Gris Grimly is one of modern horror's iconoclasts. An accomplished artist, his work has adorned books by everyone from Edgar Allan Poe to Neil Gaiman. He's also directed short films and videos starring the likes of Elvira. And he's developing a feature-length, stop-motion-animated version of Pinocchio with none other than Guillermo Del Toro. We caught up with him last week on the set of his second short (after Cannibal Flesh Riot) – Wounded Embark of the Lovesick Mind, starring David Backhaus and Darla Gordon. The film details what happens when the aptly named Lovesick – a young man on the brink of some Poe-style madness – realizes that Beauty, the object of his affection, has had enough of him. This was the penultimate day of shooting in L.A.; a day that involved a great amount of blood, as we found Grimly directing a scene in which Lovesick, with the aid of an axe, removes Beauty's arm from her lovely torso…
Note: After reading the following interviews, be sure to check out the film's official MySpace page.
This film seems to value the quality of its kills over the quantity.
There's only one person who gets killed, but this whole day, today, is entirely what he does with the body from the woman that he kills. He chops her up into pieces and throws her in the dryer. He's got to chop her up into mini pieces, so I created a hack-and-slash chart that shows where every cut is and how we're going to get each of those shots. And you guys experienced the arm getting cut off. From there I'm not sure where we're moving…
Other limbs perhaps?
Yep, he had to cut through the torso, and once he gets the torso cut he still has to saw that down as well.
So he has a long night ahead of him.
Yeah, lots of blood today and lots of blood tomorrow. This is the fifth week in which we've shot and this is going to be the [last], hopefully, if he can actually do things right.
How do you describe the film?
It's about this guy called Lovesick, who is obsessively… He's the kind of character who falls madly in love with anyone, and falls in love with this woman who we refer to as "Beauty." His eccentricities and neediness and abrasiveness sort of push her away, and she breaks up with him. It's a nasty break up – he doesn't take it very well. And after she leaves him, he goes into this downward spiral. He finds her with another man and realizes the only way for him to keep her for himself is to actually kill her, because if she's alive, she's just going to be running amuck and meeting other men. He decides to trap her in his own basement.
Does this differ in tone from your last film, Cannibal Flesh Riot?
Definitely there are some comedic elements to it, but the tone is a lot darker and deals with psychological issues much more. It gets really deep into his psyche. But I'm into cartoons, I'm into comics, and there are definitely elements of that in this, even through it's much more realistic than Cannibal Flesh Riot. There are moments of Tex Avery-type humor.
Were you able to bring in your own illustration and design style?
Yeah. Lovesick, during his downward spiral, has a couple of hallucinations. One's in a bathtub with a rubber duck designed by me, and that's going to be done in stop-motion. The other hallucination has to do with rats.
What's been the toughest part of it?
I would say shooting exterior shots. We shot in a park and... This is super low-budget, with no permits; and getting exterior shots in public and on private properties is always dangerous when you don't have permits. Once you're inside a place it feels a bit safer. But shooting in a park gets risky.
What can you tell us about your character?
The whole film focuses on the character of Lovesick so that we as an audience can see how he is unraveled by the immediate acts that are upon him, just how he handles the situation, dealing with loss, and that billows into hatred, aggression. I don't think he knows his line to cross. He goes a little more extreme than the norm.
What's the toughest part about playing him?
Well probably the technical part. We're dealing with a lot of special effects, we're using live roaches, and live rats. And incorporating that is probably the most difficult part really, just on the set. With the character of Lovesick, probably just trying to understand what a loss you would take and how much it would mean to this person, and trying to experience absolute loss.
You worked with Gris on Flesh Riot. How far back do you two go?
I go back far with Gris. I met him in '99, and I worked with him with his early monster characters. I played a mummy, along with a Frankenstein and a werewolf. We went to Comic-Con, did book festivals around L.A. for children's stories. That was real fun. I think it was a lot of work for Gris because he was doing everything really. He had friends to help but he had to bring the set, make-up, wardrobe; and he made all the prosthetics and everything. I mean, we were doing the casting and… Anyone else it would cost I don't even know how much money to get it done, at a studio. But Gris read a book on it and figured it out and did it all himself. Yeah, it's been really fun working with Gris and the magnitude of creative flow that comes out of Gris. You just can't even describe it. He's the team leader, and everyone just knows their place. Everybody understands that he is going down the right road, and we're all just there to be there and help out, and help tell stories really.
Can you talk about Beauty's relationship with Lovesick?
We had been dating about six months. I thought he was really interesting, spent some time with him, he was interesting enough to keep me there for six months, but I got bored.
He got too clingy?
He just never wanted to go out; he never wanted to do anything I wanted to do, and I just decided to try something different.
Like not date him?
Yes, like get away, get very, very far away.
And then carnage ensued?
Yeah. Probably not the smartest move.
So what's the most enjoyable thing you've done on this shoot?
Okay, believe it or not, the park scene where I'm being dragged through the grass was actually fun. Is that weird? I actually enjoyed that, I kinda like the grass in my face… It's just a really good crew of people, really fun to be around.
So is this your first horror film?
Oh, yes. I've never been bloodied before.
Are you a fan?
I'm learning to appreciate horror a lot more. Definitely. I didn't really get it before. But talking to people on set and really getting more of what horror is all about… I think maybe I saw bad examples before. I'm definitely starting to enjoy it.
How is Gris as a director? How is he with actors?
It's amazing how clear his vision is. From day one, in the script, he knows what he wants to see and how exact to get with it. I've never known anyone else to work like that, for it to be there from the very first, and to be able to bring it out. He's really good with us, really good. He's caring, he's understanding, he's patient.