Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with a special AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time around, I had a chance to talk to the masterminds behind the new film GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2. If you recall, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS was a decent hit last year, first seeing the light of day around San Diego Comic Con and then tearing it up in your face on DVD & VOD. The film’s follow up, I think, is a much superior movie in both directing and storytelling. I’ll be reviewing the film in depth later on down the page, but first, here’s an interview with Stuart Ortiz & Stuart Minihan, collectively known as The Vicious Brothers…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): So I’m with Colin and Stuart. They are known as “The Vicious Brothers.” Tell me a little bit about the name “The Vicious Brothers.” How did you guys come up with using that name as monikers for your films?
COLIN MINIHAN: Stu, do you want to take that one?
STUART ORTIZ: No. (laughs)
CM: You know, Stu an I both just always liked darker horror movies and we are obviously big fans of the genre and when we were making our first movie we weren’t wanting to use our names, because it’s just so much to look at when you’ve got two directors on the screen basically in the credits, so we created a name that we thought suited our brand of horror I suppose.
BUG: Very cool. Well I did get a chance to see GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2 and I saw the first one a while back, last year, and this is a really… I thought it was a leap ahead for you guys. You guys produced this film, correct?
SO: Yeah, we wrote, produced, and co-edited the film.
BUG: Okay. For people who haven’t maybe seen GRAVE ENCOUNTERS or the sequel, what should they expect going into this film?
SO: I don’t know. I’d say to go in with an open mind, because it’s a lot different than the first movie. We were conscious to the fact of when we were going to do a sequel that if we were going to do a sequel, we really didn’t want to just retrace our footsteps and rehash the first movie. Sequels are pretty notorious for doing that a lot of the time with a pretty derivative follow up and we were like “Well, if we are going to do something, let’s really try to do something that’s different and something that’s just out of the box,” so I would say…
CM: It’s got twice the scares and twice everything. It’s just bigger as well.
SO: Yeah, it’s a bigger badder horror film, I think. Yeah, we had greater resources with this movie, so we were able to do a lot more creative stuff with it.
BUG: Well I really thought the lead performance by the main character was great. What was his name?
SO: Richard Harmon, who plays “Alex Wright.”
BUG: Yeah. He really did a fantastic job and also he was pretty harsh on the first film. He plays a film student and he does an online critics blog and he was pretty harsh on that. Did you guys write that in the script as just a little bit of self criticism or how did that come about?
CM: The movie is so meta and it has these film guys reviewing it and blogs and stuff, so you know it just didn’t seem right to have everyone be like praising the movie or whatever, so we figured “Fuck it, let’s just make these film school kids more cynical and not even like the movie. It will be more funny if they’re just dissing it, essentially.”
SO: We figured that we might as well put it out there, you know what I mean? Just kind of embrace the criticism of the first movie and be like “Yep, not everybody loves it and that’s just how it is.”
BUG: Yeah, and there is a huge leap in production and the effects and everything. Did you guys bring in someone new for effects for this film?
SO: Well yeah, definitely. I mean on the first GRAVE ENCOUNTERS it was me and Colin who literally did like all of the effects ourselves on laptop computers basically and we are really not effects people at all. It was just kind of that we had to out of pure necessity, because we didn’t have any money. So this time around we had a much bigger budget and were able to bring in basically professionals and not ourselves to do everything, so yeah.
BUG: I don’t want to give too many of the twists and everything away about the story, but is it okay to say that the host from the last film makes an appearance in this film?
CM: Yeah, for sure. You can definitely say that.
BUG: Was it difficult to bring the cast members back for this second one? Were you guys still tight over the last year?
CM: Yeah, we knew initially when we started discussing writing the sequel that we wanted to bring Sean Rogerson, who plays Lance Preston in the first film, back. One, just because it worked and two, because he was just a pleasure to work with and he’s got a fantastic vibe on set and an energy that carries the production to a certain point. So really there’s two main characters to the franchise for us, one is Billy, two is Sean Rogerson. So we knew right away that we wanted to bring him back and we actually approached him about it before we even knew that we had the financing and distribution in place. It looked like it was going to happen and we knew the direction that we wanted to take the script and it was kind of like Stu and I were like “You should probably start losing some weight…” “You ought to stop eating now.” “You have been in there for a while…”
BUG: It was a real surprise to see him show up and the way he does show up is really cool. So is there room, do you think, for a third GRAVE ENCOUNTERS?
