TAEM interview with producer Theodore Trout

TAEM- The Arts and Entertainment Magazine will travel around the world looking for the latest horror flicks and the filmmakers who make them. This time we have stumbled across such a producer in England, Theodore Trout. Theodore please tell our readers about your interest in the macabre and how you first entered filmmaking.

TT- Okay, well I’m sorry, but I’m actually in British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada, on Salt Spring Island.  I had messed around with animated film-making as a kid, but in those days it was all on 8mm, which is a horribly unforgiving medium, so I didn’t stick with it.  I was an underground cartoonist with some success in my early twenties, then switched to alternative radio as the host of a densely produced program called ‘the fish show’, which gained considerable notoriety in the area surrounding Victoria, B.C. Throughout this period I worked at low or minimum-wage labor jobs to support my creative efforts.

Following a debilitating back injury, I went back to school at the Vancouver Film School’s Classical Animation department. My student film, ‘Small Potatoes’, won an Honorable Mention at the New York Animation Festival in 1999.  I was briefly a professional animator of Saturday morning cartoons and on my way up, even at one point being tapped for ‘The Simpsons’, when I was forced into retirement at 35 by a debilitating aneurysm that left me with permanent frontal lobe damage. I had always been a fan of horror movies and monster comics as a kid, but it wasn’t until after the aneurysm that I began to feel that slapstick humor just wasn’t cutting it for me anymore.

TAEM- You originally began your career on the other side of the camera, and we first learned of you in the film, ‘Exhumed’. Tell us about the film and the character that you portrayed.

TT- This was one of Brian Clement’s films. He put an ad in a local paper that said “Auditioning Vampire Mods and Werewolf Rockers for low-budget independent horror film”, and I thought, “if I don’t at least go down and check this out, I’ll never forgive myself”. So I went down and snarled at them and they gave me the part right away. ‘Exhumed’ is a three-part anthology-style film that follows the progress of an ancient Tome of Evil with the power to raise the dead into flesh-eating zombies through three different historical periods: the first concerns two samurai in feudal Japan (in Japanese with subtitles), the second a hard-boiled dame detective in the 1940’s (shot in black and white), and the third takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where Vampire Mods and Werewolf Rockers battle over bits of wasted turf in an endless Quadrophenia, which is where I come in.  I play Kane, the Leader of the Werewolf Rockers in a short but showy part. I basically show up looking badass in a borrowed leather jacket, snarl a few lines at the vampires, grow a huge latex snout, and then get shot when evil Stormtoopers show up and ambush the rumble. Then I’m dead, and the Stormtroopers kidnap my girlfriend and a vampire babe to go fight zombies in the pit. I won’t tell you how it ends.  I can’t tell you how much fun I had doing this, especially getting the werewolf make-up put on ! The film itself is really impressive, I think Clement might have been about 25 or 26 when he did this and it just looks great, especially the Japan segment. All shot in Victoria BC, though. ‘Exhumed’ is available on DVD.

TAEM- The following year you produced your own film, ‘Huge Bus Now’ as a documentary. Describe your first production to our readership and the confidence you obtained from working both sides of the camera.

