It might surprise you to know that I don’t have many friends with the same interests as me. It is for this reason that i am eternally grateful for the internet. Without the internet I wouldn’t have heard of filmmaker Tim Ritter. He’s the sort of guy you discovered by loitering in video stores after your tastes evolved from Aladdin and Jasmine to A lad in Jasmine. Unfortunately, as a youth, my autonomy was minimal and I didn’t have the pleasure.
If I had had the pleasure of discovering Tim Ritter back then, it would have been love at first decapitation. It’s always obvious when you see a movie that’s made by individuals with songs in their hearts. Some people are just made to express themselves, and some of those people choose movies as a medium. Tim Ritter is one of those people. I hope you enjoy my interview with the direct-to-video virtuoso responsible for such films as Killing Spree and Truth or Dare!
When and where did you get started making movies? Have you always been into horror?
Oh yes, I’ve always been into science fiction and horror. Grew up with STAR TREK and DARK SHADOWS, early on- my mom exposed me to those shows! TREK had so many cool monsters and aliens in it, and of course…DARK SHADOWS is a vampire soap opera! I was born in South Florida and that’s where I grew up. In elementary school, I was obsessed with the Hammer movies, Universal’s monsters, King Kong, Godzilla, all that stuff. I spent endless hours checking books out in the library on these movies and reading about them- and then trying to see the movies on TV! Then I got into THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN, all things dinosaurs, JAWS…INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, STAR WARS, you get the idea! I was a movie pop culture nut from the beginning! I started making movies in 1978, grabbing the family super-8 movie camera… with an ambition to tell stories on the format! I think I was ten years old at the time, and the bug, the virus, the URGE to write had hit even earlier, I was writing books and reviews of everything I saw at age six! I still have some of those old books, written on notebook paper and just stapled together. Some of us…are just wired this way! No way around it…
Does the realm of DIY filmmaking tend to be competetive, or is there a warm community there?
Both. Most people are really cool, but like in everything, it can be competitive. Everyone is competing to get their movie sold, their movie seen, competing for Streaming space, competing for convention tables…and the fans only have so much money and interest! But overall, it’s a pretty cool community, although I do see a lot of bickering and drama as well. I guess it’s like any other family in life, right? But I have collaborated with many cool people who were down to earth and awesome, most recently in TRUTH OR DARE 5 with Scott Tepperman and Jim O’Rear. We had a blast and they are really nice people- just fans like us! The FAN WORLD is especially great, I’ve met so many cool fans that are just so cool and they love this stuff- I talk with them endlessly about directors and movies we love—and they’re especially in tune with this stuff, because they understand what inspired my little movies from the beginning!
I recently interviewed filmmaker Donald Farmer and he was a man of few words. What can you tell me about him from your time working together?
Donald is awesome, I just saw him at the theatrical premiere of HOOKER WITH A HACKSAW. Again, he’s a super nice guy, and wow, probably the most knowledgable person I know on horror films, directors, and all things b-movie. He’s like a walking Google Search Engine on the subject matter! We’ve worked together many times, on the original CANNIBAL HOOKERS movie in 1986 [which was finished and released in 1988], on DIRTY COP NO DONUT 2, and more recently, on the anthology collaboration HI-8 [Horror Independent 8]. Donald is low-key, fun, and always full of creative ideas. You should see him on the spot, creating! Even at the HOOKER WITH A HACKSAW premiere, he was talking with his collaborators afterward and giving them new scenes, ideas, and effects he needed for the CANNIBAL HOOKERS remake coming up. He was coming up with all these great ideas and setpieces right off the top of his head that he is going to put into the script. Donald is always enthusiastic and low key, so…just a great person to work with. I’m amazed he didn’t say much during your interview- once you get him going about movies and horror, like I said…he’s an endless source of information, facts, and obscure tidbits on exploitation movies! He’s a sharp cat!
