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-Interview by Nic Brown-

Many 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!


Nic - What were the biggest challenges you faced in making a film set in WWII?

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.

 

Nic - 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 other films?

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.

 

Nic - 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 is.

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?

Keith - 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.

 

Nic - 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. 



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