Interview With Metal Noir Director David R. WilliamsBy Tony Masiello
What inspired you to get into filmmaking?
I’ve always loved movies. Especially horror films. Growing up, and this is before streaming and dvd and even video, growing up in Niagara Falls, New York, the local ABC affiliate would show a double feature of horror films each Friday night after the 11pm news. It was usually a classic Universal horror film, the Frankenstein series, Dracula, Wolfman and the like, or something by Corman and AIP. The second feature tended to be more poverty row stuff, really B movie stuff but sometimes you would luck out and see something by Mario Bava. Then on Saturdays and Sundays you might see Mexican wrestlers versus monsters types films, like Santos versus the Vampires, or giant bug or Japanese Kaiju films, Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan. At the same time, at the Drive-Ins, and we had a ton of those, like, just off the top of my head, there were probably a dozen screens within driving distance and there we’d see the Hammer remakes of the Universal monsters. Peter Cushing, Christopher Less, and all those great 70s horror films. But, having said all that, the idea of making a movie never entered my head until, a friend of mine showed me his Uncle’s 8mm camera. And I mean, like I said, the idea of making a movie never occurred to me. But I saw that camera, and suddenly, it was like a switch went off in my head. You know, like, holy shit, you can make a movie with that thing. I remember going to the local book store and picking up a book on fimmaking by some group out of New York that was shooting on Super 8 I believe and just devouring that. I also remember, about the same time. Reading Famous Monsters of Filmland, and there was a brief article about some kid, not much older than me at the time, who had made their own Frankenstein movie. So all that came together and, basically it was me getting together with a bunch of neighborhood kids, buying some 8mm film, and making a movie. And after that I graduated to Super 8 and then 16mm. Mostly short films, mostly horror, but later on, when I was at University, some more experimental works.
What was that first movie?
It was titled The Cavemen. And it was about a scientist who builds a time machine and brings two cavemen into our time. It was very slapstick in the classic silent movie style. But it was quite elaborate. I built the time machine out of all sorts of old television parts we had lying around for some reason. The one guy playing one of the cavemen, his mother sewed them up two cavemen suits. We had army uniforms and guns and…it was quite a production and everyone really got into it. I believe one friend has the original, would be great to see that again.
How did Metal Noir come about?
I really wanted to do a feature film, but one of the big issues with film, is that film is expensive. It’s also difficult to work with. Film is not just point and shoot. There’s a certain level of expertise required to make film give you what you need. People who have only shot on video or digital, have no idea. But to make a feature on film…look at this way, an hour of video back in the day cost something like $20 bucks if I remember correctly. A roll of 16mm film, 200 feet of 16mm films, which is about 5 minutes, cost about $150 bucks at that time. So, assuming a 4:1 ratio, a 90 minute feature film would cost me over $5K just for the film alone. So, impossible at the time. But then, along comes video, and suddenly, like I said, you could shoot 5 hours of video for about 100 bucks. And at that time the whole shot on video thing was beginning to take off. So, the technology was there, and the market was there. I just needed an idea. I had recently discovered Clive Barker and had read his books of blood and then of course Hellraiser came out, and that all tied in with a concept I had been working on, which I came to call “Erotic Violence” which is the juxtaposition of the horrific with the erotic. And Barker epitomized that concept, especially Hellraiser with the whole bondage angle, right? Actually, Hugh Gallagher’s “Gore Trilogy” is a prime example of the erotic violent. I was also a fan of Cronenberg and that whole body horror idea. So all that came together and I started working on the script.
What was the budget for the movie?
I couldn’t tell you for sure, but all in, I don’t think more than a thousand dollars.
What kind of camera was used for the shoot?
Oh man, I cannot remember. Hugh brought the camera, I believe it was some early prosumer model. Shooting on ½” video tape.
What can you tell us about the casting of the movie?
In all honesty, other than Bill, who plays the Lord of Dark Metal and Charles Pinion, I have no real recollection of how we put together the cast we put together. I do remember that we had a terrible time casting locally because the newspaper refused to run our casting call. When I asked why, I just got some gobbledygook answer that really made no sense. I think they thought we were making a porn film and I say because, for years, any time I told any one locally that I was making a movie, their first question was always “is it porn”? It got to be a running joke. I was, thinking, is there some huge porn industry in Buffalo that I don’t know about? And if so, how do I get involved with that? (laughs). But, I think, at that time, there was really no film industry in Buffalo and this really was long before Youtube and Blair Witch and what have you, so when people thought of movies, they immediately thought of Hollywood, mainstream stuff. They had no clue what we were doing. Now, there’s a booming film industry in Buffalo, though unfortunately, it still leans far more heavily toward helping the main stream rather than local independents.
