On November 10 1995 I received a Notice of Seizure of Indecent and Obscene Material from H.M. Customs and Excise Mount Pleasant Department in London. The items, sent by an American company called Seeing Eye Dog were "one video one letter and one card."
The reason for the seizure was down to two scenes in particular. The first concerned the shooting of a pregnant woman in the back, forcing her to abort the foetus in full view of the camera. The second scene involves the penetration of a vagina with a gun. I phoned, wrote an appeal, even made a vain attempt to arrange a private screening of the video at our local customs and excise office. All I wanted to do was to see if the film was worth while releasing for the UK video market... A friendly customs official assured me it was not.
After three frustrating weeks another copy arrived via Italy. I grabbed my coffee and positioned myself in the video copy bay to watch this supposedly horrendous piece of film making. What I saw was not the overtly violent misogynist's piece of exploitation I had been led to believe. The film was slow moving, almost arduous in execution. The violence was scarce but when it erupted it was sickening and brutal. There was something mythical about the storytelling. It was like no other horror movie I have ever watched. It was 'Shatter Dead', and I loved it.
Shatter Dead heroine STARK RAVEN
Of course the rest is, as they say, history. The movie passed through the British Board of Film Classification with an 18 certificate and hardly a mark on it, sparking fresh discussion amongst the ranks of the anti-censorship lobby. The film had won the Award for Best Independent Feature at the previous year's Fantafestival in Rome and was already becoming a cult in the States. But who would wish to make such a twisted movie... indeed who could even have dreamed up a story so upsettingly nihilistic? Answer; the director with the most unlikely name in the USA, Scooter McCrae... yes it's his real name.
Hey Mr Customs officer just keep teeling yourself 'It's only a movie... It's only a movie!"
McCrae spent four years in film school at the State University of New York at Purchase. After graduating he found an apartment in New York City and landed a job as assistant editor on a feature that never got released. Disillusioned with "the idiot in charge" giving him a hard time McCrae walked off the project late in post production and got for a "real job" for six months. It was during this time a friend called up to say he was working in the art department on 'Basket Case 2' and would he be interested in being a production assistant. Two hours later McCrae had quit his steady job that was paying twice as much money and started work on the sequel to a classic.
"That was a really great experience for me!" enthuses the diminutive film director. "I got assigned to perform many on-set duties, which meant I got to watch Frank (Henenlotter) directing the actors and technicians. I learned a lot about the whole filmmaking process, seeing all the things I had read about and been taught being applied in a practical way."
Scooter McCrae (right) on the set of his forthcoming cyberporn horror movie 16 TONGUES
Since 'Shatter Dead', McCrae has become somewhat of a golden boy in the ranks of the American low budgeteers, collaborating on screenplays with not only his many peers but also the king of freak films himself Frank Henenlotter. He has also become a bit of a thespian appearing in movies for amongst others Howard S.Berger - as 'Kaps' a red arsed devil in 'Original Sins', for Kevin Lindenmuth - as a man eating extra terrestrial in the first 'Alien Agenda' instalment and for Matthew Jason Walsh - as the dope crazed victim of a serial killer in 'Bloodletting'.
When asked about how he views his experiences as an actor McCrae has mixed feelings, but as often happens when quizzing him his explanation makes it hard to tell how seriously he actually takes himself.
"I now have something in common with Quentin Tarrantino; we've both made the very public mistake of trying to act in other people's movies. I'm lucky so far in that I've only been asked to act in productions by people who I've worked with before or already know, so it's all in the family... The thing I like most about acting for other people is watching them direct, and learning from how they handle problems. Up 'til now, I've spent more time yelling into the camera than into someone else's face: it's an awkward but interesting situation."
Zombie actress Flora Fauna gets all messy.
Obviously a man who considers himself first and foremost a writer and director it is amazing that McCrae has so far only directed two movies He has however written several screenplays including collaboration on the Leif Jonker helmed 'Demon Machine'. For a man who has, to his own admission, never made any money out of filmmaking it seems strange he should remain so enthusiastic. When tackled about his obsession it soon becomes apparent that it is not a thirst profit that drives him to want to make movies.