Killing Spree is pure insanity. I recently reviewed it on the blog, and it was a madness I was happy to indulge in. Asbestos Felt in the lead role was off the wall. What sort of direction did you give him?
Great, thanks for watching it! I encouraged Asbestos to be over-the-top and overplay everything, at its heart, KILLING SPREE is a very dark comedy, in the vein of John Waters early movies. As a matter of fact, if you watch Waters’ SERIAL MOM, it plays out very much like KILLING SPREE in many ways, although without the extreme gore! I was astounded at that when I saw SERIAL MOM in the theater! But I think we were both coming from an extreme love for the genre- with the early works of H.G. Lewis, Russ Meyer, Ray Dennis Steckler, all the very early ’60’s and ’70’s grindhouse guys. That’s what we were saluting in the 80’s, because it was all so recent!
I could pair Killing Spree with the Jackie Vernon led Microwave Massacre for a double feature to rival the best of them. What film would you suggest pairing with Killing Spree?
Why, TRUTH OR DARE- A CRITICAL MADNESS, of course! My first bigger budgeted feature! Similar subject matter, a lot of the same cast and crew, similar locations, all down in Florida’s sun belt! But if you wanted to watch KILLING SPREE with something that wasn’t mine, I’d definitely recommend the aforementioned SERIAL MOM or perhaps EATING RAOUL, two movies that have the same kind of spirit and enthusiasm that SPREE has…People can pick up that passion that the filmmaker has for a project, it translates to the screen when they’re really fired up about their creation. Amazing how that works, like channeling a piece of yourself into the movie! By the way, good pick on MICROWAVE MASSACRE, I missed that one in the old days, just saw it about a year ago, and definitely has that SPREE feel with chintzy effects, a bizarre plot, and anythng goes, over-the-top acting! A buddy of mine, Matt Hill, suggested I watch it, and I really loved it- totally got everything about that movie! It would make a great double-feature with SPREE!
The Truth or Dare series may be your most well-known endeavor. Do you see this as your baby or just another facet of expression among many?
We’re on the fifth movie now, so…it is what I’m most well-known for, and it seems that people just want more! I’m already getting offers from various producers and companies about doing a sixth film, and there’s been a remake possibility for over a decade now that never seems to happen, but…at some point, it’ll probably happen. It’s amazing how many people are jumping on the TRUTH OR DARE bandwagon now, using that theme and the game as a focal point. It’s like very few noticed 30 years ago, but NOW, all of the sudden…this is the concept everyone wants to jump on! I guess it’s really still a popular game and a lot of people play it on the Internet, like I pointed out in DEADLY DARES-TRUTH OR DARE 4. So…it’s kind of amazing, so to answer the question, I do see it as something I really tapped into and gave a horrofic slant! So in that way, it is my baby, as I was the first to kind of think about mixing that particular game with horror, and that’s simply because I played it as a kid and later asked myself…”What if someone dared me to do something crazy, like chop a finger off? Could I do it…if the stakes were high enough? What would MAKE someone do that?” Those kind of questions, and the story evolved from there. These days, everyone is doing a TRUTH OR DARE concept movie, even Blumhouse, I saw! So, it’s kind of interesting… Now I know, on a much smaller level, of course, how George Romero felt when everyone started grabbing his NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD concept and running with it, including his partner in crime, John Russo- even though, of course they agreed to that… Anyway, I guess it proves everything pretty much works the same in this business for everyone, and as we know, there’s only so many ideas and everything eventually gets recycled- that’s what the fans seem to want, me included, as I’m a huge FRIDAY THE 13th and HALLOWEEN franchise fan!
This question may seem a little odd, but ‘ve always wondered… what is it like to be known for your niche?
