people are fans of exploitation cinema. The genre helped fuel
the imaginations of many of today’s hottest filmmakers,
including Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, and Robert Rodriguez. For
Keith Crocker, the films that were the staple diet of grindhouse
audiences in the 60s and 70s were also a source of inspiration
for him as both a writer and a filmmaker. His films BLITZKRIEG:
ESCAPE FROM STALAG 69 and THE BLOODY APE are unashamed tributes
to the exploitation films of the past. Now Keith is ready to
spill his guts about making movies on a shoestring budget, the
problems with today’s Hollywood productions, and why he just
loves a good castration scene!
Nic - So
Keith, the name may say it all, but can you tell us what your
film BLITZKRIEG: ESCAPE FROM STALAG 69 is all about?
Keith - BLITZKRIEG is a hybrid film, it mishmashes all my
favorite genres together into a fine stew. It's part Nazi
exploitation, part Prisoner of War drama, part horror film, part
satire (satire - not out and out comedy - that must be
stressed). Essentially, it's the story of American POWs who
conspire to break out of a Stalag that holds American, Russian
and British POWs. The camp is run by a sadistic commandant who
likes to do unorthodox experiments on people (he's a frustrated
scientist wannabe). It takes place at the end of the war and the
prisoners have little time to organize the revolt as they know
the commandant has plans for wiping them all out rather than set
them free. In between all of this we have violence, sex,
intrigue, talk, more violence, more talk, etc... .
Nic - Where did you get
the idea for the film from?
Keith - The idea was one I had been playing with since 1995 - to
make my own Nazi exploitation film. That film, which was going
to be called SCHINDLER’S LUST, was produced only as a ten minute
trailer that preceded my first film, The BLOODY APE, on its VHS
release. Anyhow, by the time I actually got to producing the
film, I had decided to rewrite what had already been written and
start with a fresh approach. BLITZKRIEG is actually an
affectionate satire of American made WWII propaganda like THE
CROSS OF LORRAINE (1943) or JOAN OF PARIS (1942), and as much as
I enjoy ILSA- SHE WOLF OF THE SS (1974), I was much more
interested in the Italian atrocity films like SS HELL CAMP
(1976) and hence used that type of atmosphere to underscore the
film’s more exploitive approach to the ideas of war, sex and
violence. But the film in the long run has less to do with WWII
or any war for that matter. I actually view it as a character
study. I based the character of Helmet Schultz on Charles
Manson. I've always been a tad interested in Manson's character,
but I didn't want to make a Manson film per se. I thought quite
a bit about where a guy like Manson could fit in, and a war
scenario suites him perfectl:; any war, any side, any time. One
would think serial killers would love going to war in that you
actually do get a chance to kill someone, and legally at that!
What were the biggest challenges you faced in making a film set
Keith - The biggest challenge of all - having no money. But I
met that dead on by widening the gap and making a period piece
set in Europe in a place that's very unEuropean, that place
being Long Island, NY. That said, there are still some very cool
old structures still standing on Long Island (which has
a bad history of destroying its rich and interesting heritage).
We shot the prisoner of war scenes at a deserted sanatorium that
was build in the late 1800s. It was in bad shape, falling apart,
almost as if it had been bombed. I couldn't have lucked out
more. We shot all the outdoor scenes there. The rest were shot
in various other locations. The Russian village scene that leads
to the infamous tub castration scene was shot in a row of houses
that were built in the early 1900s and were set to be
demolished. We got there just in time; they had already started
gutting them. Steve Gosinski, my editor, found that location.
Keith Matturro, my costume man, found the sanatorium.
Nic - So
how long did it take you to make BLITZKRIEG?
Keith - BLITZKRIEG took about a year and a half to shoot. BLOODY
APE took about a year and a month or so. The reason being that
both films were shot when the actors and crew was available,
which is usually on the weekends. We are all working folk, hence
most week days are taken up by day jobs. We'd also shoot on week
nights. Some days I felt it would never end. Other days I wished
it wouldn't end. Next time I start shooting something I hope the
situation will be more in my favor and I can then knock it out
in a month’s time.
What was your favorite scene to direct in the BLITZKRIEG?
Keith - My favorite scene was the tub castration; I took
great pains with that scene to make it stand out from the
rest of the film. I had the images burned in my head and I
really new what I wanted, and I feel I got about 95% of that
down. It's a very sexual scene that ends in horrible
violence, and its main motive is to exemplify just what
someone would do to survive. Tatyana Kot and Dave Meyers
acted that scene out beautifully. They had to sit in that
tub for well over 9 hours, but being naked in a tub with
Tatyana Kot has got to be a pleasure so I doubt Dave
complains much. Plus I plied them with some red wine to take
any of the inhibitions out of them, though both performers
don't seem to be hung up with inhibitions...
Nic - Have you done any
Keith - Technically, I've been making films since 1978. In 1980,
I shot silent Super 8mm footage of the Twin Towers and good old
42nd St in New York City. My friend Nick
Wexler, who played in bands, did the music for it. Some of that
footage would be valuable for a good documentary on New York
City. I've done tons of short films on 16mm; I was trained on
film and prefer to shoot with it. THE BLOODY APE was my first
feature film, shot on Super 8mm sound film stock in 1993. That
film had a video release in 1997. It's out on DVD now as well.
