Going out for a brisk bike-ride down a lonely country road? What's that key lying in the road? What does it open? Say, maybe that run-down house in the woods. I bet the key belongs to it's owner. But who is the owner? And what are all those cryptic notes that suddenly appear, slipped through a door that cannot be opened? What does it all mean?
To find out, you will have to watch the short horror film, The Gibbering Horror of Howard Ghormley on Fangoria's Blood Drive II DVD. But be prepared for the unexpected in this creepy journey into the fantastic. To help with your preparation, upcoming horror director, and all-around bon vivant and fellow Stoogologist, Steve Daniels, comes into the closet to chat about Ghormley.
The Gibbering Horror of Howard Ghormley is a very creepy 12 minutes shot on grainy, b&w 8mm. Your use of 8mm film, and diegetic and non-diegetic sound is very unnerving. Can you tell us more about your artistic decisions when choosing and composing these elements for your story?
Thank you. I have been making Super 8mm films since 2000, and I really love the look and feel of the format. I am very thankful that Kodak continues to manufacture and support the film. Super 8, especially when shot at 18 frames per second as Ghormley was, tends to illicit a strong nostalgic vibe with viewers because of it's use in old home movies. I have always associated things, scary things, to be scarier if they occurred in the past. Although I did not specify a time frame in the film, I imagined Ghormley taking place in the 1930's or 40's, so shooting the film in the grainy black and white Super 8 heightened that aged effect.
Because Ghormley was based on a disturbing, recurring dream I had, I wanted the audio from the film to reflect that surreal, dream-limbo quality. The film is "heard" through Ghormley's head. It's meta-diegetic sound. Real world sounds are selectively heard, unnaturally amplified or distorted to a very unnatural effect. The music/sound design, masterfully done by Chris Bickel, is both non-diegetic and meta-diegetic, as one could argue, as it both comments and compliments the action on screen, and reflects poor Ghormley's agitated mental state as the story progresses.
What challenges as the director and writer did you face in transferring your dream to film? Were there any trade-offs between these roles?
At first, it was a challenge to transfer the images of the dream to film, because I had such strong images in my mind to begin with. I had distinct ideas of what everything should look like and how it should behave. Once I let that go, it was easy to use the dream as a foundation and build a more developed idea from that. There were no trade-offs in my two roles as director and writer because the story and the visuals were one in the same. It's a visually driven and nonverbal film, so the images had to tell the story.
In another interview, you mention the directors that influenced you. You also added The Three Stooges. I'm a big fan of the Stooges, and the directors. Can you elaborate further on how the zany trio and various directors formed your approach to filmmaking? And, most importantly, which stooge is your favorite?
Man, I love The Three Stooges. My brother and I grew up watching them on account of our dad and I've remained a fan. I think it's a dude thing because no woman I know likes the Stooges. It's that primal intensity of slapstick violence. The kinetic energy of all the slapping and eye poking, and it's just funny dammit . I guess what I love about them is how the gags come off so smoothly at the same time realizing how much choreography went in to all the clever cause and effect action. You know, Larry lifts the ladder, Curly ducks, the ladder swings and hits Moe in the jaw, Moe drops the paint bucket on Curly's foot, and Larry get's his hair pulled out.
Speaking of Larry, I guess he's my favorite stooge. He's the glue that keeps the group together, and is like the quiet underdog of the bunch. As I've gotten older, I have experienced a type of Stooge-maturity, and I can now proudly say I love Shemp Howard. Like most people, as a kid I would boo the tv screen if a "Shemp" episode would come on instead of a Curly one. As I've matured, I've grown to appreciate Shemp's comic prowess. He was a funny dude, and rightfully deserves the respect of all us Stooge fans the world over. Heebeebeebeebee.
The house and surrounding woods used in the film are very effective. Can you tell us more about them?
I grew up exploring old houses, the south is littered with them, so I am always on the look out for an old "house place" to check out. I first discovered the house just as the character Ghormley does in the film. I noticed the chimneys just barely peaking out of a dense outcropping of large trees in a large barren field. It was exhilarating to push through the underbrush to see this massive, abandoned, vine covered farm house looming above me. The film does not come close to doing justice to the size and creepiness of the place. It's just gigantic. I was lucky to locate the owner of the house and got permission to film there. I learned the house had been built sometime in the mid 1800's, and it still was structurally in great shape.
Are there any anecdotes you can share with us regarding your filming of Gibbering Horror?
