Interview by Paul Salfen
With a filmography that runs the gamut but strikes a chord with genre fans, writer-producer-director Brian Yuzna has been churning out beloved films for years and three of those will be celebrated this weekend at the inaugural North Texas Film Festival: Re-Animator, Society, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Yuzna took over behind the camera for Stuart Gordon for the two Re-Animator sequels, Bride of Re-Animator and Beyond Re-Animator but horror fans will also know him from his entries into the Return of the Living Dead and Silent Night Deadly Night series and independent favorites The Dentist, Faust, Dolls, Warlock, and From Beyond.
While he focuses more on the sales and business side of films now, Yuzna will occasionally make an appearance to celebrate one of his beloved films, which will happen this weekend in a couple of different theaters, the legendary Texas Theatre for Society and Cinemark West Plano for Re-Animator and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids for the festival.
Here’s more from Yuzna:
AMFM Magazine: When Society came out years ago, you probably didn’t think you’d be talking about it in 2019 in 1989. But here we are 30 years later and the themes are still relevant.
Brian Yuzna: Well, I’m not sure I could have even imagined being alive this much later. I don’t think I could have imagined 2019 back then. I couldn’t think of that. But I certainly am surprised that if after the reception it got here, that it’s still kicking because it certainly didn’t get a good reception in the United States, but then it did get good reception in England and France and Italy. But here it was incredible disappointment. And so it’s really great that about 10 years ago, it started finding an audience. And that’s really gratifying.
AMFM: And that was a big deal for you because it was your first time directing.
BY: Yeah, it was my first time directing. I would say yes, I think it is for anybody. I think the first time you do it, it’s a big deal. Even if you produce, which I had produced a few movies by then, it’s definitely a different experience and you get to make a lot of little, little decisions that anybody could make, but you made them. So it gives you a certain connection to the material that you don’t have otherwise.
AMFM: For those that have not seen it, why do you think this might strike a chord with audiences today?
BY: I think there’s a few different reasons. I think that there’s an interest in all things ‘80s in the genre – maybe in culture in general, but I think certain generations get to an age, they look back and right now we have a great interest in the 1980s and the video era. So there’s that, but there’s been interest in whatever’s there and kind of appreciating it some way. I think that there is a feeling – something has to do with the style of effects of the movies. The kind that is definitely has an extreme version of rubber and puppetry so I think nobody’s seen that kind of effect that we’re all so wound up with digital that there is some interest in effects that actually weren’t even the type of movie and effect that Society was, it was never really copied. [Laughs] So it was seminal or anything, it didn’t really give rise to other stuff. So it just stands there as something kind of unique. So you have that. I think that there’s a kind of storytelling to it that is not completely logical that that at the time didn’t really resonate and today for some reason does. There’s kind of a political aspect to it and when I made it, I thought it was fun to make a horror movie and the gimmick was kind of a class thing. Growing up having come of age during the 60s, that was sort of just part of my DNA and I thought that that would be really fun without beating you over the head with it, making it this surprising idea of class being some kind a fantastical element in a movie. And I think when we made it in ‘88, it was the Reagan era. That’s when “greed is good” became a byword. That’s when corporations decided that their only goal, and only responsibility was to increase shareholder value. Whereas, say, in the 50s and 60s, corporations felt like they had an obligation – not only to their shareholders, but to their workers and to the community at large. And in the Reagan era, we kind of turned that all out and said, “No, it’s all about greed. It’s all about getting yours.” And, and I think that this kind of story, to a much lesser degree, didn’t work at that time in the US and I think when you see it, it’s coincidental that when it started getting interest, this go-round just happens to coincide with what we now call “the great perspective.” So I think there was a point in the mid-2000s where, where the whole kind of voodoo economics thing, you know, that whole trickle-down theory has some cracks in it, you know, it just have some cracks. Don’t resent that element of it, although in Society, it’s really part of