Todd Sheets (Dreaming Purple Neon, Clownado, Sorority Babes in the Dance-a-Thon of Death) has been making horror movies since 1985. He’s one of the directors that Visual Vengeance has decided to spotlight with their new line of shot on video craziness. The first release from Sheets on the label will be Moonchild, a mind-boggling, sprawling SOV horror/ sci-fi/ action/ martial arts epic.
This was a huge opportunity to speak to someone who has kept making his own unique take on horror movies for decades. I can’t tell you how excited I was to get to spend so much time speaking with Todd.
B&S About Movies: How did the Visual Vengeance releases happen?
Todd Sheets: I’ve known Rob for years and met him at Cinema Wasteland. We hit it off. And he really loves this stuff. You know, his office has posters from my movies in it — and other people’s too — and he collects things from this era. He loves it. He loves these movies. You can’t ask for a better deal than that. It’s not all about the money. It’s about doing a good job.
He’s just a laid back guy. He really cares about me. He cares about us as filmmakers. He cares about the people involved in the process and he cares about the movies.
You couldn’t ask for more because so many people today, when they look back on these things, they don’t like them very much. They’re cheap and grungy looking and were made for like forty-two cents. All of that is true.
I think we also got some pretty cool stuff coming out of that era. A lot of charm came out of that stuff and people were trying their hardest with no resources to make something good.
B&S: SOV is the last gasp of regional filmmaking where people that have no connection to Hollywood made whatever they wanted.
Todd: You’re absolutely right. The team I was working with — and still work with — in our hearts we want to entertain people. We have stories that we wanted to tell and we wanted to do the best we could on no money and no budget. We just were trying to give people a good time. That’s what it was all about.
B&S: Moonchild is really big for the budget. You’ve got a lot of locations. And a pretty huge story. There’s a lot happening in it.
Todd: We were a bit naive. You know, people nowadays would say you can’t do this and they would probably be discouraged because you know, we had like $300. We tried to tell an insane story for literally no money with all those costumes and locations and props. I don’t know what the heck we were thinking, but I’m kind of glad we pulled it off.
B&S: You didn’t know you couldn’t do it.
Todd: I think we were just too stubborn to say no. We were gonna make this movie whether you like it or not kind of thing. And we did and it was a real team effort. We all pulled together to do it and I know everybody really cared and put a lot of passion and heart into it. For me, I consider my first real movie Zombie Bloodbath, even though that was from 93. But we had made a ton of movies before that and those are pretty bad. Moonchild was my first attempt to really stand up and say, “Hey, man, we’re gonna do something different. Something original, and I’m gonna put everything I’ve learned to the test here.”
I think we did that. From me down to the crew, the cast and everybody gave 110% all of the time.
B&S: Were you influenced by post-apocalyptic movies or did you just do your own thing?
Todd: The weird thing is I was influenced by the Mad Max rip offs more than Mad Max. I like the Italain stuff better like Warriors of the Wasteland. A little bit of that was creeping in there because I’m all about trying to pay homage to my past, but also, you know, I have my heroes, and a lot of my heroes were European filmmakers. They made stuff to play to drive-ins and indoor grindhouses and that’s what I loved.
I also loved werewolves. So I was like, “Hey, man, I’m gonna put together this weird stuff with some of these martial arts influences and this weird samurai stuff and then put in the kitchen sink.”
When I wrote the script, I saw the whole movie in my mind. I had these ideas I could see like on a big drive-in screen. I think we did it to varying degrees of success. We did okay, especially considering we didn’t really know what we were doing. We were kids, you know.
B&S: I think the Italians were the best at post-apocalyptic movies because they were just making westerns with cars instead of horses.
Todd: There’s heart and soul in those movies and they may have been done quick to make a buck, but they were made by people who really did care about the craft. Like, Lucio Fulci, even his worse movies, I can sit and watch them over and over because he knew what he was doing and he cared.
B&S: I hate when people don’t understand Fulci. They laugh at how long people wait to be killed or how long it takes a spider to eat someone’s face. And then they say, “These movies don’t make sense!”
