Franklin Guerrero Jr. started his film career at the tender age of just eight years old, when he got his hands on a friend’s VHS camcorder. From that point he self-schooled in the art of making movies on a shoestring, and mastered the finer points of editing and special effects using only what he could find around his home.
His childhood obsession developed into a successful career in short films, music videos for bands and industrial promos. In 2005 he got the chance to indulge his passion when, with friend and co-producer Eric Williford, he started work on his debut feature film The 8th Plague. Highly rated by both critics and fans, the movie went on to win Best Picture at the 2005 Freakshow Horror Film Festival as well as Best Cinematography at the Chicago Horror Film Festival.
Franklin is currently working on his second horror feature, Carver, which is due for release later this year.
HorrorTalk: OK, let’s start by getting inside the mind of the man behind the camera. What was it about horror movies that inspired you to start making your own? And more to the point, what the hell were you doing watching them at eight years old!?
Franklin Guerrero Jr: Oh, you don’t want to get inside my mind. It’s full of weird stuff.
I had a pretty warped childhood... and adulthood. My parents never minded that I liked horror, because they knew I was a generally good kid. As long as I didn’t torture any woodland creatures they left me alone to consume and create blood & guts in various mediums. Plus, I grew up Catholic, so you know, uber-violence was fine as long as I covered my eyes during the T&A scenes.
I come from a goofy family. Comedy was big in our house, and to me horror – even serious horror – is like comedy. You’re always waiting through the creepy setup for the bloody punchline. I guess what I’m really trying to say is I’m a little depraved, and it tickled me blood-red to see simulated terror and mutilation. I just wanted to make others as happy as I felt when I watched the decapitation scene in the Re-Animator. The other thing I used to love as a kid was trying to figure out how they did the FX. When I used to make my little home movies, the best part was always trying to come up with cool gore gags so that when I showed it to my friends they’d be like, “how the hell did you do that!?”
HT: So what was your favourite gag back then? Are there any special effects techniques you learned as a youngster that you still use today?
FG: My fave was probably this one fairly elaborate death. First the killer attacks some guy with a weed wacker. It was supposed to chop up his guts, but the gag wasn’t working so I (I was playing the killer) got frustrated and kicked his head off into the woods. Cut to the next scene and the killer is in a kitchen. He puts the head in the microwave for ten seconds and it explodes. I can’t remember exactly how I did it, but it involved lots of ketchup and I got grounded for a week.
The only thing I still use today is the basic principal that it’s the simple things that are most effective.
HT: The 8th Plague was a very impressive debut, and one of my favourite indie movies of last year. Has the response to the movie been what you expected?
FG: Thanks for kudos!
What I expected? Um, kinda, yeah, but... no. I keep forgetting that far back. But I have been pleased with a lot of the response. I feel that if I can make just one child smile, or pee his pants in terror, then I can feel good about me as a horrorographer.
HT: What were some of the challenges of shooting your first horror feature?
FG: Too many challenges to list! I guess it all comes down to money and time. Not enough of either. Money, of course, because it’s hard to come by for guys like me. Time because when Eric and I were getting started, we heard a vicious rumour that the prison was getting torn down. We though that we had to act fast and rush through development and preproduction. Now, two years later, as I occasionally drive by that intact prison, I tell myself never to listen to rumors.
When you’re a micro-budget production, it’s really hard to shoot in a place like that. There’s no power, so we had to haul around consumer-grade generators. There’s no water to wash away all of the blood and — eh-hem — animal parts. Purell became our best friend. We only had 8 hours to set up, shoot and break down every day or else we’d have to pay an insane amount of overtime to the county. Oh yeah, and I kept getting ass-raped by the ghosts of dead prisoners, but that was more of an inconvenience than a challenge. So that’s a short list of challenges right there.
I guess the biggest challenge was that the portable-jon company we used failed to clean our units for four weeks so we eventually ended up having to poop on each other’s piles of poop. Kinda gross. I’m just glad we didn’t shoot in the summer heat.
HT: You had a really strong cast for Plague, one of the things that carried it off well, was it a struggle to find actors with the required talent?