In the horror and VHS world, where there’s just tons of fandom, it’s great! Everyone is so nice and appreciative of the movies, it’s alwasy so refreshing and cool! Now, in the REAL world, where people don’t understand this kind of material, people see that I’ve worked with [porn star and scandalous celebrity] Kathy Willets and other “questionable” celebrities and that I always shoot on video, so I’m usually branded a pornographer. [laughs] I always try to correct them- it’s not pornography, it’s gornography, an insane mix of sex and violence. Which…usually doesn’t help anything! But in all seriousness, it’s great that I’m known for anything, that I’ve even made a small dent in a very competitive marketplace, and I’m honored and humbled that fans like anything I’ve made and still enjoy it. That something like DAY OF THE REAPER, made while I was in high school in 1984, continually sells and is so well-liked in certain circles…completely blows me away! Never expected that in a million years- no way to even plan that. So interacting with the fans and people who saw my early movies- TRUTH OR DARE- A CRITICAL MADNESS, KILLING SPREE, and WICKED GAMES in those early VHS days is so awesome. In many cases, these folks were kids when they first rented my movies, and they were their gateway into all things horror, so they have a great sense of nostalgia and respect for these things, which I totally get- we all have that as fans, something grabbed us to turn into complete horror nuts at an early age, even though we’re obviously kind of wired that way from the beginning. But seeing Elijah Wood on national talks shows talking about my little TRUTH OR DARE franchise and how much he loves the original movie…wow, just blows me away! I’m honored and very lucky, again, it’s more difficult than ever these days to get noticed in the Internet and Streaming world, so I feel really blessed that I started when I did and that the early work was enjoyed by so many people…and that I inadvertently helped create and fuel many fans’ horror obsession, wow, that just…boggles the mind!
Recently, direct-to-video has been replaced by direct-to-streaming. Do you feel that some of the magic gets lost because of this?
It’s definitely different than the old days, not good for The Collectors- those that need physical media like junkies! But that’s the way the business module is going for sure, and the way this generation and the future ones will view material…binge watching things on their phone! Definitely, the magic of the video store hunt, the obsessing over packaging, artwork and all that…is sadly gone except for extreme niceh markets. Now it just…appears on Netflix, kind of buried in your Search box, or NEW AND TRENDING, and you click on it…Where the flashing eyes of THE DEAD PIT VHS box? Or the “Wanna Date?” voice button on the FRANKENHOOKER VHS box? The foldout boxes, the holograms, the tin box sets, the steel books…Ah well. But yes, the magic of the anticipation, the obsession over the artwork and the extras is slowly…slipping away, sadly. Thankfully, there’s still companies out there like SRS Cinema, Wild Eye Entertainment, and Vinegar Syndrome and many more that cater to us diehards….with all these extra goodies! They may be limited editions, but we still get our fix! Now the bigger question is why does everyone need 4K and 10K video when they’re watching their movies on shows on a four inch screen on their phone?!? That picture is only going to be so good!
What goals do you currently have? Do you plan to just keep doing your thing or are you trying to build to something bigger?
One thing leads to another, so I just kind of wait to see what comes next. Do one project, it usually leads to another. Do a horror con or show, you’re also networking, offers eventually come of some sort. So at this point, I have no plan, and it’s tougher than ever to raise money and get noticed in this business. Even with the tools to make movies being so affordable in a lot of ways, the process remains the same and costs a lot of money. The old days of raising funds through limited partnerships are over, now it’s Indiegogo “donations” and in the hands of the fans in a lot of cases, but again—-very competitive and if you don’t get the proper budget and take the money—it’s a real challenge to get something good done. I had always hoped to get a larger budget at some point, and I’ve been very close many, many times, but sadly, things fall through at the last moment in most cases. I’ve had a lot of “almost” situations, and when they don’t pan out, I usually return to the smaller budgeted stuff, or even NO BUDGET stuff, to keep at it. But you never know, I hope something bigger happens. I’ve written some novels in the past and would like to do one or two more, just to get some ideas down and not have to write around budgetary and location restraints! So a novel or two might be in my future again!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about your biggest inspirations.