Todd: As get to know his aesthetic, he’s giving you all these answers just in his own weird way. He’s my favorite Italian director and I was lucky enough to meet him one time because my friend Sage Stallone introduced me. That was a wonderful time and you’ll never get that experience again. You know, I got to watch one of his movies with him. So fantastic. And the things he was yelling out were so funny. People were yelling back at him to shut up and they didn’t realize that it was Fulci! They thought it was just some crotchety old guy in the back who wouldn’t shut up.
B&S: They were right! (laughs)
Todd: I loved him. He was definitely one of a kind. When I made House of Secrets, I was made it as a tribute to him. I got to work with Fabio Frizzi who did so many of those great soundtracks. That turned out to be a fantastic time. I just wanted him to do the theme song and he said, “Send me the script and send me the rough cut.”
And then I didn’t hear anything back.
I’m like, “Oh, God, he hates that. He’s not gonna do it.”
All of a sudden I hear back. He says, “Okay, I’m gonna do the whole movie for that same cost.”
He said that Fulci would be so proud of this movie and well, it was my homage to the Maestro and my big comeback after my heart attack and everything.
I almost died and that was my comeback movie. And I wanted it to be special. So I wanted Fabio to do the theme song and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. He was fantastic.
We did it on Skype at three in the morning. It was amazing.
B&S: What was it like to come back after being gone so long?
Todd: You have to be really dedicated and love the process and the story you’re trying to tell or you aren’t going to finish it because it’s an uphill battle. Sometimes a mountain depending on the project. Something like Moonchild was definitely a mountain but I had so many great people that we didn’t even realize we were climbing it. It was so much fun and so creative. I’m not saying it was easy but they made it seem easy because we were all pulling each other up that mountain.
B&S: I really liked Final Caller, too.
Todd: Thank you. Final Caller was weird because like we were on the verge of the COVID thing. We were right on the line. Yeah, we started it and then we had to finish it during COVID. And basically it was us being bored because we hadn’t done anything since we were locked down and I really was itching to do something but I didn’t want to deal with the whole Indiegogo thing of trying to raise money. So we did it for like $500 bucks on a credit card, you know, tried to make this thing the best we could possibly make it and I really liked it the way it turned out. I thought the performances were good and I was really happy with the lighting.
For me, I was looking at it from the standpoint of performances first. I want to make sure that I’ve shot it well, the composition is good, the lighting is good and that it doesn’t distract. I really liked the music and so I was really happy with the outcome. I was like, “Wow, this movie kind of has a story. I kind of like it.”
B&S: There’s a lot in there. I wasn’t expecting all of the relationships.
Todd: It was just a couple of sets, too. We had about five sets and the killer’s apartment, but I liked keeping it contained and intimate. I wanted to get to know these people and then I wanted to throw some twists just to kind of mess with you.
B&S: There’s a character turn that totally surprised me.
Todd: That was a surprise to me because when I was writing it, I didn’t know I was gonna do it. And then I was like, You know what? I think she’s she’s gonna be about half-cracked. And we’re gonna do this! I had kind of a crazy ex-girlfriend at the time and I was like, “You know what, what would be the 10th power of that crazy?” I took it and just threw it in there and it was like, “Wow, I really like that.”
So I kept it.
B&S: Do you let the characters dictate where they go?
Todd: Sometimes. You have to let the characters take the story sometimes away from you only because otherwise it feels contrived. It feels like you’ve almost done this to manipulate the story for your own good and sometimes I think the story doesn’t need to be manipulated. Let it go where it’s gonna go. If you fight with what’s natural, you’re gonna come up with a story and that’s why sometimes you’ll watch a movie and you think, “They were pushing the wrong way and it feels weird.”
That was Final Caller. I just wanted it to kind of go, you know? I wanted it to be as natural as possible and organic and I kind of felt like this is how it would go.
B&S: Your movies are authentic. I have an issue with a lot of modern horror because they get you to a certain point and then have no idea how to end.
Todd: That’s really true. I’ve noticed that too. I always give everyone credit for finishing a film but there are some modern horror films lately that I really feel like even on the scripted page how could they not have seen this whole film is hinging on something and now it doesn’t work because they’ve let it fall apart?
B&S: I feel like I wasted 90 minutes of my life.
