Back to DEADLY END
House of Horrors
As I sat and viewed Graeme Whifler's DEADLY END, I was hard pressed to think of a movie that could compare, on a nauseation scale. I, a seasoned veteran of horror films and the tests they offer, found myself squirming in my seat, and at times, realized my face had become contorted, my nose scrunched and my eyes winced almost shut, struggling to remain still through it all. I wouldn't even put it in the top ten goriest films of all time. Its just a film that knows how to get into your stomach and TWIST. Lets play with some images that come to mind as I think back on this movie. Hmmm... nibbling on infected crumbs of suture scabs... self-fornicating with your finger (down to the knuckle), a puss-filled wound cut into your lower abdomen... stabbing ones self deep in the nads with a hypodermic needle, over and over and over... diarrhea, vomit, slicing open your own belly with a scalpel, performing exploratory surgery on that new hole, and tearing out organs that "just don't look like they belong" at whim... Do you feel a rumble in your gut? That's DEADLY END, and you have to see it to believe it.
While attending the New York City Horror Film Festival in October, I had a chance to attend one of the coolest parties I went to in 2005 at Don Hill's. It was there that I ran into Graeme and the producer of DEADLY END, Jeff Kirshbaum (“Milwaukee, Minnesota,” “Playing Mona Lisa,” “Milo”). We all were pretty lit by the time we spoke, and had some great casual conversations about what we liked and disliked about horror movies today. Graeme showed a great disdain for the commercial-soft crop of films being pumped out lately, and spoke of his appreciation for films that were offensive and so horrifying they could make people want to get up and walk out of the room. I took it as, this was what he was trying to accomplish with DEADLY END, and became immediately interested in seeing his feature during the festival. Before the night was through, Jeff clued me into the website so I could get a few clues as to what it was about. Just a few clicks give a great taste as to what you're in store for, as you file through Adrien's cabinets of tasty treats.
There is an example of the special effects involved on the website. Its a short slice of film explicitly sampling the sick and twisted actions of one Adrien Trumbell - a finger being forced in and out of a puss drenched wound. A bit of self torture and simple but accurate special effects shows you where this film is going in order to pull some juice up from your digestive system. Damned if it doesn't look real.
The plot isn't anything extraordinary. A young couple, Bob and Wendi Petersen, move into a run-down neighborhood - much reminiscent of the type of town Assault in Precinct 13 took place in. A boarded up, unkept ghetto community on the west coast. Bob (Jack Huston) and Wendi (Pell James) keep to themselves and are more concerned with their young and sparked love affair and all the things they can do together, alone, in the house. Unfortunately, one of their neighbors is Adrien Trumbell (Nick Searcy) , and he has a dislike for sinners, and often takes it upon himself to destroy others lives because of their disgusting immoral practices. The young couple can see signs of this around the court they reside in - as the police and paramedics are often called to their street to put out fires or take complaints of peeping tomism and even attempted poisonings. The local police however, are sympathetic to Adrien and his reclusive life, as he is the son of a former mayor - so when Adrien gets confronted, he acts all innocent and sappy, and the police ask that he be forgiven and overlooked.
The problem is, for Bob and Wendi, that Adrien is bent on infecting their life with pain and suffering via poisons he either feeds to them through gifts or pumps into their water through a backyard spicket. The plot is simple, but original. What starts as a couple in love with some strange neighbors, soon becomes a living nightmare of torture and vileness that has to be witnessed to be understood. Bob is made nauseous from some "homemade" chocolates that Adrien sends over as a gift, as does Wendi. Pumped full of horse laxatives and god-knows-what from those cabinets full of jarred gonads and blackened, wet-rotted fetal pigs - Bob soon finds himself crapping his pants at work. You can just follow the brown trail home to his house, where Wendi is in the same boat. Poison oak, black "homemade" jelly deliveries... soon he's pumping something ill into their water system, and after a couple of days, they're crawling across the floor in their own vomit, unable to defend themselves, a few heartbeats from a toxic death. All the while, Mr. Trumbell is back home preparing his sick self, listening to tapes of the Petersens having sex, puncturing a suture on his abdomen with his finger, violently and deep, in some self-mutilating sexual perversion.