I was publishing a zine titled Festering Brainsore. This was really the golden age of that art form. My goal was to push the envelope of horror as far as I could. Mike Diana of “Boiled Angel” fame was a regular contributor and did a number of our covers. I believe either I sent a couple copies to Hugh or he sent a couple copies of Draculina to me, regardless, we got to corresponding back and forth, and we both wanted to make movies and we both saw video as the means to that end. He had recently purchased a VHS camera. I asked if he’d be interested in coming in to shoot Metal Noir, and he jumped right in. I’ve always considered Hugh a decent human being. I do still hear from him now and again. I hope all is well in his world.
How did you end up casting Charles Pinion?
I had seen a film that Charles had done, I believe that was Twisted Issues. It was about the punk scene in Gainesville, Florida. I believe he sent a copy to me to review in Festering Brainsore. He also sent me soundtrack on cassette along with some other cassette mixes. As with Hugh, we got to going back and forth about various things, and somewhere along the line I mentioned Metal Noir and he mentioned he’d be interested in acting in the film, and so, he did. He brought along his girlfriend at the time who also appears in the film.
What were the challenges of making Metal Noir?
You know, all in all, it really came together without much challenge, other than the local casting issues I mentioned before. I had the script. Hugh had the camera. Charles and his girlfriend were in. Bill was in for makeup fx and also to play the Lord of Dark Metal. I believe I met Bill either through Festering Brainsore or possibly he had placed an ad in the back of Fangoria magazine and I saw that. Bill brought in a couple people as extras for the crucifixion scene. Shelly, the female lead, I do believe came through some local talent agency. Not sure about Scott. This was 30 years ago after all (laughs). I remember it as a fun shoot. It went quickly. I’m not one to get obsessive about takes. You shoot a scene and if it works, it works. And video, we could use mostly natural light and because it was basically a two man crew and a small cast, few scenes had more than two people in them, we could shoot quickly.
Can you tell us about the post production process.
You’d have to talk to Hugh about that.
Why was the movie never released?
That’s a good question. I have been told that a label called American Maniac was looking to release it, but honestly, I do not remember ever having a conversation with them. Possibly that was through Hugh? But they apparently went out of business. I do remember talking to Vestron Video at one time and they did express an interest. But, really, what ended up putting the film on the shelf, was the whole SOV thing sort of died out. The mom and pop shops that would stock this sort of thing, because people would rent anything with a decent enough cover on it, and the sheer novelty of the whole video rental, was giving way to the Blockbusters and the big Hollywood releases and all that. So what was a marginal niche anyway, just got pushed even further to the side and into the shadows. The distributors lost interest in this sort of product. But also, my life took a few left turns and the time I would of had to devote to the film and get it out there and promote it, just wasn’t there anymore. And really, by the time I got my feet back under me, that window had shut tight.
Reaction to seeing Metal Noir after 30 years.
When you sent me those screenshots it was like, wow, I totally forgot how elaborate and strange Bill’s make up was. The vaginal wounds on Charles’s face. The hypodermic needle fingers. I just laughed with delight at those images. The opening scene was shot in my basement, which was like, much older than the house above it. There was a huge hole dug in one wall and a space inside that which was all dirt, so that’s where we shot the opening scene with Charles Pinion and the “spike ring”. I can’t remember where I picked that thing up, maybe a bondage shop? I can’t see it being used for anything though because, those spikes were real. That thing was dangerous. Martial arts weapon maybe? Figure this was before the internet really, before you could order crazy shit direct from China or wherever. Love the use of shadow in that scene. Very noir. I also forgot my ex-wife appeared in the film, as the realtor.
Really, the whole experience was surreal. I cringe watching Shelly and Scott’s performances. That’s definitely on me. I should have worked with them more but, when you are as time constrained as we were, you cannot afford to take hours getting a single line right. You have to go with the overall. Or at least that was my philosophy back then. I’d also forgotten we shot at Griffith’s Sculpture Park, one of my favorite places in the world, and at my father’s trailer. That was definitely a long day because, Sculpture Park is about a 50 minute drive and then my dad’s trailer was south of Wellsville and that was another 90 minutes, but I think those were good choices as they really add production value. Like the man says, “location, location, location”. I am all about location.
I think Bill designed his own costume. Pretty sure of that.
For me, Metal Noir is an interesting snap shot of the time it was made in. It’s a lot more elaborate than I remember and really wears its influences on its sleeve, the Evil Dead shaky cam, the Hellraiser speechifying (laughs). Bill built that huge wooden cross we stuck Shelly on…there’s a lot good there, though its more very ambitious home movie than professional.
When film first came about, before people had ever experienced film in any manner, one idea was, you could make motion pictures of people and through that medium, they would live forever. Right? Like ghosts but real. Untouched by time. I mean, its hard to imagine now, but back then, people, admittedly for a very short period of time, believed that films were alive. You hear about the Lumiere brothers film showing the train arriving at the station, and the train comes right at the camera, and people were jumping up screaming and running away in a panic. They thought the train was going to hit them! Watching Metal Noir, thirty years, actually over 30 years, later, was a bit like that. Like seeing ghosts come back to life.
