Revenge is Her Middle Name An Interview with Anthony Matthews By Scott Lefebvre. I met Anthony Matthews as part of the Toetag Pictures crew when I was working as a vendor on the horror convention circuit...
I met Anthony Matthews as part of the Toetag Pictures crew when I was working as a vendor on the horror convention circuit. Despite the notoriety and reputation of Toetag for producing what was once considered the limit-test of exploitational violence and gore, when appearing at conventions they’re quite personable and likable people and I am honored to consider them among my convention carny friends.
I’ve kept up with all of them through social media and followed them all through the permutations of their careers and creative endeavors.
When Anthony started posting that he was working on his directorial debut, Revenge Is Her Middle Name (2011), I knew that if I couldn’t be in it that at the very least I had to see it.
Note: This interview contains spoilers.
Scott Lefebvre:How did you get involved in the horror industry?
Anthony Matthews: I had a basic interest in horror and exploitation films when I was younger. I grew up in a small town in New Zealand and they had this small video store. All the tapes were B-grade movies. I mean, sure, they had Star Wars (1977), but 90% of the films they had were films like Switchblade Sisters (1975), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Shaft (1971). Those kinds of films. The box art was pretty amazing.
SL:Since New Zealand was a British colony, was it subject to the same kind of censorship as the infamous "Video Nasties" censorship that films were subjected to in the UK?
AM: I was too young for the whole "Video Nasties" thing. Videos in New Zealand didn’t require rating; at least, not at first. But we received the censored versions. Then when New Zealand started to implement a ratings system for videos, all the stores destroyed them as films not passed by the censor and rated were deemed illegal. You could still find the "unrated" versions of films like Foxy Brown (1974), Cruising (1980), Addio zio Tom (1971), Faces of Death (1978), but you had to really hunt around but you would find stores that still had them and didn’t know they what they had. I found a few secret goldmines, I assure you.
SL:How did you get from New Zealand to Pittsburgh?
AM: I was working for Toetag Pictures doing mostly web work. Designing and maintaining their website and helping out with graphic design.
SL:Oh! I always thought you were part of the effects team for Toetag.
AM: No. Mostly I just did web work. I haven’t had any kind of formal special effects training. I was an extra in a few of the Toetag films, but that was mostly because I was around. When you’re working independently, whenever something has to be done someone has to do it, so I ended up sitting in on a few shots, mostly as victims and the like or as a production assistant. I did quite a lot behind the scenes, but to be fair, we all did but none of us got credit it was just we all did it cause it needed to be done. I worked mostly with Cristie Whiles and Jerami Cruise.
SL:Did you pick up anything about film-making from working on the Toetag productions?
AM: Not really. Although when I decided to make my own film I definitely couldn’t have done it without the help of Aziza, Jerami and Autumn [Cook] who have all been associated with working on Toetag’s productions in one way or another. I want to make it a point to mention that although this is not a Toetag pictures release I took advantage of a lot of the friendships that I had made when working with Toetag help with this film and without their help this film would have never been made.
SL:What made you want to make your own film?
AM: I always wanted to do it. It was my life goal. I just sort of winged it. Just made up my mind and did it. You just gotta do it. You just have to try.
SL:Weren’t you worried about just starting your first feature cold without any directorial experience?
AM: Not really. I managed to put together a really talented crew of people that were really dedicated to making the project happen once it started to gain momentum. Everyone gave a hundred and ten percent and was really committed to seeing it through to the end.
SL:Tell me a bit about the crew you put together for the film.
AM: Thomas Rumpf, the director of photography, had worked on some high-profile projects but he didn’t have a background in exploitation cinema so we were able to avoid accidentally making a "manufactured exploitation film" that sort of parodies the genre instead of paying it tribute. I wanted it to look like a normal movie, not an exploitation movie and for the most part I think we were able to do that. I played an active role in assisting the [director of photography] with planning the shots and sometimes we went with his initial shot, and sometimes we worked collaboratively to try to maybe do something else, like the shot of the guy screaming through the glory hole. I wanted to do something kind of outrageous, you know, exploitational, and I think that shot came out okay.
SL:Did the film pretty much come out the way that you wanted it to?
AM: Well, the "screening" version hasn’t been color-corrected.
SL:You’re kidding me. It has a remarkable consistency of tone considering.
AM: Yeah, we did all of that in camera on the day.
SL:With lighting and whatnot?
AM: Yeah. Well there were some default settings that didn’t change, of course
SL:How will the DVD/Blu-Ray version be different from the "screening" version?