"I think the single most important driving factor in my personal decision to write and direct horror movies is the fact that I don't have a membership at any video store in town. Every time I go into one of these places I just become very upset because there is not a single fucking title worth the price and effort of the rental.
"I know I'm not an absolutely unique individual; I know there's a helluva lot of other people out there who probably feel exactly the same way I do. I'm not Steven Speilberg and I'm never gonna be anywhere near that level of budgetary craftsmanship, but I do know that there's definitely and audience out there of people just like me who would probably find the stuff I'm doing interesting. And if I can keep the cost of what I'm doing down low enough, I might even be able to make enough of a profit to go on and make my next project. If I can just manage to do that then I'll definitely have achieved something wonderful."
So what does a man so obsessed with the genre think of the Hollywood big budget horror that has become such popular fare at the multiplexes of late?
"I think the major studios are incapable of producing what we used to know as the 'horror movie', but they are certainly capable of producing what I would call a 'horror spectacle', or what critics used to denigrate Dario Argento's films as being by calling them nothing more than 'scare machines'... Missing all the subtext of course. By that they meant a film that was calculated to make the audience jump every few minutes with some kind of set peace scare or horrible death; and we all know how difficult that is, right...?"
So what does he believe has happened to bring the 'horror spectacle back into vogue both public and, more interestingly, critical popularity.
"As time has gone by I think most critics who were at first derisive towards certain filmmakers (Argento, Fulci and most of the Europeans who were actually artists) wished that the stuff that was being churned out now had at least a third of the intellectual subtext that even the worst of those films that were made the target of indignation had. How else could you explain, I wonder, the current idiotic appraisal of the critical mainstream in America that has Wes Craven's latest flick 'Scream' being perceived as an 'intellectual slasher film'? Have these fucking idiots never heard of Mario Bava, or is it really that difficult to sit through European flicks in a country as insultingly self-centred as the United States?"
Whilst on the subject of the great Italian horror directors I broached him about his friendship with the late great Lucio Fulci and his daughter Antonella... His reply was both enlightening and passionate. I feel it only respectful that I leave it as complete as (legally) possible.
"A year before I met Lucio, Howard Berger went to the Fantafestival in Italy and met the maestro, who was one of the judges on their panel, and also his daughter Antonella. I saw a photo of her with her father in a magazine a couple of years ago and thought she was very cute, so I told Howard to please get me her address so I can write a letter. God Bless the Berger, because he did get me her address and I wrote her a letter and we began corresponding occasionally. What I didn't realise was that Antonella and Lucio were living in the same house, so I guess she told him all about me, because when he stepped out of the elevator at the Fangoria Convention in New York he approached the group of people I was standing with and asked "Which one of you is Scooter?" Well that just about shocked the shit out of me!
Stark Raven pleasures a weapon in one of the disturbing dream sequences from Shatter Dead
"As I later found out, Lucio had been a very adamant supporter of 'Shatter Dead' at the Fantafestival and was instrumental in helping it win the Best Independent Film Plaque. Although winning the award was quite an honour, I must say that nothing could match up to having Lucio toss his arm around me and have him walk down the hotel hallway telling me nice things. It's a pity that Lucio's health and the Blizzard of '96 combined to keep him cooped up in the hotel for almost the entire week that he was here; more than anything else he wanted to get down to Chinatown for a bowl of shark fin soup as good as the one he had during his stay here whilst making 'The New York Ripper'.
"Lucio was very disappointed that there were no films of his being screened at the convention, which I gather is quite common at these gatherings outside the United States. He was a vibrant speaker on stage, gave out autographs and his home address to anyone who asked, and otherwise had a really great time dealing with the people who had travelled from all over the country and braved the upcoming onslaught of weather to see him. When the blizzard came and left him stuck in New York for almost a week, I was asked to help take care of him since we got on so well and was one of the few people with a running subway right near my house who could make regular trips to see him. Mr Berger, unfortunately was trapped in snowdrifts on Long Island for the week. The snowstorm really crippled the city like I have never before seen.