Well, of course! Wes Craven, John Carpenter, David Cronemberg, George Romero… Savini… those guys were King when I was growing up and obsessing over Fangoria! I hung onto every word they said. William Lustig, William Friedkin…the list is endless. Spielberg, from DUEL to JURASSIC PARK era, he’s made so many great movies, I’m just so obsessed with JAWS, always have been since I saw it in the theater in 1975! STAR WARS and EMPIRE- George Lucas, just such great respect for the man, a fantastic visionary. And what’s kept me fueled and inspired as a low to no budget moviemaker are flicks like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD ’68, DAWN OF THE DEAD, HALLOWEEN ’78, PHANTASM, WITHOUT WARNING…movies like that! Can’t fail to mention HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and NATURAL BORN KILLERS…just more inspiration there!
What is your proudest accomplishment to date?
Movie wise, I’d say, well, being featured in Fangoria # 146 in a huge color article! That was like winning an Academy Award for me, as I grew up loving FAMOUS MONSTERS and reading FANGO from issue # 1. One of my goals was always to be featured in Fangoria magazine for my movies, and in high school, I was the kid in the back of the room reading that mag obsessively!
And I’d say that was my peak moviemaking era- every director, big or small, has like a peak, a decade where they release their best material, and mine seems to have been like 1985 to 1995 or so, and that Fango article was like the zenith of my success, covering all the movies I’m best known for quite well—TRUTH OR DARE, WICKED GAMES, KILLING SPREE, and CREEP! So it was a proud moment and i really felt like I was on top of the world at that moment…for a brief spell, anyway! It’s all…a twisted illusion, you know? [laughs] And now, the Internet has ground up magazines into antiquated confetti, sadly, and even Fangoria has…gone out of business! Fortunately, we had some more great coverage in the mag and in its sister publication, GOREZONE, so, that was great! Brad Sykes wrote an article about the making of HI-8 at large and I got an article into GOREZONE chronicling the making of my short SWITCHBLADE INSANE. So briefly, I felt on top of the world again until they all went out of business! Sadly, no one reads magazines much anymore, and even though it FELT like we were doing something HUGE, the reality of it all couldn’t be further from the truth! No one was reading that stuff in 2014!
And finally, is there anything at all you’d like to get off your chest? The floor is yours!
I’d just like to thank the fans of my stuff for being so diehard and keeping my stuff alive all these decades- it’s appreciated beyond what I can say! The folks buying the limited special edition Blu’s from SRS, and the folks collecting the old VHS releases, the posters, the original releases, all that stuff—THANK YOU! Without you, I’d have been gone and out of the biz a long time ago, and special thanks to friends and fans like Matt Hill and Scott Tepperman for bugging me enough that we made new movies—pushing me ahead enough to make stuff like TRUTH OR DARE 4 and 5, without passionate fans like that really being so enthusiastic about the old stuff and wanting more, I probably wouldn’t have done this more recent stuff. So really, the fans are totally who have kept all this alive now, and with the Internet, it brings us together no matter where we live. Love hearing all the old stories about how people discovered my old movies, whether it was on VHS in the early mom and pop rental days or on Netflix Streaming- when that started, a lot of people don’t know this or remember it, but my movies were among the first they had on there, TRUTH OR DARE, KILLING SPREE, CREEP, etc. and that’s when a huge, renewed enthusiam hit from fans—people seeing those movies again and remembering them or seeing them for the first time, so in that sense, Streaming has been really good to me! Of course, that was when Streaming first started to take off, in 2007 or so, and of course, when its successful, they drop the little guys, go to the studios, and eventually….MAKE THEIR OWN DANG MOVIES, as Lloyd Kaufmann would say! Sad, but…no matter what, I’ve been blessed with my little moviemaking endeavors and had a really good time with it all and some nice successes. I can’t complain at all! Thank you so much for the interview and for helping keep this alive!
T i m
Writer and Moviemaker
Tim Ritter Facebook Page
Deadly Dares On Youtube