SO: Yeah, I definitely think there’s room. We’re just going to wait and see if the movie does well and if people like it and if the people want one and if they do, we definitely got an idea and again it’s not just sort of a rehash of the second one. We have an idea for the third one that’s even more out there, so we are excited about it.
BUG: There were a couple of things that stood out that I really liked about the film. I liked with the first one and the second one how it was very much like a funhouse ride where the creatures are in your face, they come running towards you or they come right out of the blue and they are coming after you down the hallway. Usually in ghost films it’s kind of just subtle things happening in the background and this is a much more in your face, aggressive sort of scare.
CM: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s disappointing that most mainstream horror movies that are ghosts films are scared to show anything. You’re seeing more of a progression I guess of seeing more and more of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITIES, but I think the audience ultimately wants to see something in a film like this. It’d just be boring if we were rehashing the old door slamming move and the blankets coming off of the bed and these things that audiences have seen a million times and obviously they are effective and less is more in most cases, but with this franchise we really wanted to be the found footage film that actually showed the fucking ghosts.
BUG: Cool and the other thing, and again, I don’t want to reveal too much about it, but there’s a scene a little bit later on in the movie where the ghosts actually pick up the cameras and the ghosts are the cameramen. I thought that was really inventive. I really liked that aspect.
SO: I think it gets difficult, especially when with a found footage film everything is from the character’s perspective, you kind of get backed into a corner, because… It just seemed like a natural progression that we could make the ghosts use the camera and open up the ability to…. For example there’s a great tracking shot in the movie of Sean Rogerson walking down a hallway and it’s really beautiful and really cinematic and you could never do that otherwise. But I think it just opens the film up.
BUG: Definitely. So what’s next for you guys?
CM: We actually aren’t directing anything other than hiring a director who we thought was awesome, but the dude who directed this movie is fantastic talent, John Poliquin who is in commercials and the music video world. But Stu and myself are actually finishing the tweaks on a script right now for a sci-fi horror film that we hope to go in to production on in the next few months here. The financing is just coming to a close on it and we are very excited, because it’s going to be a much bigger film than either these two GRAVE ENCOUNTERS.
BUG: Cool. Was that you guys that actually made a cameo in the film when he introduced you guys in the back room there?
CM: Yeah. (Laughs) Yeah, that’s us.
BUG: I really liked that. And the producer, was that an actual producer or was that an actor?
SO: That’s an actor. That’s a great actor actually, a guy named Ben Wilkinson who we used just a little bit like in the first movie, who opens the first GRAVE ENCOUNTERS and he also was just a pleasure to work with an awesome actor. We were like “We’ve got to bring this guy back in.” The GRAVE ENCOUNTERS franchise I think is interesting in that we’ve gotten a lot of people who say the first movie is pretty well acted and I think the second movie is even better acted. We actually care about good acting and good performances. Me and Colin enjoy writing dialog and enjoy scenes that aren’t just necessarily gags and horror stuff. We love working with actors and we like to get good performances. There’s a long stretch in GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2 where it’s just literally the character of Alex and then the character of the producer and they are just having a conversation back and forth. That’s actually one of my favorite scenes in the movie, I think, and it has nothing to do with horror, it’s just purely the performances of the actors which carries it.
BUG: How do you get that natural feel to it where it doesn’t feel like they are saying lines, it feels like you’re just talking when you’re in the script writing process?
CM: I think it helps writing with someone and when Stu and I write, we are almost acting out the scenes together, so we start to see them flowing naturally and then we will do a table read with the cast and you can see what’s working and what’s not and elevate it further. It’s always helpful to be there on the day and if something is not working, you can tweak it quickly and come up with new dialog for the cast. Even though Stu and I wrote a traditional ninety page script, we still encouraged the actors to improvise, so that definitely was the reason… The first film has more improvising, but this film still has a fair bit of it.
BUG: Very cool. So is the film going to be getting a theatrical run?
CM: Yeah, the film is doing a… Tribeca is doing midnight screenings in a bunch of cities in the US. You can go to graveencounters2.com and there’s a list of the cities. I think they start on October 12th and the Video On Demand release is October 2nd in the US as well.
BUG: Fantastic. One more thing just about found footage films in general, I know that there and the theory is just because it’s very cheap to film that basically a lot of people can do it. I've said I’m not really sick of found footage films, I’m sick of the bad ones. As far as found footage films go, what’s your theory about why they are so popular right now?
SO: I would just say the reason they are popular is because the whole idea of watching any kind of movie is that you get swept into the story and are able to believe what is happening on the screen for the duration that you’re watching it. I think that found footage removes even more of those barriers more than the traditional storytelling. It’s presented in a way that’s saying, “This is real and it’s actually happening.” It’s especially effective for a horror movie, because it’s a diary of the last bit of a person’s life. It can be really fascinating if it’s well done.