It took a very long time, almost a year in fact, of shooting on weekends and fighting a ton of production woes to finish the film. On top of having broken bicycle chains, a car stuck in the mud, a broken generator, at one point we discovered that almost 90 percent of the film had to be completely re-shot because of a camera malfunction. I soon realized our small crew were living out the plot of the film. Just like Ghormley, we were caught in this cyclic pattern of returning to the house and repeating the same things over and over. It's a wonder we ever finished it.
Soon after I completed editing the film, I was driving and suddenly my vision began to spin. It was terrifying. I had an infection in my inner ear which caused a vertigo attack, and had to go to the emergency room. The attack was almost identical to the spinning shot that appears near the end of the film. The cyclic theme of Ghormley had permeated my existence.
What other film formats do you work in, or would like to?
I shoot most of my films in Super 8, but I also shoot on video. I'd like to move up to a 16mm or 35mm, or even High Def video at some point.
What's your next horror film about, and what format will it be shot in? Why use that format?
My next horror film is called Dirt Dauber which is based on a original story of mine that gives a large nod to H.P. Lovecraft's mythos. It involves a man who discovers an abandoned train tunnel in a mountainous region that was started but never completed during the 1800's. Foreboding local legends surround the tunnel in the mountain that leads to nowhere. Local legend tells of a giant, unspeakable horror that dwells within. I plan to shoot this tale on both black and white, Super 8 and 24p color video.
You mention H.P. Lovecraft as a pivotal figure in your artistic development. What other writers influence you and why?
Those early pulp writers who made up the "Lovecraft Circle": Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, Frank Belknap Long and others. My father, James Daniels, who follows in the southern tradition of great story telling recently wrote his first book called Hope. His richly detailed, character-driven story telling abilities have always inspired me. I also greatly admire the work of Richard Matheson and Ambrose Bierce.
As a director, much of what you do is visually composed. What artists (from any graphic genre) influence you and why?
I recently discovered the art of David Hartman that really excites me. He does great stylized illustrations of "pulpy" monsters. His work is inspiring because it reminds me of pure, unfiltered childhood fears that are so easy lost because of adult rationality. It takes me back to when I was a kid and a Hartman-like toothy, white eyed, swamp ghoul holding a rusty butcher's cleaver could and DID in fact exist in my parents dark, musty basement. I miss those monsters and Hartman brings them back for me.
Old-time radio was your inspiration for the tone and structure of Gibbering Horror. I love old-time radio shows, too. Can you elaborate on which ones are your favorites, and how they helped you create Gibbering Horror?
My aunt bought me a collection of OTR horror tapes on a road trip when I was young, and when it got dark I listened to the tapes, and they completely freaked me out. I don't think I knew what was going on story wise, but the rough quality of the sound and a woman screaming on the episode, coupled with my imagination traveling down a dark country Arkansas road, really got under my skin.
I really enjoy Arch Obler's Lights Out. Inner Sanctum, Quiet Please, Suspense, Escape, are also some of my favorites.
I wanted Ghormely to look and feel like a old time radio horror show looked in my imagination when I listened to an episode. There is a musty pulpy-ness I wanted to convey. Like in OTR horror shows, the tone of Ghormley can come close to campy pulp but I wanted that impending dread, that dead-cold seriousness that suffocates everything in those stories.
If you were a monster, which one would you be, and why?
When I was young I thought it would be cool to be a werewolf. In fact, when I hit puberty and I got all hairy, I convinced myself for a short time I was a werewolf. I guess now I'd have to be an amorphous, unspeakable Lovecraft horror....Yog Sothoth or a Shoggoth. That way I could morph and form my shape shifting mass to all types of indescribable abominations.
Finally, is there any question you've always been dying to answer but no one ever asked? Now's your chance.
Finally! Here goes: "Steve, have you ever sang and recorded with a well known punk band?" Why yes, indeed I have! The Queers, a pop punk band from New Hampshire came through town over 10 years ago to the local recording studio to do a "live studio" album. As a joke, I yelled out a song request from their earlier days, a song called "Love Me", and they called me up to sing lead vocals. I forgot some of the lyrics and sloppily made up the rest, but to my utter surprise they recorded the song and released it as a rare bonus 7inch single, (the flip side was a cover of Louie Louie). It was included with the equally ultra-rare Shout at the Queers vinyl only LP. It was limited to 666 pressed records. My punk rock claim to fame. Whooo mercy.