FG: We did indeed have a good group of actors. It was tricky in a sense because we don’t live in a film oriented town, ergo there isn’t a large concentration of actors. This meant we had to search other towns for some of the roles, which is difficult to do on a micro-budget feature
HT: You mention “micro” budget, rather than “low” budget a couple of times. Was The 8th Plague really shot on such a shoestring? How much are we talking?
FG: “They” don’t want me to talk about how little we actually got it in the can for, but it was pretty tiny.
HT: So next up is Carver. Tell me some more about your new movie.
FG: Ah yes, Carver. Carver is actually a PSA that warns women against the dangers of running through the woods in their “fuck me” skivvies (can I say that?) then getting a six inch nail driven through their forehead by a three hundred pound, hammer-wielding psychopath that likes to immortalize such events with an 8mm film camera. Just say NO to epidermal penetration with rusty hardware!
I guess, in broader terms, it’s about a group of friends that find a stash of horror films on this property owned by the Carver family. They watch one of the films, and it’s about a killer stalking campers. They think it’s only a movie, right? Until they come face to face with the very same killer in the flesh... and he’s got a camera. Now they have to survive the night or become the unwilling stars of his next horror movie.
Carver is a really cool movie. I’m getting pretty excited about it. I think horror fans are really gonna eat this one up (if they can make it through the gruesome turning point at the 40 minute mark... look out for it, not for the faint of heart!). Our foreign rep, Dream Entertainment, took some clips to Cannes to get some buzz going, and it’s getting an amazing response. I definitely wasn’t expecting so much positive reaction, but it’s getting us all pretty damn excited. The last 50 minutes of this movie are so intense I find myself biting my nails when I watch it straight through... and I’ve been looking at nothing but Carver for the last 8 months.
HT: Yeah, you can say “fuck me skivvies”, I’ll just edit it out later. When can we hope to see Carver on the big screen or those lovely shiny discs we love so much?
FG: Awesome. Fuck Me Skivvies. That felt good.
I’m not sure which medium it will be initially unleashed on, but we’re hoping to horrify people with this by mid-autumn. Maybe around Halloween.
HT: I notice the town of Halcyon Ridge is the setting for Carver, as it was for Plague. Did they build this town on a hellmouth or something?
FG: Haha, Halcyon Ridge does indeed have a dark streak. Here’s a brief, brief history:
The breathtaking mountain vistas of Halcyon Ridge certainly belie it’s sinister underbelly. It all started with the first settlers back in 1832. A strange man named Dr. Thomas Melbourne was in that party, along with his wife, Sarah. Dr. Melbourne had an unnatural interest in the supernatural. He built himself a big house on a large lot of land. They say he conducted secret “otherworldly” experiments in that house. The townspeople could hardly speculate what really went on in there for nearly a decade. One night, his wife Sarah died violently. Her body was found mutilated in town square. When the townspeople formed a mob to get answers from the doctor, he was nowhere to be found. They discovered a hidden door behind a shelf, and three men ventured down in search of him. After five minutes of deathly silence, there was a ghastly howl. When the rest of the mob rushed down to investigate, the hidden room was empty save a laboratory stocked with jars filled with organs, strange scientific instruments and a single daguerreotype camera. The three men and Dr. Melbourne were never seen again, and the town was never the same. Or so they say.
HT: Has the success of The 8th Plague made making a second feature any easier?
FG: Well, we started working on Carver while I was still finishing The 8th Plague this past August, so there wasn’t any real success to date while shooting it. Having a movie in the can that didn’t totally suck made it easier for investors to trust us with a little money, so I guess there’s that. It was easier not to have to dig into my piggy bank.
But I definitely learned a lot making The 8th Plague. I learned from some mistakes that I avoided on Carver, for the most part. Then I made some brand new mistakes on Carver, which will surely benefit me in the future.
HT: Franlklin, thanks for taking time out to talk to HorrorTalk. I wish you continued success with Carver.
FG: Thanks for your support DJ, it’s been a pleasure.
Want to comment on this interview? Head over to the Horrortalk Review Forum.