Special makeup effects were handled by Lenny MacDonald along with Steve Johnson’s Edge FX (“The Village”, “Blade 2",“Cat in the Hat”). This film won the Best Special Effects award at the New York City Horror Film Festival this year, and what you see at the end of this movie will not soon be forgotten. Adrien slices Wendi open with a scalpel and begins to remove some of (what he thinks is) her glands that cause her to "think dirty thoughts". Pulling at innards, Wendi wakes up during the surgery - entrails are everywhere - as Adrien nervously and repeatedly tries to re-sedate her with injections to her carotid artery. And people, I don't need to give away the ending here. There's a LOT more scalpels, and some incisions that had every man and woman in the room with me watching, squirming in their seats.
For Graeme, this film is an outstanding feature film debut. It is THE most nauseating piece of fiction I've ever watched. I can't, in words, sum up the vileness of DEADLY END well enough to relate the absolute disgust you will feel watching this film. At Tribeca Cinemas in Manhattan, during the festival, a man passed out while watching, and several people got up and left. This was at a top-notch horror festival, mind you.
Final analysis: DEADLY END will stir the stomach of even the most desensitized horror fan - an absolute must see.
By John Marrone
House of Horror Exclusive Interview: Graeme Whifler - DEADLY END
By John Marrone
Under the spotlight today is the director of one of 2005's most shocking horror film, DEADLY END - Graeme Whifler ("Sonny Boy", "Dr. Giggles"). Graeme first gained notoriety collaborating with the avant-garde San Francisco recording group, The Residents, as in-house rock video cinematographer, writer, producer, and director. Inducted into the permanent of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, the videos were heralded as “a tour de force of short filmmaking … hilarious, often stunning and usually twisted… adventures into the subconscious (which) appeal to people with a taste of the bizarre”.
While directing videos for more mainstream acts like Devo, Danny Elfman, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Graeme wrote his first screenplay, Sonny Boy, a movie that was to become an instant cult classic due in part to David Carradine’s portrayal of a hairy-chested, cigar-smoking transvestite mother. Graeme’s second screenplay, Dr. Giggles was produced by Largo Entertainment and released by Universal Pictures. NBC has also tapped Graeme to write, produce, and direct a series of four, two-hour prime time specials titled, Ancient Prophecies.
DEADLY END (reviewed here) is a gut wrenching look into the slow torture of a small family, as psychopath Adrien Trumbell (played by Nick Searcy) surgically dismantles a young newlywed couple to the brink of death. Light on gore, its a film that finds its way into what truly uneases the stomach. Of all the films I've watched with friends or co-workers, DEADLY END chased more of them away from the screen and made more of them squirm uneasily in their seat than any other horror film in a long time. HoH had a chance to sit and pick the mind of Graeme recently, and get some insight into the man behind knife twisting in our guts...
HoH: Graeme, thanks for takin the time. DEADLY END is a personal horror favorite in my library at home. I’m curious what kind of films shaped your mind while growing up. What horror films had an impact on you and inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Graeme: I can’t really say if the movies I watched as a child shaped or warped my mind, or whether I was just born this way. The first films I saw were all silent because back when I was a TV-addicted toddler, the local stations wallpapered their empty daytime schedules with free public domain silent shorts of Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. I guess that’s where I learned the grammar and logic of film. As a kid I loved setting fires and making haunted houses in the crawlspace under our house.
