Filmmaker Interview: Daniel Monroe of the HOUSE OF HORRORS
October 14, 2009 by Greg Lamberson

As you can imagine, I've watched a lot of micro-budget horror movies. Generally speaking, you have to watch these films with a forgiving eye; they might have amateurish camera work, poor sound, weak acting, or all of the above. Last week I gave a very favorable review to HOUSE OF HORRORS: THE MOVIE, a supernatural slasher film set in one of Buffalo's most elaborate haunt attractions. The film is notable for its stylish cinematography, professional audio, and superior editing, and is now available for $14.95. I was staggered to learn that it had cost less than $2,000; I had imagined a figure ten times higher. The credit for this achievement goes to Daniel Monroe, who conceived, wrote, directed, shot and edited the film. I've never met the man, and was even more impressed with his abilities after conducting this interview. Once again, I recommend HOH:TM to fans of B horror films and slasher films alike. It is only available as a brand new, Limited Edition DVD.

I was intrigued reading your biography. You're a photographer, musician, and you create the live shows at Fantasy Island on Grand Island. What made you take the plunge into feature filmmaking?

My company has been providing the entertainment at Martin's Fantasy Island for over 10 years. One of my live shows there, "Fairy Tale Theater", was actually reinvented into my first filmmaking venture. Shot 100% green-screen, I was able to tell the story using any backdrop I could come up with. (website: www.TheFairyTaleMovie.com). This small children's film was the perfect learning experience for later projects.

HOUSE OF HORRORS: THE MOVIE is centered around the haunt attraction in Cheektowaga, NY, outside Buffalo. What was your inspiration for this project, and how did it come together?

My passion and love for the Halloween season led me to begin working at the House Of Horrors last year portraying the iconic killing machine Michael Myers. While wandering through the various houses one night, it occurred to me that this haunted attraction would make the perfect backdrop for a horror flick. The owner, Tim Bunch, was both supportive and enthusiastic about the project which I began developing in my head that very night.

A few years ago, Red Scream Films produced FRIGHTWORLD, also centered a local haunt. It wasn't very well made and it hasn't been very well received. Did you have to convince Tim Bunch, the HOH owner who executive produced the movie, and other people involved that you had higher ambitions for your film?

Actually it was the exact opposite response. Opinions of the FRIGHTWORLD movie were so low that everyone was more than enthusiastic about making a really good feature based on a Western New York Haunted House. I know firsthand that the people at FRIGHTWORLD were originally saying "they're just copying us"... but I think the end results of each feature obviously disproves that statement.

I know you used a very unique camera on this film, which led to a pretty exhausting post production process. Can you describe these?

I shot the film with a Canon HV30 which, in itself, is nothing unique. I did however use a series of 35mm film lenses and adapters to achieve a "film look" which I was very pleased with. The additional lenses gave the production a much needed "depth of field" which is common in most Hollywood productions.

In my opinion, one of the most overlooked aspects of "independent" films is the sound. Getting a great image onscreen is only half the battle. If the sound is poor, the end result of the entire movie is lessened. EVERY SOUND heard in the movie was added later in post production... every noise, every effect, every line of dialogue. Owning my own production studio made this easy as the actors would come in, listen to their original "camera audio" and replace each line one at a time. This process is extremely time consuming - but the end result is much more pleasing and professional sounding than relying on boom mics on set.

The entire movie was recorded in Steinberg's Nuendo 3 and edited in SONY Vegas 9.0.

The film is pretty extraordinary, one of the best looking digital features I've seen, and the cinematography is stylish, which is very rare for a low budget film. What was your shooting schedule like?

My main goal while producing this movie was to make a "no-budget independent film" which LOOKED like a film with a larger budget. I have seen a lot of other locally made indie-films... and most of the time that's exactly what they end up looking like. "Hey... we got a camera... let's go make a movie". I spent a lot of time studying the angles and cinematography of Hitchcock and John Carpenter.

The shooting schedule was very open and flexible. I did not want to say "ok, we have 12 days... let's do it". I shot the movie in about 3 months, on and off, taking as much time as needed to get the shots I needed.

The biggest hurdle in this entire production was simply that I am only one guy. Writing, casting, directing, filming, recording, editing, looping, website creation, artwork, posters... it has certainly taken a toll on me this past year. Don't get me wrong, I did have a few key people on set helping out, but as far as the end result I knew exactly what I wanted and stuck to my own guns on every aspect. This way, if the movie ended up being bad, there was only myself to blame.