CM: I think the oversaturation of it, you’re right. That has to do with the indie guys that’s trying to make a movie or the dad who always dreamed of making movies, but never did getting together with his friends and going and shooting a shitty found footage movie. I think if you go on NetFlix, you’ll probably find a hundred of them and it’s a shame that it oversaturates the market with garbage, but hopefully those movies don’t come out until…
BUG: Well you guys have made two of the better ones, so congratulations on that and I wish you guys all the success with this new film, it’s a great film. Thank you very much for talking with me today.
SO: All right, thanks a lot man.
CM: Yeah, thanks.
BUG: Have a good day. Look for GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2 in limited release October 12 (find out where here at graveencounters2.com) and is available now on Video On Demand! Below is my review of the film!
Opening in limited release October 12, available NOW on Video On Demand!
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2 (2012)Directed by John Poliquin
Written by The Vicious Brothers
Starring Richard Harmon, Stephanie Bennett, Leanne Lapp, Howie Lai, Dylan Playfair, Sean Rogerson
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
The first GRAVE ENCOUNTERS was a decent little film which took some familiar imagery and story concepts such as the hand held ghosthunting motif, the scary person in the corner scene, and basically the Blair With approach that all of this is actually real and added a few very fun elements such as making the abandoned hospital the investigating team is going through be more of a funhouse with ghosts actively chasing the cast and being much more aggressive and in your face than most films of this type. Though some of the effects were a bit lackluster and not all of the acting was top notch, I thought it was a decent little effort. That said, I wasn’t sure a sequel to the film was necessary when I heard that it was going to be released a year later. With what seemed to be a rush to get it made in the span on about a year and clips showing much more of the same, I thought GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2 was going to be the same old, same old and to be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to watching it.
That said, I’m glad I did. In a multitude of ways, the Vicious Brothers (directors of the first film and writers/producers of this one) have upped the ante, expanded the story, and in the end, made a much better film with the sequel. GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2 goes a bit meta as it opens up, focusing on online reviewers blogging about the original; some of them digging it immensely, others, like Alex (played intensely by the talented Richard Harmon) weren’t so impressed. But when Alex gets a mysterious message inviting him to investigate the film a bit further, he finds out that the film all of us saw was actually real and existing—at least in the world of this sequel. This makes for some very cool scenes as Alex first goes to actor Sean Rogerson’s home to find that he has been missing since the film was released and then to the producer (Ben Wilkinson , who is seen in the first film introducing the film to us) and finding out that the movie was actually real. After figuring out the location of the shooting of the film, Alex and a crew of film students decide to investigate and follow the steps of the investigation team.
Sure, this seems pretty stupid to you and I, but it’s this point in the film where that leap in logic is necessary for the rest of the film to work. Basically it is all set up to get a new batch of people into the hospital to get the shit scared and ripped out of them by hideous giant mouthed monster-ghosts.
A few things though, keep this film from being just more of the same. In many ways, this feels more like a continuation from the first film rather than a rehash. Yes, it is a bunch of kids stumbling around in the dark and screaming and running from ghosts, but as it was established in the interview above, the reintroduction of Sean Rogerson’s Lance Preston in the second act, having been lost and roaming the halls of the hospital since the tape ran out in the last film, makes it feel much more sequential and like a second chapter of a bigger story. While Rogerson does his best Golem impression, he does show a lot of range in the role, switching to talk show host mode as soon as the camera is on his again.
On top of that, the mythos of the hospital is opened up as well. A giant red door is introduced. What does it mean? Where does it lead? No one knows. But Preston has theories and understands how the labyrinthine hallways of the hospital work, so he proves to be useful to the lost investigative team.
The film has a few more twists and turns I won’t go into, but GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2 does break new ground by having the ghosts pick up the camera and film the scared kids when they are too scared to hold onto the cameras themselves. I loved this little expansion of the found footage genre as the monster itself has a camera now, filming the screaming kids and not vice versa.
There are still a lot of in yo’ face ghosts and creepy largemouth bass-like ghosts screaming and running at the camera to be enjoyed reigniting the funhouse feel that was so prevalent in the first film. GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2 may be PARANORMAL ACTIVITY’s inbred cousin, but this sequel shows that the people behind this franchise at least are thinking, keeping what works, and adding interesting new twists, which is something I can’t say for 90% of the sequels and remakes out there today.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in late 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.
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