Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I had a chance to catch up with director Jesse Thomas Cook who previously directed the monster wrestling match flick MONSTER BRAWL (reviewed here). Cook has a new film out this week called SEPTIC MAN; a disgusting, over the top descent into madness that will make gore fans jump up and take notice and send most everyone else running for the puke bucket. I talked with Cook about puking, poop, and all sorts of other bodily fluids in the interview below.
But first, here’s an exclusive clip from the first few minutes of SEPTIC MAN to give you a…taste of what to expect from the film.
Now that you’re appropriately nauseated, here’s the interview. My review of the film lies after that.
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Can you sum up SEPTIC MAN for those who may not be familiar with the film?
JESSE THOMAS COOK (JTC): Septic Man is the bastard love child of BURIED and THE FLY. A crude and cruddy chamber pot play. Author Tony Burgess' touching cup-a-fart rebuke. A regular Joe's transformation into a new man...a better man. The SEPTIC MAN!
BUG: Where did the initial idea of this film come from? Did it come from an inspirational moment on the commode?
JTC: In fact it did. We were shooting the shit with demonic, aged scribe Tony Burgess, who showed up to the meeting looking like Colonel Sanders on acid. I had an idea at the time of doing a survival horror film about a man trapped at the bottom of a well, who is harassed by two killers above. I was going experiencing crippling leg pain during those months, with a bulged disc in my back that later required spinal surgery. I was miserable and suffering and frustrated, and unable to sleep or walk without insane nerve pain. So the idea of doing this claustrophobic, trapped-down-a-well movie was the only way to deal with that struggle. Thankfully I'm all better now. But at the time, I was pitching Tony this idea and he came over and took this massive dump at my colleague's house and completely destroyed the toilet and the plumbing. We decided that Tony's deuce was a sign from the devil himself. Man trapped down well soon became man trapped in septic tank. It was a one note poop joke that we fleshed out into a very dark and serious film; this nightmarish portrayal of ascendancy through intense degradation.
BUG: This is a really disgusting film in terms of content and effects. Was there any moment where the cast or crew became ill or nauseous from all of that waste and offal strewn about?
JTC: One of our camera guys puked twice inside the septic tank set, during takes. He was a bit squeamish. Maybe it was due to the fact that the entire set was caked in three layers of industrial asphalt sealant. Combined with the latex body parts, stagnant water, and cigarette smoke. We were all so fucked up with cabin fever and being stuck inside that dank set that no one bothered to clean the crew vomit up. It ended up adding to the production design. Some of the actors are really vomiting in those scenes. Probably because the prop puke they were ingesting was a rancid combo of Beef Baby Food mixed with oatmeal, aged in the sun for a few hours. I ended up puking on Day 8 when we filmed our opening scene of Diarrhea Girl #1 dying on the toilet. It's a badge of honor.
BUG: It seems that Septic Man comes to an existential crisis trapped in this underground sewer. Am I reading too much into this or is this really about a man taking control of his own destiny and finding his place in the world?
JTC: Tony and I were medicated on Scotch during the treatment phase, in what was simply going to be a survival horror film. Midway through the process we realized it was really an antihero's origin story. There's a bizarre subtext of the Working Stiff's plight, and no escape from a shitty situation. I'm not sure if that was on purpose or a realization after the fact. Certainly Samuel Beckett's Endgame was mentioned during a drunken pow-wow. Most importantly, was the philosophical underpinnings of transgressive 1930's French writer Georges Battaille, who wrote several banned works including The Solar Anus. Battaille wrote under the ghost name Lord Auch, who appears in the film. Tony's own family refers to him as Lord Auch now.
BUG: It seems like this was filmed in very tight quarters. How did that effect the mood of the shoot during filming?
JTC: The septic tank set was designed and constructed by Jay Brown, who incidentally portrays the title role of Jack/Septic Man. He's been the Production Designer on five films with us and has tackled supporting acting roles but this was his first time as a leading man, and I thought it would be a good idea if he just went ahead and built the whole set for us single-handedly. He likened the experience to the Popes of yore who would design their own tombs. He created this monolithic wooden box filled with scrap metal sewer fixtures. It had a number of trapdoors on each side so we could get in and out and also have the ability to shoot high angles, birds-eye views, etc. It was built in an open field on the edge of town. The whole operation must have looked like a desperate militia encampment. Crew members wearing combat fatigues and hip-waders. Corpses strewn outside. The bathroom set in the opening scene was directly attached to the structure. To get to the top of the septic tank set, one had to climb on top of the bathroom set. For ten days straight we lived in that set, only leaving for lunch breaks. It was a crammed and cold set, filled with around four feet of water. Even the seemingly menial task of tweaking a light or moving an apple box became a game of super-ego chess, moving personnel around on the narrow ledges. The small group of us who spent those days inside the tank developed a battle-hardened fellowship, one in which we have never spoke of since.
BUG: SEPTIC MAN has toured fests for a while now. What has been the initial audience reaction to the film?
JTC: It's been a hailed as a masterpiece in some quarters, and derided as the shittiest film ever made by others. That's all you can hope for. It was a deliberate effort to take a completely ridiculous idea and not break a smile the entire time. I find both the positive and negative responses entirely amusing. The bottom line is someone is watching our film about a guy turning into a piece of poo. I can live with that.
BUG: What's it like having the film finally released for all to see now?
