David Schmoeller is a filmmaker currently living in Las Vegas. He has written and directed the horror/thriller film classics Tourist Trap (1979), The Seduction (1982), Puppet Master (1989), Catacombs (1988) and Crawlspace (1986). In this exclusive interview, Schmoeller provides some wonderful insight into the horror genre over the years, working with some infamous actors, and the lights of Las Vegas.
A: Every film has so many memories. Tourist Trap because it was my first film and so many things were so new to me. And it was such a struggle because the producer ran out of money and it just took so long to finish. The Seduction was memorable for all the wrong reasons. One of the producers was such an awful human being—it just made the work a completely soul-killing kind of experience. I’ll never forget that. But, I guess the film that was the MOST memorable—again for the wrong reason—was Crawlspace. Klaus Kinski was another horrible human being (or possibly just insane). I made a humorous short documentary about that experience called: Please Kill Mr. Kinski where I talk—and Kinski reveals—just how difficult he was.
Q: Many of your films fall in the horror genre. How have you seen the horror genre change since your first film in the 1970s? Has the content of the films changed or is it more to do with how films are marketed to the public?
A: The horror film is always changing with the evolving zeitgeist. In the thirties, it was primarily based on works of literature (Frankenstein, Dracula, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). In the fifties, horror reflected our fear of science (the atom bomb and the resulting Godzilla / Attack of the 50 Foot Woman). In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Vietnam War televised nightly on network television started to impact the horror film—we went from the monster being a product of science-gone-wrong to the monster being human—where we saw man being especially brutal to man (The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). Lately, though, the cost of film and the high price of marketing a movie have dictated the content in the marketplace more than ever before. In the U.S., post-2000 anyway, a lot of sequels and remakes of earlier hit horror films are being made—or remakes of foreign horror films. There have been a few domestic exceptions—i.e. emergence of the “torture porn” films—exemplified by the Saw films franchise, seemed to take the genre to its most extreme—until the appearance of The Human Centipede franchise took torture to new levels of human debasement. So, the content has definitely changes since my film Tourist Trap was made in 1978.
Q: The Seduction is a mysterious thriller and features some classic themes shared with the film noir of the 1940s and 1950s, such as seduction, obsession, and the fetching femme fatale character. Did any of the classics influence you when writing or directing The Seduction?
A: Not consciously. The original idea of The Seduction (which was originally called “The Romance”—I have a real cheesy poster when it was called “The Romance”) was based on an LA Times news story about a female librarian from Santa Monica who was seriously being stalked. She had to break off all connections with her family & friends; the stalker went to prison for stalking her—and continued to stalk her from prison, then even more so when he was released. She was going completely crazy—went to the Santa Monica police pleading for help. One detective concluded her only solution was to have the guy killed—and he proceeded to tell her how she could get it done for a ridiculous price. I thought it was a fascinating idea. And if I had written THAT story, it might have been a good movie. But, I sold the idea to a producer who wanted the victim to be a flashy newscaster. He paid me to write that story which I did and another film altogether resulted. Other producers and other factors became involved and it just turned out to be a silly movie as far as I was concerned (and most critics as well). So, whatever classic themes of seduction and obsession the movie might have had, the appearance of a fetching femme fatale turned out to be a laughable and shrill character because of the performance of the main lead. All of these factors leave a very bitter taste in my mouth and you can understand why this is the least favorite of my films.
Q: Who was your favorite actor to work with on set?
A: Charles Cantrell and Ryan LaBeouf in Little Monsters were such a rewarding experience—and then Timmy Van Patten in Catacombs was a happy experience before that. Charles and Ryan are both young and just starting out in their careers. They are both going to be very successful, I suspect. Van Patten has given up acting for directing—and is a much-sought-after and award-winning cable director now.
Q: Has living in Las Vegas influenced your craft and inspiration? How so?
A: Not really. I know Las Vegas could be a rich location if used correctly, but other than trying to show as much of the Strip as possible in the Las Vegas segment of my short film Wedding Day, and to some degree in Little Monsters, I haven’t done that yet. I guess I shot the Las Vegas Welcome sign as a recurring bit in Little Monsters—but I haven’t used the underbelly of the city in any serious way. I know a number of local fiction writers really explore the more interesting sides of Las Vegas—and I am sure I will finally break down and begin to write about the city of lights.
Q: Where do you see Las Vegas in ten years?
A: With the catastrophic way things can change these days, Las Vegas could be completely obliterated from the planet—or still hanging on blindly to gaming as its central source of income. We don’t have the leadership in Nevada to make the serious kind of changes Nevada needs to make to do much more than pray gaming won’t spread to so many other states that it will lead to the death of Las Vegas.
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: I’m writing a horror script for a feature film called Dead Angels (vaguely based on the children’s refrain: “When Angels fall, they go to hell”)—and just starting to collect footage and thoughts for a humorous documentary on the perils of the film business, something I can speak about with a certain élan.
In May 2012, Schmoeller was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Fantaspoa Film Festival in Porto Alegre, Brazil. He is currently in post-production on his feature-length crime drama, Little Monsters, set for release in 2013. Schmoeller is an Associate Professor of Film Production at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and runs the Film Department’s UNLV Short Film Archive. His short films are available on Amazon. He can be found on the web at davidschmoeller.com.