Interview with Dante Tomaselli

Dante Tomaselli’s first film was a 23-minute short called, “Desecration”, which was expanded to feature length. The film received acclaim for its nightmarish visuals and became a cult horror classic. His second was a sequel titled, “Horror”, The film earned rave reviews in the horror world. Tomaselli third feature, “Satan’s Playground” was released in 2006 and featured an amazing group of cult-horror icons. MovieMikes has the opportunity to talk to Dante about his films and his what is in stop for the future.

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Mike Gencarelli: “Desecration” started off as a short film, how do you feel the film translated into a full length feature?
Dante Tomaselli: Not bad, considering it cost only $150, 000. “Desecration” was my first feature and I was still in my twenties.  It was 1999 and the genre was just finishing that God-awful cycle of “Scream”-like comedic horrors. My film premiered at the Fantafestival in Rome, Italy and then Image Entertainment picked it up for DVD distribution. It got some good notices in the horror world and art-house arena. Then came the Internet. Lots of press there. Lots of review sites popping up all over the place. That was around the time that the Internet was starting to replace newspapers and magazines as immediate media information and I felt I was riding the wave of something….

Mike Gencarelli: What was the biggest challenge making the full length “Desecration”?
Dante Tomaselli: Getting all the elements together…crew…actors…artists…money. Filmmaking is not like photography or painting. You can’t just have your paint brush and easel and display your vision. I needed to build a whole network of people around me. I’ve always been a mixture of shyness and occasional confidence, so socially, it was rough, but the film pokes through and leads the way. I think people around me understood that I meant business. The visions must be extracted. The film itself speaks and commands…and I’m the vessel, really. It was challenging creating my first feature…at the same time it came so naturally. After “Desecration” was released, I was hooked and deeply in love with making low budget movies….Film is a moving painting, a moving sculpture…a doorway to somewhere else…wow…I definitely felt that this was my destiny and I was on a mission. I wanted…needed…to make creative, intimate horror films.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell me about its follow-up “Horror”, what made you want to continue the story?
Dante Tomaselli: Horror was like a sequel to “Desecration”. It was a continuation of the eternally damned boy’s life. I was honing my craft. Even though I switched cinematographers and production designers from “Desecration”, “Horror” still retained my signature look…and sound. It was important for me to illustrate that I had a voice that was my own. I’m trying to construct a nightmare in which we experience the protagonist’s damnation. More than anything I wanted my films to be different, unique. Possibly I could have made a mainstream horror film…possibly…but instead I went the other way and created something crazier, wilder, and even more non-linear than Desecration”. “Horror”. My imagination was unhinged on “Horror”.

MG: You worked with a great cast in “Satan’s Playground” like Felissa Rose (“Sleepaway Camp”), Ellen Sandwiess (“Evil Dead”) and Edwin Neal (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”). What was it like working with them?
DT: Exhilarating. Looking back, I might have been a little too caught up in the horror fanboy dream of it all. It might have distracted me a bit from the film itself, sometimes. Ultimately, though I forged some actor director relationships that are enduring. Felissa was fun to work with; she really got into the part and put her heart into it. Ellen Sandweiss is a great friend and had one of the best roles in “The Evil Dead”, one of my favorite films. She was terrific…especially when her character’s baby was stolen. “Satan’s Playground” was her comeback after so many years. And Ed Neal, well, I am about to work with him again on my new film. He’s a really gifted performer, very underrated.

MG: Your films have all seem to involve religion undertones? Why?
DT: Well, I grew up in an Italian American Catholic household so it was unescapable. My older siblings all went to Catholic school and I went to Sunday School…or Catechism. And church. My religious grandmothers both lived in Paterson New Jersey, with all the Blessed Virgin Mary statues on the lawns and everything. A staple of Italian neighborhoods. It was a vibe all around me and I picked up on it. I remember, many times, being in church, on my knees, and chanting the prayers and zoning out and marveling at the architecture of the church and the eeriness of the church organ. I’m not a religious person. Spiritual? Yes. I’m more skeptical of organized religion. It causes wars and divides people. Certain religions thinking they know better than the other….It seems to have happened since the beginning of mankind and never stopped. Also, of course, sometimes the hypocrisy, the perversion of religion can be terrifying. I think organized religion could be the death of us. So yea, I fear it. In the end, though, my films are really about family.

MG: What made you want to get into the movie business? Is horror your favorite genre?
DT: Yes! I’m a lifelong horror film fanatic. Good horror films release serotonin in my brain. Growing up, my room was decorated like a Funhouse. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, for as long as I can remember. My notebook in school was filled with horror movie artwork and the titles of the films in their original font. Movies like…”Halloween”, “The Omen”, “Carrie”, “The Shining”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Tourist Trap”, “The Fog”, “Burnt Offerings”, “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death”, “The Sentinel”…When I’m inspired or in…the trance…I close my eyes and the images from the film I want to create are as clear as slides projected in my mind. And the sounds. It’s an all-out sensory take-over, like dreaming while wide awake. It’s been happening since I was really young and it’s like a faucet I can’t turn off. I fantasize for a living.   

MG: Your cousin, Alfred Sole, made “Alice, Sweet Alice”, would you ever consider remaking that film with him?
DT: I will be remaking that film. I have the rights from my cousin and he will work on it as well. It’s inevitable that all notable horror films will be remade so we want to beat others to the punch. It’s coming up.

MG: You are having a documentary made about you by filmmaker, Christopher Garetano, titled “The Horror of Dane Tomaselli”.  What can you tell us about this?
DT: You’d really have to talk to Chris about what he has in store because he’s totally in charge of it. He’ll be shooting the conclusion of the documentary soon, possibly next month.  I’ve seen clips and it’s like an out-of-body experience.  For me, it’s intense, hallucinogenic.

MG: What are your plans for the movie “Torture Chamber”?

DT: I’m ready to start shooting. We’re days away. It’s a horror shocker about a demonically possessed boy who escapes from a mental institution and discovers an old abandoned castle with a secret passageway to a cobwebbed torture chamber. It’s the first serious independent horror film in a while that’s in the vein of “The Exorcist”.

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