I spent a lot of quality time in crawlspaces. I also went through a period, much to my mom’s dismay, when I ate cat food, drank beef blood, and pretended to be Adolph Hitler. Ok, I loved the Twilight Zone and Mondo Cane. If any one film inspired and planted the bug to make movies, that movie would be Satyricon. I was a different person after watching that film. I puttered around at film school, but my real education came from midnight screenings at the Palace Theater and Secret Cinema in San Francisco, which showed films like Repulsion, Pink Flamingos, and The World’s Greatest Sinner.
HoH: I can't picture DEADLY END being released with an R rating. I imagine it would be viciously edited - seems like nobody wants to release an NR film nationally anymore. How would you feel about it being censored for the masses? Are there any plans to try and have this film released in theaters?
Graeme: DEADLY END is a wholesome family movie and I see no reason whatsoever to snip even one God damn frame. Who among us hasn’t eaten something a little squirrelly and then upchucked or had the Hershey squirts, or God forbid, required some patch work in a hospital OR? DEADLY END wallows in the beauty of life and there is absolutely NOTHING offensive or gross even suggested in the movie. But seriously, the censor bastards have always been nipping at my heels. From my mom warning, “Graeme, if you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything at all”, to a fourth grade classmate ratting me out to the teacher saying, “Miss Sweeny, Graeme is doing something unsanitary”, which happened to be a nude, trans-gendered, trans-racial art collage I had proudly fashioned – it was always the same old censor crap. Miss Sweeny destroyed my art project, told me I wasn’t allowed to do any more art unless I did something nice, and sent me to the school psychiatrist, who by the way was a nut job that let her children ride through their neighborhood on their bikes NAKED because clothes weren’t natural. But I was the one the censor came after because my thoughts weren’t “nice”. Hell, I’ve always prized myself for being able to find the one dark bit of stinking rot in every silver lining. In film school, my first stab at production won some award and thus was supposed to be broadcast on the local educational station. When my short didn’t make it to air, I protested and was advised by the department head, “Graeme, we serve a community that has certain standards that we are obligated to uphold. I’m sure you understand why we can’t show your piece.” My rock video work with the Residents and Ralph records may have wound up in museums, but was regularly banned in Europe and The States. And what sort of blue-nosed stick-in-the-mud ass-wipe would take offense over rock videos featuring obsessive compulsive hygiene perversions or child abduction and molestation anyway? Mr. Censor and I battled ever more bitterly over shows I made for “reality” TV. Although some shows sneaked by under the radar, undetected, unsavaged; others raised a firestorm of censorious outrage. And the problem was always the same. The level of sex was modest, blood minimal, violence tender, bad language tame; no, the problem was always, “we can’t air this, it’s just too INTENSE for the viewers. But usually after a little blood letting with “The Suits” in charge, the shows aired to intense ratings.
I had the same problem with Sonny Boy and the MPAA censors. They screened it, it upset them terribly but they couldn’t point to any one scene of sex or violence that crossed the line, it was instead the film’s TONE that irked them. So some rather silly cuts were made to produce a more pleasing tone, and the move was released. You see, the thing that really disturbs people, really scares them about my work isn’t something big and obvious, it’s an accumulation of quiet dark little thoughts spun gently together into something naughty. It’s just the stuff of my dreams, which are often unsanitary. I forgot, what was the question?
HoH: The ratings...
Graeme: Oh yes, viciously editing DEADLY END to achieve an R rating would be a disaster because there wouldn’t be anything left to enjoy, because there isn’t just one thing to edit. Again it is a movie that builds on a series of small soft baby steps that ultimately sends the audience into a tailspin. We’ve had two full-blown test screenings so far, and are pleased to report that our body count is: One person lost consciousness and collapsed in the aisle trying to leave, several reported getting dizzy, one person was stricken with full-body blistering hives, and two women suffered emotional breakdowns involving uncontrollable sobbing. It’s not like anybody died watching it so I think a PG-13 rating would be absolutely appropriate. Well, one critic did describe it as “having the most profoundly disturbing imagery ever featured in a film”, but that guy is obviously full of poop. Bottom line, I have no doubt whatsoever audiences WILL be allowed to see and enjoy it.
