– by Daniel Tafoya

Director Rodman Flender returns to the horror-comedy genre with Eat Brains Love. Winner of Best Feature Film at the recent Screamfest Horror Film Festival in Los Angeles, Flender sat down with LRM Online to discuss his new work.

We chatted with him about making zombie movies, practical vs. digital effects and the recent 20th anniversary of his 1999 film, Idle Hands.

LRM Online: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I imagine you’re on a high from the premiere at opening night of Screamfest.

Flender: Yeah, it was great. It was great to have the whole cast there. And the screenwriters came out. Mike Herro and Dave Strauss who wrote the screenplay primarily work in television. So, I was very happy that they had an opportunity to hear their script with an audience. I direct television as well. That’s something that those of us who work in television rarely have the opportunity to hear, is how our work plays with an audience. So yeah, it was very satisfying.

LRM Online: I saw their credits and saw they’d worked in a bunch of television. And you’ve gone back and forth between both worlds. I was curious about how you came on to this project? How did you become associated with it?

Flender: A company out of New York called Biga, they optioned the book. It was originally a young adult novel by an author named Jeff Hart. And Biga optioned it, and got Gunpowder and Sky to finance it. And my manager forwarded it to me and he said, “There’s a zombie movie that’s looking for a director and might be something in your wheelhouse.” And I thought, “Really? Do we really need another zombie story?” And he said, “It’s called Eat, Brains, Love.” And I said, “I’m in. Where do I sign?” Because of the title, I knew it was something that was a little different that had a great sensibility to it.

LRM Online: It’s interesting. There’s straight zombie movies, there’s zombie comedies, and this also falls into those zom-rom-com genre, which is a very specific sub-genre of horror comedies. It has a love triangle going on, which is interesting. Did the romantic aspects of that hook you? Or just the comedy aspect, because I know you’ve worked in horror-comedy before?

Flender: I heard you mentioned love triangle, and that really was what I found appealing in both the book and the script. I originally said, “Wow, do we really need another zombie movie?” And the thing is that’s me being close-minded and unfair, because the fact is, the zombie movie is a huge spectrum. And I actually don’t really think of Eat, Brain, Love as a zombie movie. I see it more of a road movie or a love triangle movie. A movie recently that is a couple of kids in a hospital. There’s a love story in there.

LRM Online: Oh, Five Feet Apart?

Flender: Yeah, exactly. Five Feet Apart. You’ve called that a love story, right? Or would you call that a cancer movie? There are cancer movies like Terms of Endearment or whatever. But the fact of the matter is these movies, they’re many, many, many things. And when I initially started talking to the cast and was talking about tone and sensibility, the movies that I had them watch were movies like Freeway or Wild at Heart. These were the kinds of movies that were in the spectrum of or the sandbox I wanted to play in. A movie like Freeway and Wild at Heart, it wasn’t so much Dawn of the Dead or Walking Dead.

LRM Online: That actually answers another question I had, which were are there any particular movies that influenced your approach to this one? Speaking of the love triangle, how did you come to cast the three leads? Because they all worked really well together, played well off each other, even though Sarah is not actually present with them for most of the movie.

Flender: Well that’s right. And Sarah came in and read. And that was a very difficult role to cast because she’s very funny and very, very wry. And it was very important to cast someone who could pull off those kinds of jokes without being too borscht belt. Some actors came in and a few actors auditioned and they were literally winking as they said the lines. And I was like, “No, no, no. You’ve got to own it. You can’t… You’re not a standup comic on the Conan show. This is how you are dealing with a very gruesome situation. This is gallows humor. You’re dealing with dead bodies, and this is how you’re dealing with it. You’re not at the improv, standing up in front of a brick wall telling jokes. And I didn’t even have to tell that to Sarah. She just knew it. And I think it’s the kind of thing where only an actor like Sara understood that. It’s not something you could teach or tell. And she just nailed it. So that’s Sarah.

And Jake Cannavale, I had seen in a Broadway show a few years ago called Fish in the Dark. It was a show written by and starring Larry David, of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame. And Jake was in this show and he completely held his own on stage with comedy heavy hitters like Larry David. And his performance blew me away. When we were casting this, and I saw his name on a list, I thought, “Okay, just stop. Stop right there. We can all save ourselves a lot of time and effort.” Jake Cannavale is fantastic. The fact that he could do what he did on Broadway, eight performances a week, proves he’s got the stuff to deliver. And then in terms of Angelique, she auditioned, and a few actresses auditioned. And we had Jake come in and read with Angelique. And again, their chemistry was just such that it is what you see on the screen. It was there in the room the first time they met each other and just started saying lines together and were kind of riffing off each other. And the way she looks at him and all that was just their energy and chemistry together.

LRM Online: They all worked really well. And it’s something where I’m sure if the casting was off, one of those three was off, it might not have worked as a movie. But because they’re all really well cast, it did. And it came off really well. So congrats on that.

Flender: Well, thank you.

LRM Online: I don’t think anybody will be surprised in a zombie movie that there’s a lot of blood and gore and whatnot. But I was curious, who did the practical effects for your film? And how involved were you in developing those or the look of them or how they came off on screen?

