Death Metal Underground
by Mike Arsenyev
November 9, 2013
Continuing our coverage about the corresponding nature of horror movies and metal, as well as our continuing content of the Housecore Horror Film Festival, we present an interview with metal enthusiast and filmmaker Ryan Oliver from Deathblow Productions.
What initiated your interest in making films?
It’s a long chain of events starting with me watching the Son of Svenghoulie (local horror host) as a little kid, then making some backyard movies with the neighbor kids to theatre studies in college. At around age 30, I was an actor/writer/FX artist who had moved from Chicago to LA, and become immediately disenchanted with acting. I hung it up and got a job in a film vault at Technicolor, FX freelance work, and I wrote a shit-ton of scripts. Eventually I landed back in my hometown and was determined to stay connected to the industry and adapt the ‘big fish/small pond’ attitude towards things. I decided to start directing my own material, never looked back.
How would you compare your work with mainstream Hollywood types of productions? Are mainstream movies too predictable? If so, how do you overcome this hurdle?
Yes, a great many of them are quite predictable. But I suppose that’s a symptom of having millions of dollars at stake, making ‘safe’ choices. I don’t have to deal with that, so I’m not the best one to ask. When it comes to Deathblow, I can pretty much do anything I want/afford to do. I have no one to answer to. So, I try to write to my instincts and from my gut while keeping things as interesting and unique as possible. As a director who’s still trying to fight his way into the club, I have my own unique set of obstacles. I think it’s wasteful of my time to consider what others have going for them where I should be focusing on my own future. I will say this, I got tired of complaining about movies when I hadn’t gone through the process myself. It’s fucking hard to make a movie and to have people want to watch it, it’s double hard. So many things can go wrong from the music, talent, edit, fx, to your own idea sucking. So now that I made one and people seem to dig it, I don’t feel like the fat guy yelling at athletes from the grandstands anymore.
Being that you were featured at the Housecore Horror Film Fest, which featured both metal and horror movies, how does metal correlate to your tastes in music? Which bands have stuck with you throughout the years?
It’s not the only genre I listen to, but it’s ahead by a land-mile. Since you brought up Housecore, I’ll start with all Phil Anselmo projects. He’s an incredible frontman and I’ve bought everything he’s put out since ‘Cowboys’ I like a lot of Doom- Yob,Electric Wizard type stuff. Naturally, I’m drawn to a lot of Chicago bands like Plague Bringer, Harpoon, Witchbanger, The Atlas Moth, Indian, Pelican, Wolvhammer, Lair of the Minotaur, Bongripper, Weekend Nachos, Sweet Cobra, etc. I seek out a lot of soundtrack/soundscape stuff that is great to write or create to- Karl Sanders’ (Nile) solo albums are terrific. If I have to pick an ultimate inspiration it’s The Misfits, I know they’re not metal, but I really latched onto them from the moment I heard them. I was obsessed with these songs, the lyrics were both brutal and poetically divine and I began to see their discography (77-83) was an audible blueprint of the way I felt about the horror genre in general. For me, it was magical to discover those songs.
Do you think it’s significant that Black Sabbath chose the name of a horror movie for their band? What about that their statement in the past that they saw people enjoyed horror movies, and figured they might enjoy music with the same mood?
Sounds pretty significant to me. I don’t want to question the series of fragile events that led to Black Sabbath’s ‘sound’. I’m just glad it worked out the way it did. They’re so overly associated for pioneering metal that it feels too obvious to even bring up at times. I guess it explains their absence from my response to the last question.
Has horror movie music influenced metal? In what ways? Are there any specific instances you can think of?
I’m not a musician. I can’t play a lick of anything, so I may be totally full of shit, but when I think of, I guess you could say, stereotypical horror movie music I think of brooding moments punctuated by ‘stingers’. You know, slow strings or piano keys before a jarring ‘startle’. I hear that in metal often, bands that utilize a ‘slow to fast’ structure. Organs are another one. When I hear a pipe organ I think of two things: Classic monster movies and King Diamond. It’s a tough question, I guess I feel clumsy answering it.
Are there any similar emotions between metal and horror movies?
You know what’s interesting to me is how tough it is to fit metal into a horror film without overdoing it. You’d think it’d be like peanut butter and jelly but I personally don’t think metal compliments horror that easily. For example, John Carpenter and Allan Howarth composed the music for those early films masterfully, but I didn’t care for the metal score/soundtrack in Ghosts of Mars or JC’s Vampires. I like Carpenter on the Casio Keyboard. All those riffs chewed up the scenery for me. Now, my favorite use of metal in a film is probably Sleep in “Gummo” when the young cat hunters are first introduced tearing ass down that hill on their Mongoose bikes. Gummo isn’t exactly horror…but pretty close!
What other similarities have you found between horror movies and metal?
I have found that, for the most part, the overlapping fan bases are a collective of intelligent, well-balanced people that enjoy their lives and are easy to get along with. At least the ones I hang out with are.
Which horror flicks would you claim have had the biggest impact on your creativity?
Lots of Carpenter, Cronenberg, Exorcist 1&3, Texas Chainsaw 1&2, Everything Argento, Early Romero, Hammer Films, Troma Films, Universal Monsters.
Outside of horror I’m crazy for The Dark Crystal, 70’s cinema, Kubrick, Westerns, lots of Kung Fu & Samuari, Mad Max Trilogy, Cohen Brothers, 50’s Sci Fi, & anything weird or bizarro.
Do you derive inspiration from creating a sort of puzzle, then have the pieces fall together as the story progresses? More than just gore, but something that will stick with the viewer long after they’ve watched?
You said it! Gore, in my opinion, is best used as punctuation to a scene. It shouldn’t be the core content. I mean, it can, but I don’t think that’s wholly effective or the most interesting choice all the time. Situations, story and characters should dictate the terror. The audience will always think of something more twisted than what you can show them. It’s been said a million times, but look at the blood content of Halloween and TCM -a spatter or two at best. But everyone swears they saw it! I subscribe to that, for me it works. Tell a compelling story first, then strategically place your gore. That being said, there are some real blood-bath movies that I’m crazy about, Dead Alive, for me, is the crown jewel.
Thank you for your time. What’s ahead in the near future for Deathblow Productions?
We are in post for a new mid-length film called, “Restoration”. It’s a car culture ghost story about the spirit of a little kid who gets relocated from the prairie to a custom car & motorcycle garage. The place is loud, dirty and not to her taste so she throws a temper-tantrum one night. If you want to see a little girl spree-kill a bunch of Rockabillys then this is the movie for you!