HoH: It seemed like Nick Searcy (“Runaway Jury,” “Cast Away,” “One Hour Photo”) WAS Adrien Trumbull. That man portrayed scum to perfection. How did you come to choose him for the role - it seemed made for him... I’m wondering how he picked up the mannerisms so well...
Graeme: The way I work with actors is, when they act bad, I roll up a newspaper and bat them in the head. Seriously, Nick is amazing. Nick is also quite ill mentally. I knew that casting Adrien was pivotal to the movie since in a way Adrien is my hero. Nick says, “DEADLY END is the touching story of a man trying to police his neighborhood from an outbreak of perverted sex”. Another person said that “DEADLY END isn’t a black comedy; rather it’s a brown comedy”. What was the question?
Graeme: Right, Nick Searcy. My producer Jeff Kirshbaum (“Milwaukee, Minnesota,” “Playing Mona Lisa,” “Milo") thought Nick might be perfect for the Adrien part so he introduced me to Nick at a bar one night. After several drinks I realized Nick and I shared a “special” sense of humor. The parts that tickled him most in the script were the parts other people found vile, disgusting, and depraved.
After chatting and laughing with him for only a few minutes it seemed like he was a good old friend that I’d known for years. Everything just clicked and I knew Nick would be perfect and my movie would turn out splendidly. Now as to how Nick brought the character Adrien Trumbull to life so brilliantly, that’s magic, and only the great actors have it. It didn’t hurt that Nick is real smart, or that physically he has a look that is so comforting, so reassuring that if some little part on the inside starts to sour and fester, he’s terrifying. Also before shooting we had several days of rehearsal where the lead actors and I could grow the characters. Perhaps this is a trade secret that I shouldn’t reveal but as we finished the second day of rehearsals, Nick confided to me there was still something about Adrien that he didn’t understand and was eluding him. The next day Nick was jazzed because over night he’d created the missing piece of the puzzle that animated Adrien and it went like this…. When Adrien was about twelve his mom caught him masturbating and punished him terribly thus creating his tortured sexual conflicts. Once Nick had devised this psychological back story, Adrien was born. I just also want say that during shooting it was a blast working with Nick. At every new low point in Adrien’s demented but good-natured nastiness, Nick and I would burst out laughing at just how unhygienically both our minds could sink. Incidentally, a few of my closest friends who have seen the film remarked how much the character of Adrien’s mannerisms, speech and attitude reminded them of me and wondered how the mirroring effect came to pass, but what do they know, my friends are all liars anyway.
HoH: What gave birth to the idea of someone who had a major fetish for sticking his finger into infected holes?
Graeme: Hell, I just thought up that little ditty while I was writing the script. It seemed to make sense and it gave me pleasure picturing it so I figured the audience would find the image enjoyable. I’m glad that nobody can ever see what I dream though, because if they could, I’d be in prison for sure. But as far as writing the script goes, yes I did just close my eyes and dream up “fingering” a wound, but what I’m really proud of is figuring out how to poison somebody if they are locked up in a house and you are out on the street and can’t get to them. How do you slip your neighbor a Mickey Finn from a distance? Well, I invented a way to poison from afar by building a contraption made from common stuff found around the house, and it was tested, and IT WORKS!
HoH: At what point did you decide you were going to go all the way with it - I mean, to the point where you knew some people wouldn't be able to handle it. Was that the idea from the get-go, a no-holds-barred stomach mover?
Graeme: It was never my intention to write something offensive. All I wanted was to make people smile and be happy, you know, bring a little sweet joy to the world and I figured everyone enjoyed scab picking and diarrhea. But when my DEADLY END script began getting read around town, some treated me like a leper, others were angry with me because they felt soiled and violated reading it, my agency dumped me as a client, and one studio exec blamed the script for giving him shortness of breath and chest pains, and of course he refused to take my calls.