the fabric of it. I tried very hard not to make it be like that political kind of thing, it’s just the way things are. It’s kind of like the original Godzilla was about the horrors [of war]and he’s released by nuclear weapons. You remember all the 50s movies where the reason the monster existed was because of some nuclear accident and that was just why they were there. But, of course, from outside you can say, “Oh, you see, this is about how there was a great fear of nuclear power at that time”. So it’s different from a movie like Get Out in which the political element of it is almost in the forefront. It’s, like, more important than the genre story of it. I think today genre movies tend to be in some ways much slicker than they were back in the 80s because the means of production are so available to everybody with digital technology. And also because the filmmakers and the audiences are so, so much more film literate.I don’t mean film history literate, but filmmaking literate. Everybody knows how films are made. When I was in high school, they did a big poll of high school graduates or college graduates in the US to see what their ideal goal would be and everybody wanted to write the great American novel. Today? Who wants to write today? Everybody wants to be the big time director. They want to be Chris Nolan or something. So today people are just much more knowledgeable about film. They know how it’s made. And even the genre stuff, the low budget stuff is very slick in a way. But there’s also sort of a self consciousness about them to a certain degree – I something close to pretentiousness about them. And in the 80s, one thing that people like about it is there is very little pretension and there’s a lot of fun to just making a movie that’s a little bit less sophisticated. But there’s something surprising and fun about them. So I don’t know, moosh that all together and add in a good sprinkling of the fact that when you get far enough away from a decade, a lot of things that came at the time that Society came out and people might say, “Ooh, that’s not very good acting, but that’s not it. That doesn’t work today. They look back and they go, “Oh no, that’s the 80s.” You know, it’s like watching a Japanese horror movie with the girls with the hair in front of their eyes and somebody in the movie does something really stupid and we go, “That’s stupid. Why would they do that?” And then your friend says, “Oh, no, that’s Japan. That’s the culture.” “No, no, it’s actually stupid.” So maybe there are a few weaknesses of the movie that are kind of mercifully forgiven, due to 30 years gone by and people just saying, “Hey, that was, that’s the way it was back then.” Maybe there’s a sense that the movie itself is just kind of a big satire and we had fun doing it because we just felt like we were telling a lot of jokes in that movie without making it a comedy, although there are comedic bits. And maybe with distance – I think at the time, maybe the audience didn’t get it and maybe today they kind of see it that way, but I don’t know. I didn’t know because in England, it was always embraced and they certainly know very well what the class system is there.
AMFM: Well, the 80s were a much a different time. Probably a crazier time on the set. As you said, you probably didn’t even imagine being alive by now, right?
BY: Well, it’s not that, more like what are you going to think if someone brings this interview up in 2049. You’ll probably say, “What are you talking about? I don’t even know if I’ll be alive then.” [Laughs] Not that I don’t think that you’ll be alive in 20-30 years, it just seems so impossible. It just seems like let’s talk about next year. It’s not that I didn’t think I’d be alive, it’s just that I couldn’t imagine that. I mean, I’ve made a lot of movies that nobody’s seen – and some of them I think are pretty good, you know? But luckily one of the great things that happened with Society, in 2001, I was able to purchase the movie because by that time it had been sold out and virtually worthless. And because I had made it – I’d buy any movie I made it if I could. And that made all the difference because that meant that I could get Arrow to put out a big package. That really helped a lot, that Arrow Blu-Ray Collector’s Edition. That made a huge difference to put a context in that. Also, I think a lot of the people that would have liked the movie back then but didn’t even watch it because the artwork was the British artwork with the woman pulling a mask off her face and it kind of made it look like it was an art movie. What Arrow did was like, “God, I got to see this movie.”
AMFM: Well, speaking of another movie that could be relevant later, a few years ago, Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs were around and were talking about one that never got made called House of Re-Animator that took place in The White House. Wouldn’t that be interesting to do right about now?