"Unfortunately, the people running the convention were a bunch of scumbags, who made Lucio's already unexpected stay that much more difficult for him. The people at Fangoria were wonderful because they checked on him every day, but the people at the conference company wouldn't even turn on the telephone so he could call his daughter or his doctor in Italy! The man was running low on insulin, his foot was in a cast from a recent injury and the people in charge were afraid of the phone bill of a sick man after they've made a ton of money from eager fans from all over the United States who have travelled to New York just to see Lucio. Although Lucio was pretty upset by all this shit he was being put through - one day he was actually thrown out of the hotel room and forced to wait on the street for a while because of a 'clerical error' that said he had already checked out of the hotel - he kept his spirits up while waiting for the snow to be cleaned up. Finally I gave the idiots at the hotel my credit card number so that Lucio could call Italy; I ended up footing the bill because the convention organiser's company policy states that 'they won't pay for a guest's personal calls.' I should think that by now readers of this interview are probably as speechless as I was; what does one say to such monumental greed and stupidity?
Scooter McCrae as demon "Kaps" doing the dirty on a priest in Howard S.Berger's ORIGINAL SINS
"But the good side to all this, of course, was that I got to spend a lot of great time with Lucio, who had a very eager listener in me. I wish I knew a helluva lot more Italian, because he was trying to explain his involvement with Orson Wells and the 'Lady of Shanghai' to me, but I was having a lot of trouble following him on that one. He also told me what a fantastic piano player Jesse Franco was at the parties they had been together. At the airport Lucio rhapsodised me about the films of Armando de Ossorio; he thought he was really one of the better, and under rated fantasy filmmakers. He also enjoyed raising a little hell whenever he could, from trying to pick up waitresses at 'Lindy's' to making comments like this on stage: 'Yes I have worked with all sorts of animals in my movies; cats, dogs, spiders, even women.' People love hearing him say that kind of shit so they can call him a misogynist, without realising he has two daughters that he dearly loves; he always gave a naughty little smile after saying that kind of stuff, so I don't know how people can miss seeing this kind of gesture.
"What more can I say? I met one of my heroes and we spent some great times together, and I'm profoundly saddened by his passing. I'll always treasure the time that we spent together, even under such bizarre circumstances. I'm also looking forward to finally meeting his lovely daughter, Antonella, in person some day. Anyone who has a father that loves them as much as he did her is a special person."
SFX guy Pericles Lewnes turns zombie killer.
As well as the great European horrormeisters McCrae's influences range widely from Carpenter to Kubrik but 'Shatter Dead' has probably been more often compared to the work of Cronenberg. A comparison he gladly acknowledges.
"I think the biggest influence that Cronenberg has had on my work is that we seem to share this dispassionate point of view towards the occurrences that we are recording with our cameras. It's as if the characters before the lens are being watched through a glass cage whilst going through a series of emotional lab experiments. There's none of those sweeping camera movements or bizarre POV shots that have become part of horror cinema's modern vocabulary. I know Cronenberg gets accused of being 'cold' or 'Canadian' for that, but I think it's a very important part of what makes his work so wonderful and disturbing.
"We're not asking audiences to to step outside their own heads to judge the proceedings, but we're trusting the viewer to bring their own experiences with them into the theatre; that's an act of trust that I think most people appreciate. Most of the time in horror cinema, when you're put into the POV driver's seat it's because a lousy filmmaker is trying to fool you into believing something patently false or stupid that an objective eye would immediately recognise as ridiculous. In fact, when we were shooting 'Shatter Dead', I remember occasionally asking my cinematographer (Matthew Howe) to either raise the camera or bring it down a little bit so we were always at eye level with the thespians; I don't like shots that look up or down on someone because it usually communicates a bit more information than I think is necessary."
Stark and Flora take a second shower together!
After completing 'Shatter Dead' McCrae stated he would not direct another picture unless someone actually took one of his scripts and made made a hash of it. But it would seem he has been bitten quite badly by the directing bug. In the summer of 1997 he completed principal photography as the of another self penned script, a hyperdellic S&M/cyberpunk/horror movie hybrid called Sixteen Tongues. At the time of going to press that movie is still in post production and should see the light of day early 2000.
Publicity shots for 16 TONGUES