Flender: Okay. Standby because I want to make sure I get all the names right. I’m glad you picked up on that because I did want to do this. I did want to do the blood and the gore practically. I think there’s a lot of great work done with CG. But for me, as a horror movie fan and a zombie fan, when I see digital blood I just never quite buy it. Unless it’s so good that I don’t notice, but I tend to notice digital blood. But when it’s a real practical effect, even if it’s kind of goofy, which ours is. We’ve got the blood, like a hose, spraying out of the guy’s chopped off arm. You know it’s goofy. Obviously we didn’t cut his arm off, but somehow it’s more believable, because the actors are really interacting with something there in the room. You can’t really predict how things splash or catch the light.

And I grew up watching movies like Maniac and Dawn of the Dead and all the great Tom Savini movies. And Tom Savini was a makeup rock star in my day. And that kind of practical aesthetic was really what we were going for. And Erica Dunn, she’s one of our key makeup artists, did some of the beauty makeup. Courtney Jarrell helped with a lot of the blood work. There’s also a guy named William Spataro. Those movies, like the Tom Savini movies and those practical effects and Lucio Fulci movies, Zombie and The House by the Cemetery, that was the aesthetic that I was aiming towards.

LRM Online: I think it definitely achieved that. And I am all on the practical side. I’m a horror fan most of all. So, I will always take that over the digital blood.

Flender: Here’s a name that needs including, is a guy named Chuck Lucia. Chuck, he did all of our spurting blood. And anytime you see something spurting that was Chuck’s work, and he did a great job.

LRM Online: Yeah, there’s plenty of spurting blood in the movie. So, to just speak for a second about past projects of yours, I was curious because it’s 20 years since Idle Hands came out. I was curious how you think that movie has fared over time. I feel like it’s become a bit of a cult hit. When it first came out, were you satisfied with the response to it? Or were you disappointed? What did you think of that?

Flender: Well, Idle Hands had the real tragic release date of 10 days after Columbine, the massacre at Columbine High School. And that’s not tragic for the movie. That’s tragic for all those involved and to the families and the people killed and wounded and affected by that massacre. And unfortunately, Idle Hands was kind of used. It was sort of scapegoated by Senator John McCain and Senator Joseph Lieberman. You can see this clip on YouTube. They call the press conference to call out Hollywood for being irresponsible. And Joseph Lieberman actually named Idle Hands by name. No one had seen the movie. They hadn’t seen the movie. And Lieberman said, “By all accounts, a new movie… We could start by Sony pulling a new movie by all accounts another gruesome something or other.” They called out Idle Hands. And so it was very painful. It was tragic. It was just terrible, terrible, terrible timing.

If you go on Huff Post, there’s a terrific Huff Post piece that was published about two weeks ago about the dark teenage comedy and what happened to the dark teenage comedy. And Idle Hands is the main illustration of this piece. And the author she did a lot of research and goes into a lot of detail about how it got caught up in this political shit storm. And she’s right. I should’ve commented on her piece that yes, she’s right. The dark teen comedy went away and that didn’t stop school shootings. Tragically, they have more now. I mean there’s a comment on that in Eat, Brains, Love if you’ve seen the movie. So, just to get back to your original question, over time, over the 20 years, Idle Hands does seem to have found its audience on home video. It was back in the Blockbuster heyday, the heyday of Blockbuster, I used to see it in the window around Halloween time with other horror movies.

So it’s definitely, definitely much more warmly received now than it was then. One critic at the time, their headline was like, “Why was this movie made?” People were really offended by the movie. But time is the ultimate critic. And the fact that 20 years later someone like yourself is mentioning it and asking me about it. And there have been some 20th anniversary screenings, and we recently had a little reunion with Devin Sawa and Elden Henson and Seth Green in Los Angeles. It was great seeing those guys again. It speaks to its popularity and how it has found its audience over the years.

LRM Online: It has a certain staying power, and people are revisiting it. I think it helps that most of the members of the cast are still appearing in a lot of stuff and still famous. That people who discover it become new fans of theirs over time. That’s awesome that it’s still around and kicking. So, when is Gunpowder & Sky putting Eat Brains Love out?

Flender: No, we’ve got a couple festival screenings coming up. It’ll be playing in New Orleans. I’m very excited about that, because we shot the movie just up the road from New Orleans in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. So, it was a lot of the same crew, that Louisiana crew and actors. And I think some of the local actors will come out. And then we’re also in the Nightmares Film Festival in Columbus, Ohio. And then maybe a couple of more. I’m not sure, just stay tuned.

You can look at Gunpowder and Sky. They have a horror label called Alter. And they’re branding this movie with their Alter Films. You can look at the Alter website. If the movie is showing anywhere at any of the film festivals or if I’m going anywhere, I always put it on my Instagram feed, which is Rodman_F on Instagram. So you can find out all about its release and where it’s playing that way, as well.

LRM Online: Cool. I’d definitely recommend people seek it out if it plays near them or when it ends up on VOD or what have you. It was a really enjoyable film. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me and good luck with those festivals.

Flender: No problem, Dan.

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