My Director of Promotions & Marketing, Kelly Waite-Stabler, has worked tirelessly to get the film as much local promotion as possible.

I recognized some of your actors, like Michael O'Hear, Jennifer DiNorcia, and Angelina Leigh. Was all of your talent local?

All of the talent was local. Many of the leads are employees of mine from the Martin's Fantasy Island Shows. Sandra Grover, Russell Jaffe, Codie Kremblas, Alex Argen and Michael Sweeney all roam the streets of "Westerntown" at Fantasy Island during the summer months. Many of the remaining parts were filled by House Of Horrors actors which perform at the house each Halloween season. I was lucky enough to get Angelina Leigh to cameo in the film, along with Michael O'Hear who was simply outstanding to work with.

I shot a short film in the House of Horrors a few years ago, when it was at its previous location - also an old Ames department store - and I recognized a lot of the sets and props. The obvious advantage to shooting there is that you have all of that art direction available to you.

Yes, having a million dollar haunted house as your movie set was invaluable. I cannot thank Tim Bunch enough for his enthusiasm and support on this project. Tim's dedication to the House Of Horrors is extraordinary. He's a very savvy businessman and knows exactly what he wants as he oversees every aspect of the house. The House Of Horrors is also the only house that gives a large percentage of the profits to Variety Kids Telethon.

HOH: THE MOVIE is essentially a slasher film, but there is an abundance of other story ingredients as well: the occult, secrets within the church, paranormal investigations, and some nice twists at the end. How challenging was it for you as a writer to tie these elements to a haunt?

Again, from what I've seen with most indie-horror films, story is secondary to the effects and the gore. I took the opposite approach. I actually came up with all the different story elements first, then set them in the haunt second. I never tried to show an "unnecessary" killing. If it didn't benefit the story, I didn't do it. I want the audience to enjoy the film yes, but I also want them to think a bit.

I also didn't want to spend "film time" on the house and the props. I use them as a backdrop to the story only. Spending too much time on the "house" can slow the pace of the story. Focus on characters and plot... then let the "house" fill in the gaps.

I remember Rod Durick telling me about his blood canon gag, but when I saw it on screen I thought it was a digital effect. Very effective!

Rod Durick and his crew were amazing... I only wish I had utilized them more than I did!

Jennifer DiNorcia's death scene was one of the most brutal ones I've ever seen. A lot of your target audience will like that, but did you ever worry that you'd gone too far with it?

Yes I had considered that. However, if you watch the scene closely you never really "see" anything. It's implied. Yes there's blood and a machete, and the audience knows what's happening... but the mind does the rest.

I really tried to achieve "balance" in the film. Story, humor, killings... get the audience comfortable then hit them really hard... then get them to chuckle about it. We'll see if it works once people start viewing the film.

Many of the deaths are "implied" or assumed. John Carpenter mastered this with Halloween, from which I drew much of my inspiration. So many movies - both Hollywood and indie - go way over the top with "shock gore" these days, ex: Rob Zombie's "H2". In my opinion "gore" is not scary... it's just gory. John Carpenter's Halloween had no "gore"... yet it's considered to this day as one of the scariest films ever made.

Throughout the film, different characters intone that "there is no God," and you offer a pretty dark portrayal of the Catholic Church. Are you worried about controversy, hoping for controversy, or just trying to tell a story?

I'm not going to lie and say that the "anti-religious overtones" of the film were "just story". I have very strong opinions on "the Church" and "organized religion". Yes, they came out predominately in the film. Was I intentionally adding these plots to create controversy? No. But I do feel they fit in nicely with this kind of horror flick.

Why do you think so many low budget horror films are being made in Buffalo?

It's not just Buffalo... it's everywhere. Why? Because (in my opinion) I think people think that making a horror movie is easy. "Hey, grab some blood and Dad's video camera... let's go into the basement and make a movie!". Is there room for those types of "indie-films"? Absolutely. Creativity is creativity - in whatever form it ends up ...and I will always support that. One thing this world needs right now is more creativity.

Your next film is a love story called SEASONS OF THE HEART. Do you think you'll make another horror film, or did you say everything you wanted to about the genre with HOH: THE MOVIE?

My passion is storytelling... I love telling a good story in whatever form it takes. That being said, the "horror" genre is certainly my most preferred avenue. My "horror loyalties" lie with Tim Bunch and the House Of Horrors... so maybe... HOH2? ... stay tuned.

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