AM: Well, the DVD/Blu-Ray will be longer and a bit more polished. Color-balanced and what have you. And probably about ten minutes longer. There were about 40-50 minutes cut out of the work print version and we’ll be putting some of that back in to round out the film. We may possibly include that material in the special features but we haven’t decided yet.
SL:You mentioned that there was a deleted subplot you shot with Steve Gonsalves from the TV show "Ghost Hunters."
AM: Well I met Steve doing the cons much like you. He is a great dude and loves the genre and we became mates and when it came time for casting I just asked him and he said "Sure man!" So I had him play a gun dealer and sleaze ball. He was great. I deleted it for a few reasons. One was running time but the main reason was he took you out of the world a little bit cause he is pretty recognizable. But he did get nasty and died brutally. It may show up on the deleted scenes though.
SL:I know that you’re aware that I thought that the soundtrack helps and hurts the film in turns. Sometimes accenting the exploitation feel of the film, but sometimes going too far and making the film feel like a parody of earlier exploitation film soundtracks with heavy wah-wah and synth effects.
AM: The sound mix will be revisited for the final edit. The score was mad. There were a lot of people that contributed to it and it hasn’t been tweaked properly. It’s almost a temp track. Some of it was done quickly; spur of the moment, "on the wing." Although I’m happy with the soundtrack overall, there are elements that I’m not as happy with. We were trying to reach a certain length and in a certain amount of time allotted for the production schedule, so we were under that constraint. Remember the version that you’re screening is a theatrical version. Not a finished director’s cut. The one we’re planning on putting out on DVD and Blu-ray.
SL:What kind of changes are you planning on making for the release version?
AM: Mostly just tweaking it: color-correction, fix the soundtrack, make some more "personal" touches, subtle enhancements.
SL:Did the film, over-all come out the way you wanted it to?
AM: Pretty much. Right down to the "T". We shot the script as written. That’s the advantage of shooting independently. You don’t have external guidelines. There’s no one looking over your shoulder trying to get you to make the film that they want you to make. You can do what you would like to do. It didn’t have to be a gorefest. The effects director Jerami Cruise reviewed a lot of old exploitation DVDs to see how they did the effects for those films and tried to emulate the style of the time so the film is also an homage to the practical effects of that era. So it was an intentional stylistic decision as well as for financial considerations.
SL:What was the budget for the film approximately?
AM: I’d rather not say at this point as we’re still working out the sale and distribution for the film, but if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.
SL:Will you tell me anyways if I promise to keep it a secret?
SL:You’re fucking kidding me.
AM: Nope. We’re not sure if we should mention how much we made the film for as we’re not sure if it will hurt or help our distribution efforts. People think that if you’re able to make a film for a small budget that they won’t have to pay a lot for it for you to make your initial investment back, but I’m looking at it from the opposite perspective. Think about how much money this film could make a distribution company if they wanted to pick it up or represent the film. It’s not about how much it cost you to make it, it’s about how much you can make with it as a finished film, but more than anything else I’m just excited that we were able to get it done and I’m pleased that people will get a chance to see it as I think it’s a pretty solid film.
SL:What about contemporary film-makers that kind of make "homage" pieces for rape-revenge films from the ’70s and ’80s?
AM: I think people sort of push the envelope a lot more because they can. I’m just as guilty. The dialogue for the film is a bit rough. The independent guy can get away with a bit more than mainstream film-makers. But it’s expected from films like Father’s Day (2011) or Dear God No (2011); relying more on the gimmick for shock effect. I didn’t want to make a film making fun of the genre. I wanted to make an authentic film. Also I wanted it to be a more palatable film. I wanted to try and keep it more reflective of the R rating at the time that the original films were made. If you look at a film like I Spit on Your Grave (1978), the gore doesn’t take it way over the edge. The thing is, with my movie, you can’t tell when it was made. Technically, I guess you could narrow it down. But I wanted it to look like it was shot sometimes in the ’80s. Cell phones were a real pain in the ass and a personal pet peeve of mine. I wanted it to be more of an homage piece. I wanted to make an exploitation movie, that’s it. No stupid tricks. I wanted to make it legit.
SL:Having seen the film three times, and thinking about the performance of your lead actress, was the life of Aileen Wournos an inspiration in any way?
AM: Was Monster (2003) an influence? Couldn’t say it was. I only saw it once. But it’s funny that you mention it because Jim Van Bebber said he loved the film. Loved it. And he gave us a beautiful quote. "It’s like being trapped with Aileen Wournos for two hours."