TT- My relationship to ‘Huge Bus Now’ was more of a curator/collage artist sort of thing. My good friends the Hewett brothers had previously amassed an output of about a CD and a half of original recorded music as part of a surf-punk aggregate known simply as HUGE. Following the dissolution of the group in 2000, Hal Hewett undertook an extremely ambitious project: he took an old 1960 model Detroit City Bus and converted it to run on used deep fat fryer oil. The following summer, he and Geoffrey Moron Ozard Hewett and their retinue undertook a journey clear across Canada from Sooke BC to St. John’s Nfld. without spending a dime on fuel or food either way. To accomplish this they harvested grease from the traps of Fish’n Chip stands and Burger joints along the way, and at night staged commando raids on supermarket dumpsters pregnant with slightly wilted produce and baked goods with a half-life of several years. The money they saved was spent on alcohol. Much surf-punk was performed on this Oz-like odyssey through the underground underbelly of Canada, and many potatoes were fired out the window of the moving bus with a HUGE potato cannon. Upon their return, I was presented with a plastic shopping bag containing their CDs, a wad of still photos, a selection of G Moron O’s hand-printed personal graphics, and about 40 hours of videotape. Inspired by the experience of ‘Exhumed’, and eager to try editing a film on my PC, I set to work and managed to produce a grease-bus movie that predated ‘Go Further’ by almost a year. Most memorably the HUGE Bus invades a Huge Rave north of Montreal in the psychedelic centerpiece of the film. For his work on the Kyoto Protocol, Hal dedicated the film to Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who subsequently had it placed in The National Archive. There is still a 45 minute version available on Google Video, but I’ve got to get off my can and get the full 90 minute version transferred to disc next, as it was previously only available on VHS!

TAEM- Acting was still drawing you in and you portrayed the character of Professor Fallstead in the film, ‘The Dead Inside’ the next year. Tell us about this project and the importance of your character in it.

TT- This was my personal favorite of all the films I did with Brian Clement; sadly it is the only one not currently available on disc. It plays like a William H. Castle H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, fans of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s films would no doubt enjoy it. Set in the late 1940’s, the plot concerns a ghost-busting expedition into a haunted house led by two Mulder & Scully-like combat/espionage veterans turned Paranormal Investigators. They are joined by two scientists named Professor Fallstead (myself) and Dr. Koeppler (Chris Tihor). The house exerts an eerie force over the minds of all who enter. Investigators John Katzen (Chuck Depape) and Lola Morgandy (Bronwyn Lee) experience strange hallucinations that closely resemble their real memories from the Second World War. Visions of a family of murdered Circus Performers who apparently killed each other off in the same house add a weird surreal touch, but eventually our heroes discover that the inter-dimensional experiments of another former tenant have breached the border between dream and reality; unleashing parasitic poltergeists which feed on the psychic fear generated by the dream-state hallucinations.

Dr. Koeppler enters the house a ball of twitchy mannerisms, his nerve supposedly shattered by his own dimension-breaching experiments, but grows more and more preternaturally calm as events proceed. Professor Fallstead, on the other hand, enters the house bristling with pompous professionalism but seems to wilt into a nervous wreck as he experiences the horrific visions himself. He is a shadow of his former self by the time he is devoured by a shapely poltergeist (Claire Westby). My own father had been a biology professor, and I had a great time playing Professor Fallstead as a sort of combination of he and my Uncle Bill, an entomologist. Dad left behind several tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows and it still freaks me out how much I looked like him with the tweed on and my hair slicked back. I was trying to look like Vincent Price ! Unfortunately, Clement sold the distribution rights to an outfit that has sat on the film ever since. Hopefully the rights will eventually revert to him and the world can finally see my supporting performance in this genuinely scary little film.

TAEM- The following two years found you before the lights again in two films: ‘Meat Market’ and ‘ Dark Paradox’. What were these about, and how did they differ from each other in context ?

TT- Well they couldn’t be more different, at least in terms of Clement’s oeuvre. ‘Meat Market 3’ is really his best film so far, although I haven’t yet seen his new one. It’s a continuation of the ultra-low-budget zombie franchise that established him as a teenage wunderkind. The first Meat Market I believe revolves around the Last Outpost of Civilized Mankind being run by a failed motivational speaker who looks like Bill Gates. Or maybe that’s the second one, honestly it’s a been awhile since I’ve seen them. By MM3, however, Brian had graduated from Lovecraft to the works of Phillip K. Dick, and he wrote a terrific ‘is this really happening, and if it was, wouldn’t I already have snapped ?’ multiple reality mindf#@k zombie movie that I honestly think stands as one of the very best in the genre. Bronwyn Lee made a compelling heroine, and I was sorry there wasn’t a sequel built around her.  ‘Dark Paradox’ sees Clement yearning to break out of the horror ghetto and make a more personal, introspective film, yet dutifully  revisiting many of his previous tropes in order to make the picture commercially salable. The best scene is the final scene, which one can’t help but wish had been the first.
Both films are available on DVD.