Todd: It’s weird because I’m weird. I don’t ever like to put down anyone’s art but at the same time as a horror fan, I feel like can we get rid of the pretentious bullshit? I just want to go back to like enjoying a horror film without all the pretentious political overtones and this and that and all this stuff and I just want to see a movie where someone’s you know, I saw X and I thought it was great. But then I didn’t enjoy Pearl. I don’t know why. It just didn’t work with me.I
I felt it was kind of overlong and really long-winded and I just didn’t love Pearl. But I loved X. And I love the filmmaker Ti West. I just don’t know why that one didn’t work for me. Maybe it was too pretentious. There’s just so much of that art for art’s sake going on that I’m not sure how I feel.
I like Mia Goth too. She produced it. She wrote part of it. She did all this and she’s a great actress and she’s fantastic. But that whole movie stops for like a twenty-minute monologue. I just didn’t feel it.
I mean, I’ve been yelled at by people who say I’ve got too much dialogue in the movie and I’m like, “Whoa, hold on. I never had any twenty-minute speeches!”
B&S: Maybe you need that for the next movie.
Todd: (laughs) Maybe that’s it.
B&S: What I love about your films is that they remind me of the movies I watched in the 80s. Isn’t it strange that a movie like Hell Night came out in 1981 and it wasn’t like a top tier slasher and you watch it today and it’s way better than anything new?
Todd: Terror Train is like that. Fantastic movie. And, you know, I think we took it for granted at the time. All these like slashers that no one really even talked about during that time, like The Prowler, which is now a classic.
I frickin love that movie. I saw the theater twice and I just loved it. But no one knows really. Until now, of course, people bring it up but at the time no one liked it. There were ten people in the theater! So many were coming out at the same time, so you had Happy Birthday to Me, My Bloody Valentine, all these great movies all at once. Or even Savage Weekend.
Those movies had so much going for them even though they were cheap slasher movies. They were made by people that knew how to make a movie. Well, not all of them. (laughs) Like Don’t Go In the Woods. It’s kind of rough, but at the same time, I love that movie.
There was so much in the 80s and not just slashers. I mean, you have my favorite American director John Carpenter. He and Dean Cundy were a team from hell. They could do no wrong.
B&S: Dean Cundy made those movies look way more expensive than they were.
Todd: Gary Graver is another guy who could do that. He worked with Fred Olen Ray and he made those movies look like a million bucks.
I recently worked with Fred finally. We’ve known each other for years and I finally was gifted enough that he and I got to work together. He produced a project that we’re doing as a TV series and it’s like a throwback action movie. I’ll be talking more about in the future when I can. Like an urban action thing, kind of a throwback to the 70s, Dolomite and Foxy Brown and all that stuff.
We had such a good time and it was such a grueling shoot because of COVID and because of bad weather. We got nine and a half weeks behind because of rain and it was just a terrible situation. But we still had a great time and I learned so much. You know, I thought I knew something and then I did this thing and now I’m like, “Well, I didn’t know anything compared to now.”
Because every day on a set — like I’ve told everybody — you have to learn something new or else it’s a wasted day of your life on the set. So every day I learned something. I learned a bunch of new things on Final Caller even. And Fred was kind of helping me behind the scenes with some ideas on that too with the lighting and stuff.
We started working together on this other thing and it’s coming out soon and it’s gorgeous. It’s breathtaking. I’m very proud of what we did on that with almost no money. We lost most of our budget and I figured, well, I own all of my own equipment. Let’s just do it.
I’ve never taken a salary for anything I’ve ever done. Because I just figure with our budgets. If I take a salary, I just lost my monster.
I give everything I’ve got to give to these things.
B&S: Clownado was a success, right?
Todd: It’s weird because it was even on Entertainment Tonight. The thing was, we weren’t really trying to rip off anything. What happened with that was my co-worker and I were joking about titles for future movies. He and I just made Bone Hill Road.
He was like, you should make a clown movie because clowns are scary. Make a clown tornado. And I looked at him and said, “Holy shit. Clownado. That’s a cool title. I don’t know why I like it, but I do.”
I challenged myself to come up with a script for that title. We did an Indiegogo and wanted to see if we could get enough money to make it right. Well, we never did get enough money to do it right. (laughs)
We didn’t have the money for the miniatures because the miniatures were going to cost about $2,000. That was what killed us. We didn’t have enough money for the miniatures because it had to look real. You don’t want to look like a Play-Doh house. So I had to teach myself how to do visual effects and make a tornado.