But, all in all, I think the camerawork and the editing are solid. Great use of locations. Bill did an amazing job on the makeup fx with literally nothing to work with. I remember him boiling some roadkill he found on the side of the road to create the bone mobile. Bill was nuts. Bill is still nuts. In the best possible way and I’m sure he would agree. The supporting cast, Charles, Hugh, all solid. The one big sore point is the lead actors, but again, that’s on me. Still, not a bad bit of SOV horror history.
What have you been up to since making Metal Noir?
How much space do we have? (laughs). I’ll try to encapsulate the last 30 years best as I can. In a nutshell, once I got my shit together, I went back to University. Originally to study computer science but after six months of that I could feel my eyes glazing over and started looking for the exit. The school I was at University of New York at Buffalo, had a great media study program and that rekindled my interest in film and filmmaking. I was blessed, if you will, to be able to study under Tony Conrad, who's film "The Flicker" is considered one of the greatest works of underground cinema ever. He also worked with Jack Smith, played with The Velvet Underground and his artworks hang on the walls of a number of modern art museums. He really taught me how to look at media, not just consume, but really look and really listen to what was being said. What I learned from Tony has definitely allowed me to succeed in my online marketing business. I also studied under Brian Henderson, rest in peace, who probably had forgotten more about the history of film than I will ever know, and Lawrence Brose, who’s “De Profundis” is a masterpiece of experimental filmmaking.
I spent a good part of the 90s making a number of horror films under the Red Scream label. All of which were shot on video or digital. All of which had some success to one degree or another. These include “Prison of the Psychotic Damned”, “Frightworld” and “Red Scream Vampyres”. All explore, to one degree or another, the concept of erotic violence, especially “Prison” which stars Melantha Blackthorne and Demona Bast, and “Red Scream Vampyres” which is really my revisioning of Jose Ramon Lazzar’s “Vampyres”. None of them are perfect, but they all have their moments. A friend of mine calls these films “b horror movies with art house pretensions”. Sounds about right.
The last eight years I’ve really devoted to my online marketing business, but managed somehow to fit in two art house features and a short documentary on boxing. The art house films, “The Algebra of Need” and “The Geometries of Desire” sort of blend Godard with Antonioni with Bergman with Resnais. Both shot on Black Magic. They are 60s Euro-art films targeting the film festival circuit. Combined they were official selection of about 20 festivals over the last couple years and have won a few honorable mentions, finalist and best picture awards so I’m a bit proud of that. In both cases there was no proper script. Instead I gave the actors about 25 pages of notes which included key plot points, set pieces and essential dialogue. We then build the film organically on set. I don’t write characters and then find actors to play them. Instead I find the right actor, and build the character around them. I allow them the freedom to explore the space around them as well as their own internal spaces. I ask them to bring their own life experiences, their own demons to the work and to not be afraid to go off on tangents. Drives the editor nuts but also gives you some extremely powerful performances.
We also recently finished “Goomba’s” which is a short doc about a boxing gym I frequent has just started making the rounds. We submitted to True/False and Hot Docs festivals, so fingers crossed on that. That was shot on a RED. I just finished a screenplay for southern production company for a “dark western” that with any luck at all should go into production in 2019. I am currently working up notes for a “folk horror” film I plan on shooting in 2019. All this while raising a family and holding down my “real job”. So I keep busy.
Can you tell us a bit more about this folk horror film
Absolutely. One of my current…obsessions if you will is, with the whole folk or genre that includes hauntology, psychogeography, and lost transmissions. Anyone interested in the subject, anyone looking for a crash course on the subject needs to check out the Year in the Country UK website which contains something like four years of almost daily musings about folk horror in film, in literature and in music in and in pretty much everything you could think of. It’s amazing and fascinating stuff.
But anyways Bill Schweikert who is like the greatest cinematographer in the world, who did the camera work for The Algebra Of Need, The Geometries of Desire, and Goombas, and who also worked, along with Sean Michael Argo, on Fable: Teeth of Beasts, mentioned that his sister owned 45 acres of forest in Naples New York. Naples is like about 2 hour drive from Buffalo, so soon as I heard that the gear started grinding. Essentially, I’m going to shoot this without a script. Or at least without a proper script. I have about 10 pages of notes, so similar to what I did with my art films. Here we’re going to literally build the film set on location. My pitch to the cast and crew was, we’re going to go out into the woods and get lost and see what happens. And I’m lucky enough that over the past number of years I’ve managed to assemble highly talented group of people on both sides of the camera who understand my vision, and who understand how I work, and who when I tell them let’s go get lost in the woods and see what happens they go sure when and where? I’m hoping to shoot this in late September 2019, get it into the 2020 horror film festival circuit and then hopefully into wide release.
Metal Noir DVD Available Now
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