BY: You know, the first time Stuart and I talked about a Re-Animator in the White House was when we were making From Beyond the year after we finished Re-Animator. That was supposed to be Bride of Re-Animator was supposed to end up in the White House. And at that time, the gag was that Ronald Reagan didn’t survive the assassination attempt. And so it made all the sense in the world that Reagan would be re-animated. And then I think the next time when I made Bride of Re-Animator, it wasn’t in the White House and wasn’t going to work and then the third one, I did it in a prison because I was in Spain and I just thought, “Oh man, I’m going to have a hard time making America Spain.” But if it’s in a prison, I can probably pull it off. I didn’t think I could do a hospital very well. I don’t know if you know this, but I spent eight years in Spain and I did a whole label there called Fantastic Factory and make 10 movies on here, one of which was Beyond Re-Animator. I also made Dagon with Stuart Gordon there and then when that project was winding down, I thought I would try to do a Re-Animator trilogy starting with House of Re-Animator then Re-Animator Unbound then Re-Animator Begins. So I had this idea for treatment, I thought for sure I was getting financed. I didn’t know why not. And the first one was, could be a reunion of Stuart, [writer]Dennis Paoli, and all the main actors and then put it in the White house. And at that time, the treatment that scored that Dennis came up with was kind of a take-off on George Bush and which seemed to be an easy target but it wasn’t that Bush was dead, getting re-animated is fiction. We thought we’d get it financed and unfortunately it all fell through for all of those, for my whole project. I never quite figured out why, but I never really liked the idea of making a Re-Animator a direct satire of any particular politics. Just like Society is not a satire on a particular social problem. It’s just kind of a fun way to have this paranoia of kid who feels like he doesn’t belong in his family. Every kid thinks they’re adopted at one point, you know what I mean? To do it with great wealth is the gimmick. He gets crazy paranoid but it’s all real. That’s the joke. The joke is this crazy stuff that he imagining it’s all true but nobody in it is a character from public life. It’s just part of the fabric of it and with the Re-Animator in the White House, it gets tricky if you’re connected to particular politician, then I kind of feel like it’s getting a little bit away from horror in a way. I mean, in a way, the White House is like a prison the way it’s about elected officials in power. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s Reagan or Bush or Obama or whoever, the dynamic is still there. I think the fun is there because one thing we know is that people who have money or are in power are just like the rest of us, they’re just really on steroids with it. So now we look at somebody like Donald Trump and you support how he shoots from the hip. So maybe you are still distressed by what you feel is just feeble and weak character. But we know that all people who have great power, their weaknesses show up and are exaggerated because of that. And I think one of the things that sets Trump apart is that he didn’t have any filter between him and the public for stuff so it’s just too obvious.
AMFM: We’re excited to have you in town because really we don’t get to see a whole lot of appearances from you. We often see many other people that you work with but you don’t make a whole lot of appearances.
BY: They usually don’t invite me. I go when I’m invited. I’m not a hard guy. I’m much easier than most of the actors for sure. I guess I have to make a new movie. [Laughs]
AMFM: Of all of the films, what is it that you find that most people ask you about? Besides Society and Re-Animator, you also dipped into the Return of the Living Dead films as well as Silent Night Deadly Night. And then there’s even Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
BY: You know, it depends. If you’re going for a particular movie, they’ll ask about that. Normally it’s Re-Animator and now Society. Actually, Society almost as gets more interest now than Re-Animator believe it or not. But I think that’s because it’s kind of, it’s a little fresher on the scene and Re-Animator has been so, so celebrated forever from the time it came out – the first day, the first screening it was, like, a classic. So this is different. It’s almost like it’s just a perennial and it should be. I think it’s really, really great. Now Society is having its time. Now I think Return of the Living Dead lesser, but I think it’s because it’s Return of the Living Dead 3. I mean, it is saddled with a terrible title. The movie stands on its own, really. Return of the Living Dead movies that showed us that EC Comics could be done on screen.There was always somebody eating somebody’s brains and lots of sex in it. It was just gory and horrible – and it was just a lot of fun. Like when they tried to do Creepshow and other ones. I think what Dan O’Bannon did was show that you could take the spirit of the EC Comics and put it on screen. And without Return of the Living Dead, I don’t think that they would’ve known how to make “The Walking Dead” or Tales From the Crypt. Unfortunately, the title has Return of the Living Dead in it. Cleary this is a sequel for Night of the Living Dead, but it’s an alternate sequel, right? Return of the Living Dead was very successful. And when they made the second one, they really put some money into it and it didn’t work. And so it killed the franchise. And so it got down to the level where I was qualified to direct one [Laughs]. Now the budget went way down and I got a chance to do one. But it’s owned by Lionsgate so they just don’t do anything with it. I could put out a great Collectors Edition and get context to it so people would see it. And I think it would get a lot more attention because some people think it’s really one of the best zombie movies and it’s really, really good. Some people like Dolls and will call me about that and I did go to a Silent Night Deadly Night screening at the Egyptian Theater. It was crazy. I think that’s why people liked these kinds of movies is that there is this sense that they were made without any sense of what people were going to see, a real lack of self consciousness. There’s just this idea that any crazy, crazy idea you came up with, just do it. You know, because it was low budget. Nobody really cares. You know, nobody, nobody’s gonna pay any attention to what you’re doing.