BLOODY APE is my first child, and even though it's a brain
damaged child I still love it very much. It's based on Poe's
Murders in the Rue Morgue. BLITZKRIEG is my first film shot on
digital video. And that was only done because film is just too
expensive to shoot film now, and digital video can be
manipulated enough to simulate a film look.
Speaking of digital video, the last decade has seen radical
changes not only in the technology available to filmmakers for
making movies but also for getting them out to the public. How
do you think these changes are affecting both the indie film
world and mainstream Hollywood?
Keith - Digital video is both liberating
and damaging. As far as a functioning underground goes, yeah,
due to changes in video and the internet, we have a stronger
presence and voice than ever. Unfortunately, we are over glutted
with homemade product, and now just about every person
interested in movies can make them. What I've grown to learn
over the years is that not all people can makes movies and hence
they really shouldn't. We are currently over loaded with shit
product which in turn devalues the status of what some of us who
are more serious are trying to do. Now, if these folks were
forced to shoot film, they'd bail ship because film required a
manual dexterity that most folk lack. Video makes things way too
easy. Film cost money hence there was more pressure to do things
right. Regardless of what I just said, a really good product
stands a strong chance of being seen thanks to the internet, as
you can create your own page, do your own publicity, what have
you. How far you go with it is up to how passionate your drive
Nic - Some people believe that there is too much
violence and sex in film today. BLITZKRIEG certainly has no
shortage of either. What would you say to them?
Keith - This ties in to what I just said.
There's too much irresponsible sex and violence out there in
film products; most morons think by throwing tits into a movie
and splashing blood on them that they'll have a hit. The sad
truth is that every idiot does that these days. Sex and violence
only work when they fit the subject, then they can add to the
film almost like a fine musical score or good dialog. In BLOODY
APE, the sex and violence are deeply rooted in the satire the
film conveys. In BLITZKRIEG, the violence is painful, designed
to make you feel the pain and agony. You should be wincing. The
sex represents the passion of the characters in the film; it
accentuates the desire and conviction of the people portrayed in
the film. But yes, violence and sex is used in too many wrong
ways these days, not by me but by others who have no humanistic
sense of responsibility.
Nic - So
what advice would you give to a novice filmmaker to help them
avoid the pitfalls you've just described?
Keith - There really is no avoiding the
headaches of "no" or "low" budget filmmaking. Even if a person
takes all my advice and watches their every step, there are
still tons of surprises waiting to leap out as you turn each and
every corner. Most headaches involve cast, actors, actresses,
scheduling, etc.... But people learn from headaches and you
become a very quick troubleshooter by tackling every problem
that comes your way. I say "bring the problems on", you can only
learn from them, then you can beat them, and then a whole new
set of problems come your way!
Nic - As a filmmaker,
who have been some of your biggest influences?
Keith - George Romero was one of the first to have a profound
effect on me. His films always meant more than they seemed. He
liked to give messages but he never beat you over the head with
them. Plain and simple, he's a very good story teller. Robert
Wise because he can hop from genre to genre and never leave a
trace that it's him, unless you read the credits. He forgoes
personal style for simply making good pictures. Andy Milligan
because he was a one man show who did everything his own way;
you can't mistaken a Milligan film for anyone else's. The usual
suspects: Jess Franco, Lucio Fulci, Ken Russell, etc....
Nic - Any ideas
about your next project?
- I'm going to be making an anthology film with my wife based on
Edgar Allan Poe stories. We are done with the screenplay and are
shooting a 60 second trailer for the film this coming winter.
I'm also writing a horror film about a revived Rasputin getting
revenge in cold war 50s America.
That's a pet project I can't wait to film. The trailer is coming
this winter as well.
Both of those projects sound exciting. Good luck with them!
Thinking about some of Hollywood's big budget projects that are
in the works, one can't help but notice that there has been a
sharp increase in the number of remakes hitting the theaters
these days, especially in the horror genre. What's your opinion
about this trend?
Keith - Remakes are horrible! Rarely is
there a justified cause for doing remakes. The biggest problem
is that they are remaking films that aren't even 20 years old.
If a film is going to be remade it should be over 50 years old
so you can at least notice the changes in technology.
Hollywood is the domain of morons. They view the audience as a
mark; you exist to make them money. They literally drop their
pants, shit in your mouth, and the masses ask for more! The
masses are stupid; it's the individual who counts. But if one
wonders why cinema and TV and radio are offering such shit, it's
because the masses demand it. Reality TV, you have to be fucking
kidding me with that garbage. You know, I don't go to the movies
anymore, I don't watch TV, and I don't do radio. I'm really out
of the loop, but that has kept me healthy in so many ways. The
films of today will not be remembered like the films of
yesteryear. Everything is fast food today, very disposable.
Nic - When you're not making movies, what does Keith Crocker
like to do for fun?
Keith- When I'm not making films I teach adult education
filmmaking and genre courses at a local college. I also have
been running Cinefear Video since 1992. This little video/DVD
company of mine deals in collectible and rare films that folks
can't get at any local retail stores or in most cases even
mainstream online businesses. I used to write and publish a
fanzine called The Exploitation Journal, but my distributors are
out of business hence that project has taken a hiatus, but it
will return when printed zines become popular again. Other than
this, I watch lots of old movies and spend lots of time with my
wife, who is also my best friend.