Dave chats to writer-director Royce Mathew about the challenge of low budget filmaking in the ’90s.
“I consider David DeCoteau to be one of the smartest people in the motion picture industry”
An opening gambit that certainly pricks up the ears of any long-time reader of The Schlock Pit, and something that has both Matty and I nodding in tandem.
Such a satisfying proclamation comes from Royce Mathew. An independent artist by trade, he has an ability to turn his hand to pretty much anything in the movie business; from writing, directing and producing, to his most credited role as a production designer on flicks like Creepozoids (1987) and Lady Avenger (1988).
Although DeCoteau (his former roommate) was clearly an influence and a regular collaborator to boot, Mathew is quick to assert that there’s a handful of other important figures that played a key role in his early career:
“John Schouweiler I’d cite,” professes Mathew. “He’s a mutual filmmaker who’s one of the kindest, talented and professional people I have ever worked with. Both John and David had given me the opportunity to be independently creative on their projects. I am forever grateful to both of them, AND, there is also Ken Hall – I am grateful to his talent and kindness equally.”
All are B-movie legends in their own right, and by the end of the eighties Mathew had gathered enough knowledge and inspiration from this ambitious threesome to venture into his own directorial debut, DREAM A LITTLE EVIL.
“During this period, the market was ripe to sell practically any film,” asserts Mathew. “But since the low-budget aspect was shrinking, I had to act fast to make a movie even though I wasn’t ready. I had saved up $9000, but because I was pressed for time I’ll admit it was a derivative work hastily pulled from a variety of supernatural stories”.
An honest assertion from the filmmaker, and with the greatest of respect, an accurate one. Dream A Little Evil comes off as a trippy hybrid of The Exorcist (1973) and Weird Science (1985), where we’re introduced to the effortlessly geeky George (Richard Sebastian), who’s designed a machine that makes thoughts a reality.
Alas, being stuck at home with his cantankerous and carnally occupied brother, Mark (Tom Alexander), doesn’t exactly prove to be a conducive environment for experimentation, although with the help of eager buddy Billy (Duncan Rouleau – co-creator of Ben 10), this budding Einstein will manage to generate some unexpected encounters from his whacked out home invention.
All things considered, Dream A Little Evil is a micro-budget triumph that becomes more endearing the deeper you dig into its creation – which Mathew is keen to expand upon:
“I wrote it in a night while knowing that I had only a single (house) location, that I should rely on one trusted actor for the majority of the dialogue, and I had to incorporate the things that I thought I could do either at zero expense or for a few dollars. I had about a total of forty hours to shoot it, making it virtually a one take film – a shooting ratio of one to one on leftover portions of 16mm stock that was resold from other projects. After filming it, I had to store the undeveloped reels in my refrigerator until I had finished my other job commitments and when I could actually afford to process it!”
Its financial constraints are clear, with exteriors that we know well from Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988), and lengthy sequences that sink or swim depending on your tolerance of George and Billy goofing around. To their credit, they’re an endearing pair who have markedly different background, which Mathew explains:
“I had placed an advert in Dramalogue, and met with about a hundred actors. I tried to figure out who was talented but who would also be willing to work on a non-union film. I picked Richard from a huge stack of resumes, while Duncan, although he’s not an actor (he’s a graphic artist), was able to blend funny and serious alongside dependability. I knew his wife [Lily Fields] and she recommended him. I am grateful, and I highly respect each of them. Richard Sebastian took most of the lines because he’s a highly trained stage actor, and whatever you gave him to read he could do it in a single take. In fact, there was ONLY ONE flub by Richard during the entire shoot.”
The supporting cast read like a who’s who of DeCoteau alumni: there’s Michael J. Warren (Dreamaniac (1986)), C.J Cox (Nightmare Sisters (1988) – and later the screenwriter of box office behemoth Sweet Home Alabama (2002)), and Ryan Mercer (Creepozoids). Meanwhile, as surely a wink towards his mentor, we’re frequently left to feast on the sight of Alexander, parading around in just his tighty-whities. Alas, it’s a vision that’s tinged with sadness, as the former model would die only two years later at the painfully young age of twenty-nine.
“Richard and I went to see Tom before he died,” remembers Mathew. “I gave his family some unseen photos of Tom taken on the set. It was heartbreaking to lose him, but it was tragic that Ryan has also died, and then, of course, [co-star] Michele Gaudreau would later die of breast cancer.”
A devastating tangent, yet one that that underlines the importance of drawing attention to Mathew’s little-seen film. Granted, it doesn’t have the arresting audaciousness of those early DeCoteau movies, but it does possess an undeniable charm that seeps out between its static sets and stretched scenes, not to mention an ending that’s best described as a psychotronic feast for the eyes.
For Mathew, it was a lowly rung on the career ladder that needed to be scaled.
“It was my first film. My goal was to sell it and use the money to make a ‘proper’ movie that would really showcase my abilities. Needless to say I got cheated in sales, but it did get picked up by [cable show] Up All Night with Rhonda Shear. I am proud of that!”