AMFM: And now that there’s so many beloved movies that you’ve been a part of. Now people want to see something new from you. And because IMDb is not always correct, but it looks like you’ve got one in post production, right?
BY: No, I haven’t actually produced any. There’s some I’ve developed, but mostly I have a partner now and we get involved with movies as producers reps and we’ll help a lot of independents. There’s a lot of people around the country that if they have the means, they can make a movie. Maybe they’ve got $50,000 or $100,000 or sometimes more but now you can make the movies for $50,000 or $100,000 and if you’re doing it right, you might get your money back. And I’m involved also with sales. We help develop the script, get a writer, find a director, and then we negotiate the deal, so you make a movie that turns out it does have some value. First thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to make a distribution or sales deal. It’ll take whatever value it is and you won’t get it. And that happened to me with Re-Animator. I paid for the whole movie, I borrowed money, I got investors and I took my own money and I paid for the whole thing but unfortunately I gave it to Empire to sell and I should’ve made millions of dollars. Instead, I had to sue them just to get the movie back. Shows that you go into the movie business, man, you’re a lamb to the slaughter. It’s a very difficult business. Especially if you didn’t come from the business like me. I didn’t ever take a class. I just came out to Hollywood to make movies and I was already 30, so I already had a couple of kids. People are doing that all over the country. I know because I’m in touch with some of them.
AMFM: So would that be your advice to aspiring producers and directors is own your movie if you can?
BY: Well, if you can, but it’s almost impossible because if you don’t pay for it, you can’t own it. Or with Society, I didn’t own it. I didn’t put up any money. If you put up money, you can finagle something or if what you’re bringing to the table is bigger than who you’re dealing with. So, for example, with Bride of Re-Animator, I had the sequel rights. And even though I didn’t put up any money, I owned half the movie. But I didn’t know anything about the business. I came out to LA and I was an idiot. I didn’t know anybody in the studio system. I didn’t have an agent. I never had an agent. I just didn’t know. It wasn’t my goal when I came out. I didn’t come out to LA to be kind of in the studio system. I didn’t even know what that was.
AMFM: Despite all of the shaky day to day business stuff, it should be nice to be able to come and relax and enjoy and see these films on the big screen again.
BY: Oh, I’ll have fun. Plus I get to talk to people about the movies I’ve worked on and who doesn’t like to talk about themselves and what they think, you know? Otherwise I just sit around and have the dogs and cats give me a hard time about feeding them and taking them for walks. Instead I can go to the theater and people will say, “What do you think about this?” And everyone is hanging on to every word. It’s good for the ego.
Brian Yuzna will appear at Cinemark West Plano at 9:45pm for Re-Animator on Friday, September 27th and 1:15pm for Honey, I Shrunk The Kids on Saturday, September 28th and will also appear at The Texas Theatre for Society at 9:15pm. For more info, visit https://ntff.com.