Flesh & Fantasy: An Interview with Ryan Nicholson
Arguably one of the best low-budget filmmakers alive today, Ryan Nicholson’s films are filled with rape, genital mutilation and torture. He pushes the envelope without compromise and has run into trouble with the censors as a result. Monster Pictures submitted Ryan’s 2009 film Hanger to the OFLC but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, it was refused classification.
Ryan started out as an FX guy working on all manner of TV and film productions, from Stargate to Ghost Rider. He has gone on to direct fourteen feature films so far. Seeing as the recent remake of Maniac has now been banned in New Zealand, Jason Driver caught up the director of the film that met a similar fate one dreary day in August, 2009.
DRIVER: Okay – first of all, Ryan, I’d like to thank you on behalf of Monster Pictures and myself for continuing to push the envelope without compromise, entertaining us and, of course, for accepting this interview.
So, first of all, what were the initial aspects of film that interested you? Did you always want to be primarily an FX artist or did you have broader ambitions – seeing as low budget filmmaking is pretty hands on in all departments?
NICHOLSON: I was always interested in the sex and violence element of movies. I made short films that contained both and became very interested in the makeup FX element, which led to a career in that area. I like being involved in everything. I have always been very D.I.Y. From music to making movies, writing. I try to keep myself busy.
DRIVER: You always get asked what films are your favourites. I want to know: Which Canadian films do you love? I’m quite fond of Rituals and Death Weekend, myself.
NICHOLSON: I am a huge Cronenberg fan. I grew up on all of his early work. I also love William Fruet’s films. You mention Death Weekend, it’s one of my faves. Funeral Home, Trapped as well. I also dig the ‘tax credit’ films of the eighties. Made in Canada by American companies. Stuff like My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, April Fool’s Day. Canadians have always exceled in horror. I look at Bob Clark’s stuff shot in Canada like Porky’s and Black Christmas. Even though he wasn’t Canadian, Bob Clark’s movies were very influential.
DRIVER: Oh, definitely. I’ve always thought that Halloween stole a lot of kudos that Black Christmas really deserved for being a very influential slasher.
Ryan, for all those who are unaware, your films contain some very graphic content. I take it some scenes may be fairly hard to do for some actors, like Lisa’s character who gets gang raped with a bowling pin in Gutterballs. How do you cast these characters? Do you hire adult video stars? Do you have problems sometimes? Any interesting ancedotes?
NICHOLSON: Never hired an adult star, but I do need an actor that feels open to the nudity the role may require. I never really had a problem until Famine. There was a scene that required topless nudity and the actor wouldn’t do it, although it had been previously discussed. I got a double to do it instead. That kind of thing is fine and an actor has every right to not do something that doesn’t sit well with them. On Big Fucking Monster, an actor wouldn’t do a clothed sex scene and stormed off set. What’s funny is that, in the movie, her character simply disappears. I don’t think anyone noticed.
DRIVER: (laughs) The first feature of yours I saw was Torched. That was fucking inspired, man. Who came up with the idea AIDS infected druggy being hired to rape the main characters rapist? [laughs]
NICHOLSON: Torched can be blamed on me [laughs]. I came up with everything. The AIDS rapist was actually taken from a short story I wrote about an AIDS patient being raped by an escaped inmate. I reversed it.
DRIVER: I hear the bloke who made Island of Perversion, Nico Mastorakis, said when developing the script for that film, he and a friend wrote up a list of the ten most perverse things they could think of, then wrote the story around them. How do you come up with your ideas? Have you ever had an idea for an effect that you wanted to base the story around?
NICHOLSON: Yes! I wanted to do a dick, sliced in half. The transvestite in Gutterballs gave me the chance to give a man a vagina!
DRIVER: Mangina? [laughs]
NICHOLSON: My ideas usually stem from true crime magazines, 42nd Street style films and porno books. Real life stuff. I was lucky enough to visit the peep shows and sleazy XXX stores in NYC before the big clean up by then Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Mangina, indeed [laughs].
DRIVER: Anyway, seeing as you mentioned Gutterballs, one criticism I always hear is about the acting. I actually think they did a fine job, especially Steve. I don’t think I’ve ever hated a character so much in my life. Did you write all those profanities into the script or did he just ad-lib?
NICHOLSON: Ad-lib, for the most part. I really wanted camp-ness. So much so that I made everyone act very over the top and very loud. My movies have that level of camp that is meant to be bad but… good bad, if that makes sense. The actor that played Steve acted opposite Cuba Gooding Jr. in a film. He is insanely talented. A natural born actor.