TAEM- What were the parts that you played in each of these ?

TT- In Meat Market 3 I played the burnt-faced zombie who tries to eat the hero’s face in the kitchen, the rocker zombie chasing the car in the rear view mirror, and the Darth Sidious-like Emperor of the Dead. In ‘Dark Paradox” I play a very brief part as an Evil Patriarch. I also do  a little swooping.

TAEM- You just completed filming a movie about my favorite monster of all time, Dracula, with the film ‘Dracula, Lord of the Damned’. We understand that you not only directed this project, but you were the writer for it as well. What lead you choose this famous fictional character for this major debut?

TT- You have to learn to look at yourself and see the Truth, because Ignorance is Hell. I was in my mid-forties and I felt I looked like Dracula, although most other people said Wolverine. I had had the horrific experience of dying slowly and painfully of a subdural hematoma, then waking up on a slab with a hole in my skull, a mere shadow of my former self. For at least the first few years, ‘Undead’ was the only word that really fit. I was a werewolf for awhile, and it scared my wife away. I felt like I was locked in a stone tower in the middle of nowhere with a homicidal maniac, and I couldn’t go home and I never knew what he was going to do next. What had I become ? It is this experience which has largely informed “Dracula, Lord of the Damned”, filmed entirely on Vancouver Island with local actors on a shoe-string budget. My intent was to create a film that would look like it was shot in the earliest days of cinema, but that would sound more like the densely produced radio show I used to do at CFUVfm in Victoria, and later here on Salt Spring at CFSI. Vancouver Island is a spectacular natural area, with high craggy mountains, roaring gorges, underground caverns, and more mist, rain, and fog than almost anywhere on Earth. Victoria itself is a kind of miniature facsimile of Victorian London, so it was relatively easy to get a cheaply made movie to look authentic. Once I seized on my central theme, I knew I had a fresh enough angle on the story to justify doing my own version. My brain-injured Dracula is not only superhumanly brutal enough to have savagely impaled up to 20,000 people at a time, but he is also deluded enough to see himself as The Savior of Men, on a Holy Mission to spread the Gift of Eternal Life.Try and stop Him.TAEM- What is the next step in placing your creation onto the silver screen ?

TT- I’m certainly open to suggestions. It’s currently in submission to a couple dozen festivals for this fall, fingers crossed.

TAEM- What other projects are you looking to get into, and is the horror genre going to be your forte in filmmaking ?

TT- Ian Case, who was my collaborator on DLOTD, has expressed an interest in doing an adaptation of “The Fall of the House of Usher”, for which he had some new and startling ideas. I’ve also got a half written cartoon about squids conquering the world, and an outline for a semi-autobiographical comedy about a has-been rock star and a giant fish. There’s my unauthorized biography of a certain deceased punk rock star, many of whose contemporaries are still alive enough to be interviewed. In the dream project category, there’s my as yet unaccountably un-adapted British Sci-fi/Gothic Horror Novel, which is of recent enough vintage that I would need to get the rights to it, and my feature length animated adaptation of a classic underground alternative comic, ditto for that one also. And then there’s my World War One Flying Ace epic, but that’s just crazy talk. It would have the greatest drunken slapstick bar fight scene of all time in it, though. Really, what or if I do anything next depends on the reaction to and the returns from ‘Dracula, Lord of the Damned’. I could never do another one all by myself again like this. The effort has left me blind, broke, crazy and old. Maybe I’ll just do another couple of Small Potatoes cartoons and call it a day.

TAEM- Theodore we will be certainly looking forward to seeing your latest creation and want to thank you for taking your time for this interview with The Arts and Entertainment Magazine. We wish you much luck in all that you do and ask that you keep in touch with us for all your future productions.  

TAEM

Thanks very mush for having me, and sorry about your carpet.