I’ve never done anything like that. Filming and teaching myself how to use these programs to do all the tornado stuff and then when I got done, you know it’s not perfect, but I was kind of proud because it looks as good if not a little bit better than stuff I see on SyFy Channel.
B&S: And you got Linnea for it!
Todd: I’ve been friends with her for years. We did Bone Hill Road and had such a good time. I told her at the premiere that we’re going to work together. I’m gonna write a part that you’re really going to like.
I decided to write whatever happened to Spider (from Sorority Babes In the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama) and she had the best time. We even shot stuff where she was on a Harley that didn’t get into the movie. We really enjoy working together. She’s a really good person. We have a mutual love for animals.
B&S: Jean Silver is there too!
Todd: Yeah! I met her at Cinema Wasteland and hung out all weekend with her and 42nd Street Pete. I was fascinated with her. I wanted to put in a scene where she takes off her leg and beats a guy with it.
She’s incredible. She’s been through a lot in her life and she’s got an amazing story and to have gone through all that and come out with such positive energy, I just really have nothing but praise for her. I think the world of her.
B&S: What’s next?
Todd: There’s more stuff coming out with Visual Vengeance. The thirtieth anniversary of the Zombie Bloodbath trilogy is next year. Violent New Breed, which is my personal favorite of my older movies because it has Rudy Ray Moore. That one has been meticulously recreated and re-edited.
Also, people are gonna love this: the original Goblin. I was able to go back and find the original master tapes. So that’s been restored. Probably about 90% of the film, because a couple of the tapes were so bad that they just were breaking apart. I couldn’t even use them. But that film has been completely restored to its original version that nobody’s ever seen. And it’s gorgeous. There are going to be like three versions of the movie on there. And Zombie Rampage, my first movie, we’ve got that in the can and that’s got like four different versions! The original version was called Blood of the Undead and I went back and meticulously was able to put that back together. You know, I had an old workprint and I could just go over that with the original footage and make it beautiful and fix it.
I also did a movie that no one has really seen called Whispers of the Gloom with Art Bell.
B&S: Woah! Really!
Todd: You know that famous Area 51 call? This was our take on that. If you like the old wild cat line calls, you’ll love the movie because it’s based all around what if that call was real. We created this crazy movie and were the first micro-budget group to do full creatures and CGI.
We had some really cool spaceships and creatures and stuff in the script. And some of them are models and some of them are CGI, but it looks pretty good.
Every one of these is going to have meticulous behind-the-scenes stuff we’ve been putting together. I’ve been pulling out footage I found, old news footage of Rudy Ray Moore when he was in town filming with us and just lots of cool stuff.
These things are as packed as Moonchild if not more and you know all the cool stuff that’s on the Moonchild disk, the documentaries and everything. We’ve got that on all of these and they’re all beautifully remastered.
That takes a lot of time when you go back to those cameras, because you have to match frame by frame all the cuts. And I just want it to look as good as possible on blu ray and really take advantage of that format. Because these may have been shot on beta cam or a three-quarter inch or hi-8. That doesn’t mean we can’t make them look as good as possible by taking that original first-generation camera master, matching that. It’s never going to look better ever.
I’m not a fan of Goblin at all. I just own it but I know there are people that do love it. And because of that I took the time to go in and reconstruct this original version of Goblin for everybody. And those are all coming out with Visual Vengeance. And then we’ve got a werewolf and space movie that we’re working on for the future. It’s going to start shooting pretty soon. And then this new series which as soon as I can, I’ll be letting the cat out of the bag. I’m under a little bit of a gag order because we’re doing it for a major streaming company. That is a big deal. I think people are going to be crazy when they find out what that is.
B&S: You’re still into making movies.
Todd: I’m excited. I love the fact that I’m telling a story that someone is enjoying because I’m giving something back. When I was a kid I’d have a bad day and you know you would go to the movie and watch Phantasm or Slithis or whatever and forget about it for a couple hours. At least I did and I hope to do that for someone else. That’s the whole reason I’m doing this and it’s really great to find out that some people get that escape from my movies.
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