DRIVER: Oh, cool. This is why it makes my mind boggle when classification boards ban your films. Yes, they contain graphic scenes but really, it’s all in good fun. Like Hanger, for instance. Is that the film you have most problems with when it comes to classification?
NICHOLSON: Actually, Live Feed was the biggest headache because the distributor needed both an R rating and an Unrated. Getting the R was a nightmare. I think five minutes were lost in North America to get the rating. But in Germany my movies are cut by like, thirty minutes! That’s almost half [the film] in some cases.
DRIVER: For our readers, Ryan’s film Hanger was refused classification by the OFLC here in August 2009. I know the classification board, when classifying a film , read a scene-by-scene description before determining whether or not to view the offending scene in question. I wonder how often they just dismiss a film without even really taking a look? Like you said, some of your films are very camp and they may have missed that… Did most countries have problems with the Santa Claus scene – Phil dressed as Santa with the hard on of the century – or was it just Australia?
NICHOLSON: [laughs] The Christmas scene makes me laugh just thinking about it. I think the scene that got censors working overtime was the coat hanger abortion scene. Most people don’t get past that and if they do, the rest of the movie is very tongue-in-cheek… or in between the cheeks, in Hanger‘s case. The abortion is raw and unfunny. The rest of the film is a laugh riot.
DRIVER: [laughs] Can i ask if Vice Squad was an inspiration to Hanger?
NICHOLSON: I am a fan of Ramrod! There’s some Gary Sherman love there for sure. There’s some The Suckling in there too.
DRIVER: Seeing as you are a purveyor of extreme cinema, what was your opinion on A Serbian Film? Also, can you please tell us the story behind some of your models being used for August Underground?
NICHOLSON: I love A Serbian Film… a masterpiece of sleaze and gore. It shocked me and that is a task! The main actor was awesome and the director was unhinged. Loved it.
As for Mordum, my buddy Killjoy and I collaborated on some music and whatnot. He said he needed some props from my FX studio for some filming, so I sent a crate of bodies. A year later, he showed me Mordum. I was impressed by what Toe Tag did with the props, which were in rough shape. They rebuilt stuff and did all the gore FX. Fred and co. are masters of the macabre.
DRIVER: Can you please tell us something about your new anthology Profane Exhibit? How cool is it getting to collaborate with Deodato and Coffin Joe?
NICHOLSON: It’s very cool. I feel ostracised from the horror community for the most part. Maybe because I do my own thing… so with all these anthologies out, it was cool to be in the most extreme one, with legends. My segment is fucking hard. It’s vicious. Pretty straight ahead with none of the real comedic moments that I usually put in. It will be shocking for some viewers.
DRIVER: Do you think there are a lot of people out there that are jealous of you? It must be hard bringing in the goods on a limited budget.
NICHOLSON: I think there are people that shit on my stuff because they may have a budget, the luxury of a studio or a name actor. Then they think they’re better… I am D.I.Y. to the core. I don’t bend over for anyone. I do it my way, or no way. That’s how I live.
DRIVER: Love it, man. Very punk rock! How’s Three on a Meathook going? Will this be a direct remake or a loose adaption of William Girdler’s film?
NICHOLSON: Three on a Meathook is an anthology like Creepshow. Only me writing/directing, even acting in it. Its got Girdler love for sure, though. It’s basically three stories with a wrap around. Dead Nude Girls is my newest one. I play the killer. I play someone like me. A D.I.Y. filmmaker who loses his mind.
DRIVER: What are your thoughts on Australia? Any final words for your Aussie fans or our restrictive classification board?
NICHOLSON: I love Aussie horror. Body Melt, Razorback, Wolf Creek. That’s talent right there. Bob Macarren, the FX legend, genius Aussie, is another. I appreciate support from people who dig my stuff. That’s how I roll…word of mouth. Thank you for doing this. I dig Australia and hope the censors lighten their stance on my stuff one day. We are both countries of the Commonwealth. No reason for my stuff to be here and not there.
DRIVER: From Monster Pictures and myself, thanks for everything, Ryan. Along with Olaf Ittenbach, I view you as one of the leading low-budget filmmakers. These things get a little time consuming and I know you’re very busy, so it’s very much appreciated. Here’s hoping to see more of your films getting a release here down under.
NICHOLSON: Thank you! Been a pleasure, for sure. Loved your questions!