DEADLY END is inspired by two true stories I heard on the news. In both cases, people who were quite mentally ill, quietly went about doing things that were terribly perverse and disgusting before getting caught. Sorry, I’d love to say exactly what they did because it’s so awful and they had so much fun, but I don’t want to spoil any surprises in the movie. Anyway, I melded these two sick and twisted head-cases into one film character named Adrien who boils over with obsessions, compulsions, and conflicts, and I put him in a suburban neighborhood and gave him a nice young couple to fixate on. At that point the script more or less wrote itself. I just put myself in Adrien’s head and figured all the naughty things I’d have to do to the nice young couple to make them pay… for being nice. The writing was easy and sublime, like dreaming. Technically, yes I was feeling antisocial at the time and had a few anger issues, but now I’m fine. As far as directing and the actual making of the movie, I didn’t try in the least to make it a “no-holds-barred stomach churner”, I simply shot what was in the script faithfully, so you might say I was just following orders.
HoH: In one scene, Jack Huston (Bob) is lying on the floor subdued, and Nick Searcy (Adrien) just has to sadistically drop some spit down into his gaping mouth. Did he have any qualms about that, after reading it in the script?
Graeme: Do you know about 1984’s Room 101? Let’s just say that Jack Huston has a real terror about germs and in his Room 101, a man with a mouth-load of snot awaits to spit down his throat. Jack Huston is a blue-blood from Hollywood’s royal family, his grandfather was John Huston and his aunt is Angelica Huston. He’s one smart cookie and has an understanding of movie making so profound it seems to rise from his DNA. His talent is simply awesome. And this was his first feature role in a movie. Jack LOVED the script. - Actually all the key players LOVED the script, that’s why they were willing to bleed to get this sucker to the screen. - Jack came aboard with 300% enthusiasm. But as the filming progressed he discovered much to his horror that I was actually shooting EVERYTHING that was written in the script. So he started asking me over and over every day during shooting, “That scene where Adrien spits in my mouth, how are you going to film it? There’s going to be some kind of special effect right? Nobody is going to actually spit in my mouth right? I mean there is NO WAY I’m ever going to let somebody spit in my mouth!” I smiled and said, “Jack, it’s in the script”. Two weeks of this went by with Jack’s concern growing daily. In the end, Jack took his spit like a man. We both agreed to shoot it in one take, and thankfully it worked on that first take. In the movie, the scene plays splendidly because it once again telegraphs to the audience there is no limit to the depravity lying ahead. As far as I know, the spit was relatively free of really bad germs because Jack didn’t get sick and was able to finish the shoot. I probably won’t get any directorial awards for having an actor drink spit, but I may burn in hell.
HoH: Pell James (“Uptown Girls”) - her character Wendy went through hell. What kind of person is she like behind the scenes - is she dainty and grossed out by material like this, or is this right up her alley?
Graeme: Pell has no memory of ever acting in DEADLY END because we fed her Roofies every day during the shooting. To do otherwise would have been inhumane. After the filming was done and she awoke in the hospital where they had tried to put her back together, yes, she was upset. But we went to great pains not to leave any scars where they’d normally be seen. But really, Pell is an extraordinary talent. She is a total professional, and goes after a part like a pit-bull. As far as Pell being grossed out, she never was. The rest of the crew might have gotten queasy, the grips and teamsters might have been repulsed, but Pell always stayed focused, she was simply amazing to work with. And she’s a real sweet person too. When casting I knew exactly what I wanted for the part of Wendi; Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby. We auditioned over one thousand six hundred actors and actresses for the movie but the moment I laid eyes on Pell, I knew I found my Wendi. I think Pell is destined to become a huge star, she sure has the smarts, the talent, the looks, and the drive. I’m just sorry she had to endure so much permanent meat damage to make DEADLY END. Oh well.
HoH: I’m a fan of the gore myself, but I was impressed to see that a film could go so far in the nausea department and still be so light on the gushing blood. Why do you think DEADLY END taps the nerves so effectively?