SL:What was [lead actress] Lissa [Brennan]’s influence? Did you have to take a hands-on approach and provide your actors with their motivation for each scene?
AM: No. Not at all. She took her cues from the script. All of the actors pretty much did. For most of the actors aside from the leads I just gave them sides. All they got were their scenes. The only actors with a full copy of the script were Lissa, Paula [Bellin], Dougie [Douglass Bell], and that was because they’re pretty much in the film the whole way through. I wanted to keep the motivations distinct. Just let the actors do what they needed to do. There weren’t really rehearsals. I mean sometimes the actors would meet to work out the scenes and blocking on the set.
But even though I wrote the script, the actors were trying to be the character, to really inhabit the role without thinking too much and to just live this sort of thing. Living it and breathing it. I think that they knew what needed to happen better than I did. Sometimes I’d step in and guide a scene, but I wanted it to be as natural as possible.
SL:Why a rape-revenge film?
AM: It was one of those things. Those films aren’t made very often, at least not realistically. Plus they’re a little taboo. I didn’t want to make a zombie movie. How many rape-revenge films can you name? There are maybe ten that are well known. I Spit On Your Grave, Ms. 45 (1981), Savage Streets (1984), They Call Her One Eye (1973)...
SL:The lead character kind of takes an interesting turn. Why did you make that creative decision?
AM: Why did I have her turn into a man-hater? Because she had been treated like shit. She was a smart person, too smart. All she wanted was to get pregnant. The only reason she associated with men was to make babies. I admit that a lot of people say that it was fucked up that that was her goal; her main mission. But there’s a lot of subtle little things that people probably won’t pick up on on first viewing. Like when she says she’s "Sick of disposing of all of the little boys." Also, at the end, that kid? It was a little boy dressed as a little girl.
SL:I totally didn’t notice that and I watched the film three times.
AM: Yeah. I don’t know if people are gonna pick it up.
SL:Was that an intentional creative decision on your part?
AM: It was a bit of both.
SL:But why, as a writer/director did you decide to make a film about a man-hating ex-prostitute who wants babies?
AM: At the time I was listening to Alice Cooper’s Along Came a Spider. The album kind of went into the aspect of a serial killer being sort of like a spider. I came up with the idea based on the piece that I worked on for The Murder Collection (2009). The "spider" is like a black widow. The black widow only seeks a mate for the purposes of reproduction and then kills the male. "The female of the species is more deadly than the male." The lead actress actually has the nickname "Kat" which I got from "Katipo" (an endangered regional variant of the black widow native to New Zealand). She’s luring men with a web of deceit. And then there’s that man chained in the basement. Chains like the threads of a spider’s web. And she’s always dressed in black.
SL:Wow. I didn’t notice any of that but now that you mention it...
AM: I wanted to make a film with replay value. There’s a lot of little stuff that you won’t pick up on the first watch through.
SL:Okay, so there’s one thing I have to ask you about in particular: The handicapped guy taking part in the gang rape. I always thought that paralyzed people didn’t have any sensation in their genitals.
AM: You know what; I never thought to ask him about that. That’s my friend Karl [Struss, Jr.]. He really is physically disabled. We were going to start shooting the scene or talking about it anyways Karl was like, "Hey, why can’t I rape the girl dude? Just lift me up? I can’t feel it anyway."
SL:And what about the white guy hemorrhaging from the ass in the pimp’s place. What the fuck is up with that?
AM: The butt-rape scene? No reason at all. No rhyme or reason. Just seemed like an interesting thing to include in the film. Just put it in to fuck with people. Let them figure it out.
SL:What was up with the room being set up like one of Dexter Morgan’s kill scenes?
AM: We shot the film in our friend’s house so we couldn’t put blood everywhere, you know; spray it all over the walls and have Caro syrup and food dye soak into his mattress so we had to use plastic, all over the place so we ended up integrating it as a stylistic theme.
SL:Anything you want to say in closing?
AM: Absolutely. I definitely want to stress that this film was a collaborative effort. Without the crew, and the actors, and others who helped in any way shape or form or who donated to help us out. Especially Aziza as this film would not have been made without her as she is a real-problem-solver.
SL:Were you afraid you went too far or not far enough?
AM: I think I went far enough for this particular film. Look at Ms. 45, Savage Streets. They weren’t real gory. Just gory enough, but not over the top and that’s what I wanted it to be.
You can find out more about the film by visiting www.revengeishermiddlename.com
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