JTC: It's the euphoria one would expect after passing a long-awaited stool sample. It's been a two year journey from the story development, through the production, world premiere and eventual release. It was actually filmed as part of a three film grueling production odyssey. We spent 6 months shooting three films. EJECTA, HELLMOUTH, and SEPTIC MAN was filmed last. Ironically it was the first one of the three we completed. The others are just now wrapping up post. I'm always thrilled to get a film out to the masses and to date this has been the widest release out of any of our previous projects, so it's all very exciting and hopeful and promising.
BUG: Was there research done to see what spending months in a sewer would do to a human being or did the effects guys just kind of wing it and heap on the grossness?
JTC: We had a reference file of disease, deformation, and decay. Some of it real, most of it from some of our favorite films from the past. There were five stages of Jack's transformative descent into Septic Man, each one increasingly more elaborate and gory. By the end it was six hours to apply the final stage, and probably another four or five hours to remove after filming for 12+ hours. I give all the credit to Jay Brown who had to endure utter hell to bring this role to life.
BUG: Is there a possibility of a sequel to SEPTIC MAN? Might I suggest a subtitle of NUMBER TWO?
JTC: It's left open-ended. And it does play as an origins story. So the idea of expanding the septic universe has potential. It's not something we're actively developing at the moment, but I wouldn't rule it out. SEPTIC MAN: NUMBER 2 is comin' at ya, summer 2027.
BUG: What's your next project going to be?
JTC: Right now we are working on an autobiographical zombie metafilm of Tony Burgess' effort to make PONTYPOOL V in Asia and his disappearance ever since.
BUG: Last chance, why should folks check out SEPTIC MAN when it's released on VOD on August 12th and in theaters on August 15th?
JTC: If you want your creature-features to be covered in blood, shit and vomit, but you also have an unbridled yearning for ham-fisted allegory at the same time, then why not check out Septic Man this holiday season.
BUG: Thanks so much, Jesse for talking with me. Look for SEPTIC MAN On Demand now and in select theaters tomorrow (Friday)! Below the trailer is what I thought of the film.
Available this week On Demand, in select theaters Friday, and available on DVD August 19th from Foresight Features
SEPTIC MAN (2013)Directed by Jesse Thomas Cook
Written by Tony Burgess
Starring Jason David Brown, Molly Dunsworth, Robert Maillet, Tim Burd, Julian Richings, Stephen McHattie, Nicole G. Leier
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I have to say it…SEPTIC MAN is the shit!
This surreal swirl down the drain of sanity is going to disgust some, turn off a lot, intrigue gorehounds, and surprise many who take a chance on it. SEPTIC MAN may be about a guy trapped in a sewer and slowly going insane, but it definitely doesn’t stink.
The film begins with a woman in a bathroom having a rough time. Her filthy surroundings are covered in all kinds of liquids and semi-liquids of all sorts of disgusting colors. Soon, she starts spewing more disgustingness from both ends and ultimately dies in a puddle of her own juices. Cut to Septic Man Jack, the best at what he does, and what he does is fix problems with sewer systems. With the mayor (Stephen McHattie) declaring the city in a state of emergency due to contaminated water, the mysterious Phil Prosser (gaunt actor Julian Richings from THE LAST TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH and GAME OF THRONES) seeks out Jack with an offer to ignore the warnings to evacuate the city and investigate the contamination. Though his pregnant wife pleads with him to leave the city with her, Jack seeks monetary benefit from staying and taking the job. But when his investigation leads him to an off-the-map sewer system, the valve slams shut, trapping him in a dank underground sublevel filled with rats, slime, and tons and tons of toilet matter. The rest of the film follows Jack, whose body and mind are slowly corroding in this little room as he tries one attempt after another to get out and return to his pregnant wife.
Essentially a descent into madness tale, SEPTIC MAN is a film whose strength lies in its story. The simple tale of a man trapped in a sewer and slowly going insane could be a disaster or even worse, dull as watching paint dry in the wrong hands. But director Jesse T. Cook (who did the fun and bawdy MONSTER BRAWL – reviewed here) keeps everything moving with a weird giant and a skinny maniac occasionally popping their heads down the hole to keep Septic Man company. It’s not completely clear if the giant and the maniac are figments of Septic Man’s fractured psyche or what, but it does make for some interesting moments. But whether it’s real or not, Septic Man is changing down there in the sewers, and Cook does a good job of making that change gradual and tragic every step of the way.
The use of fantastically moody yet somewhat superheroey lighting is effective in making this film feel more like a DARKMAN or TOXIC AVENGER than your usual madness descent flick. Setting Septic Man up as some kind of antihero may be a bit deceptive, but it does lay the groundwork for a bitchin’ follow-up if the filmmakers chose to go that route. What the filmmakers saved in budget with the locale, they made up for in spades with the makeup effects as Septic Man’s look is altogether distinct, discomforting, and disgusting to look at. His face literally looks like it’s turning into a turd towards the end, which will definitely make some feel a bit queasy upon viewing this metamorphosis.
Actor Jason David Brown deserves credit for turning in a sympathetic performance despite the shit all over his face. You genuinely feel for this character that is festering away in this tiny room. This is not a film for those with an easy gag reflex. No body fluid is left unaddressed in this one. But SEPTIC MAN is a mind-bending, stomach-churning, heart-wrenching little film that will definitely do a number on you if you ride it out. With an ending that suggests that this may just be the beginning of the adventures of our crappy hero, SEPTIC MAN is a film gorehounds will definitely want to sniff out.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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