Graeme: First, gushing blood is usually a lame and worn out gimmick of last resort used by hack sissy filmmakers. Second, you ask how I “tap the nerves of an audience so effectively”, well thanks for the complement but I ain’t telling, it’s a secret. Let’s just say, it’s the small things that get to people, and I really like making people feel really bad.
HoH: Ha... Well you succeeded. The end was an absolute orgasm of disgust and putridity. I said to myself, thank god shit like this doesn't happen in real life. But then, you got the idea for this film from some true stories, correct?
Graeme: I like how you say that, “an absolute orgasm of disgust and putridity.” It has a sweet ring to What do they say, “You can’t make shit like this up? Truth is stranger than fiction?” Yes, all the weirdness that’s in the film really did happen in real life, that’s why it spooks audiences so. Now as to the ending, it’s rather cathartic and uplifting the way I see it. Some folks have correctly likened DEADLY END to an opera, in that innocent but damaged souls are seized by fate and helplessly dragged down into a tragic end. Of course operas can be far more sick and depraved than even the darkest films.
HoH: When DEADLY END showed at this year's New York Horror Film Festival, several people walked out, and a man even passed out. I didn’t see any other film throw such a knockout blow. It had to feel good to see people affected like that. Who fainted, and at what point in the film did he drop?
Graeme: I watched the guy collapse! The film had just finished and he got out of his seat, made it to the center aisle, and just crumpled in a heap. Thank god I was able to track him down because his story was really funny. Seems he’s a special effects guy in film and TV, and a regular part of his job is working with Effects BLOOD!! He told me he was ashamed of passing out because he’s a pro and works around that stuff all day long but… there was something about DEADLY END that just got to him. During the last part of the movie he was feeling faint and dizzy and he thought he could just fight it off. His pal sitting next to him was also getting light headed but he managed to stay conscious. Of course as a director that sort of reaction tickles me pink, but in reality this passing out reflex happens to most med students witnessing their first autopsy.
HoH: Its good to see horror movies playing at the theaters more often - but most fans are getting burnt on the plastic remake churn. What's your personal opinion on the state of horror films today?
Graeme: Horror films today? I don’t like what I see mostly, they are lacking something, like spark or originality, they are by in large sordid affairs where uninteresting people are run though a sausage grinder with no sense of irony or humor or compelling character. Texas Chainsaw is one of my all time favorite movies but how many times can it be shamelessly rehashed? Hell, they’re even remaking The Hills Have Eyes. I mean how scary can something be if it’s made over, and over, and over, out of recycled cardboard bought at a second hand store? There is a real chicken-shit poser-school of making movies where one makes movies about other movies that have been made. Good horror should be psychologically based, ring true on a subconscious archetypical level, and should be as sublime and beautiful as a dream, but as terrifying as a nightmare. Horror is best consumed fresh, not stale.
HoH: Yes, bloody and raw. If you did do a remake, though, which film would you like to direct and see redone, either in your own vision or as an update for the new generation.
Graeme: So what are you try to do here, make me into a liar? I just railed against all the endless remakes and now you’re asking what I’d like to remake? Ok, just for the sake of speculation, I’d love to remake A Place in the Sun, my favorite movie.
HoH: Will you continue to pursue the nausea factor in future films - seek to make movies that horrify and disturb audiences...
Graeme: Will I continue to disturb, horrify and entertain audiences, yes absolutely – nausea, well I sure don’t only want to be known as “that up-chuck guy.” Don’t get me wrong, barfing is beautiful, but I’m always up for something new and exciting.
HoH: Any word on what you might be working on now or next?
Graeme: If I tell, the bastards will kill me.
Like the Devil, who shows up like a well dressed man, shining with a smile, with crowd pleasing wit on the top of his tongue, Graeme is spinning spells. Do not be fooled - he is pure evil, and DEADLY END will test your stomach.
House of Horrors