of the chupacabras?
Jonathan: I don’t know. I’ve dabbled around with an idea for a third. It would be much different than the first two. But I ask myself, you know, since those are the only two movies I ever directed do I really want my legacy to be that all I ever did were Chupacabras movies?
By the way, if you’d like to see more of the crazy things that happened behind the scenes, check out the extras on the Blu Ray and visit my website: shootingchupacabras.com