Wisconsin based filmmaker, Cory Udler marches to the beat of his own drummer. The fact that his drummer is a maniac with ball-peen hammers for sticks and a hollowed out human torso-snare is of little consequence. It just means that Cory makes weird flicks. His influences comprise the A-list of B-movies from the pinnacle of exploitation filmmaking. But to say that he doesn’t follow in anyone’s footsteps would be only partially true. Udler walks a filmmaking path along side footprints that may occasionally be shaped like oversized clown shoes, speckled with blood, or dinosaur’s feet, or perhaps even the dainty toe-and-stiletto-heel imprints of horny, shotgun-wielding nuns. But Cory’s exploitation tropes are very much his own. In fact, those same influential legends are now turning to Cory to provide exploitive fodder for their crazy cannons. After writing for the likes of Ted V. Mikels, and writing and directing his own set of exploitation/horror flicks, it appears the sky’s the limit for the esteemed Mr. Udler. Ravenous Monster recently tracked down the movie maverick and picked his brain like a shark among carrion, but with more alcohol and swearing. Read on….
RavMon: Please tell us a bit about your arduous and adventurous path into the world of indie horror filmmaking.
Cory: I was raised on a steady diet of Godzilla movies, The Three Stooges and Hammer Horror movies. When I was about 12 or 13, back in the days of horse drawn carriages and words like “rad”, I discovered a gem of a TV show called “The Incredibly Strange Film Show” hosted by Jonathan Ross. Every episode is on YouTube, so I strongly encourage everyone to go find it and watch it. Basically it was an hour long feature on various weird filmmakers like Ted V Mikels, HG Lewis, Ray Dennis Steckler, Ed Wood and Doris Wishman. Like I said, I was a fan of horror and odd movies before seeing the show, but it was after seeing it that I realized that the characters creating those movies were almost as interesting as the movies themselves. So from that point forward I would seek out Ted’s movies, or Herschell’s movies and just watch them over and over again. I was never a huge Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday The 13th fan. With that stuff you know what you’re going to get. With Ted’s movies or John Waters’ movies, they were different, they had something more to say, and that was my kink from that point forward. How I personally started to make weird movies, I wrote a script called “The Jitters” for a company out of Costa Mesa, California like 8 years ago or something, a horror script. I think they wanted something commercial but I gave them this weird script, probably poorly formatted and written, that had odd subplots about a diphtheria outbreak and shit. The company folded like 2 months after I sent the script in, not due to me I wouldn’t think, but I started to contact Ted V Mikels and Bill Rebane and just some of the guys I admired who’s films I loved, and struck up a relationship with them, started to write for Ted, helped Bill with some little projects he had going at the time. I had written Incest Death Squad and had it just sitting around, and saw on the Troma site that Lloyd Kaufman was looking for scripts so I sent it to him and he actually called me. I met him a few months later and he told me to make it myself and that he’d come and be in it for me, that was it. That was the catalyst, and I made the movie.
RavMon: What are the films that scared and inspired the young Cory Udler and what are the films that inform your work now?
Cory: Any movie from Ted, Herschell, John Waters, George Romero, Jodorowski, Lloyd, Charles Band. The more bizarre and outrageous the better. That’s what inspired me. Out of all of them, Ted, Lloyd and Charles were the guys I always looked up to. They made the best of the best to me. As far as movies that scared me? I was never afraid of monsters. I still find monsters to be quaint and comfortable. It was human beings that scared me the most. Chainsaw still creeps me out. Deranged is another great one. Freaks from Tod Browning. Real people with their darkest sides turned to the lights of the camera, that’s really scary. The scariest movie I’ve seen in probably the last 10 years is Zodiac. I watch it still and find myself frozen in terror that some dude is out there just picking people off and treating it like a sick game. As far as what inspires me now? Nothing, really. Not to sound like I’m above anyone or whatever, but I’m not inspired by anything anyone else is doing. I think my inspiration just comes from 25 years of watching weird shit like Deranged and Zombie Lake, you know?
RavMon: You have a formal background in video production, yet you’re not only a director, but a prolific screenwriter as well. Which of these is your first love?
Cory: Writing, for sure. Directing tends to just be compromise after compromise. When you’re writing, it’s just you, your mind, your heart, your soul and a blank page. Nobody you have to take care of, no egos or schedules to work against. Just you and the words. The sky is the limit when you write. Directing makes me insane, but I do love it when I have that first printed DVD of the final product in my hand. It makes the headaches worth it.
RavMon: How did your relationship with Charles Band and Full Moon Pictures come about?
Cory: Charles came through Madison on his Road Show tour like 5 years ago or something and I talked a friend of mine into going with me. We had a couple too many cocktails and had way too good of a time, so much so that we had Charles almost cracking up every 5 minutes when he was trying to do his show. Now keep in mind, Charles was a guy I admired, and here I am a big stupid half drunk mess yelling out shit like “BOOBIES!” at him during the show. I got to meet him after the show and he said “you guys should come on tour with me.” So I asked him how much it paid. He laughed and said, “Nothing!” I ran into Charles at a convention later that year and from that point forward I did conventions for him, did some press and PR work, I’m actually doing things for him for the Evil Bong 3D show in Madison April 23rd. So yeah, it’s pretty fucking surreal to be able to just e mail Charles or call him and do some work for him. He’s one of my favorite people in the world, and I just love that man to death.
RavMon: I was there when you presented Bill Rebane with the Madison Horror Film Fest Life Time Achievement Award. For those who don’t know, he has the distinction of creating the Midwest’s only movie studio which churned out several films including “Monster A Go-Go” and “The Giant Spider Invasion”. Has he imparted any sage advice to you regarding genre filmmaking in the land of beer and cheese?
Cory: That was a big moment for me, actually. Bill thought it was all a gag until we gave him the plaque, then he was genuinely touched. Bill was a guy who basically told Hollywood to go fuck itself and he built a fully furnished movie studio in the middle of nowhere, in Gleason, Wisconsin. Bill made sure his family was well taken care of, kids through school, everything by making movies in Wisconsin. He’s a one of a kind and a real treasure. Bill and I don’t share the same outlook on the “biz”. Bill has been on me forever to change the name of Incest Death Squad to something else and do some re-shoots on it, re-cut some stuff, try to get a good distribution deal, whatever. I just look at it like “ok, chapter one, done, next”. I want to learn, grow, create better art, better movies, reach more people my way, a more grass roots way. Bill sees filmmaking all from a business perspective, and I have had to as well in the last 3 years, but that shit just bums me out, so I do it my way without answering to a fucking distributor or an investor or whatever. But I have learned more from Bill than I could ever express, even if it wasn’t intentional on his part, I have learned a great deal just by being a part of Bill’s world. I love Bill and his wife, Barb, and I feel like a grandson to them. I’ve also been lucky enough to become friends with Dave Bellmont out of the Twin Cities who has been working on a documentary on Bill’s life and career for many, many years. Kinostadt Films is Dave’s company. I know he’s working on the selects edit of the film now, and it’s going to be fantastic once it’s done. So yeah, I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of learning from my time knowing Bill. And really, be honest, is there a more fun movie than “Giant Spider Invasion”? No.
RavMon: What is the film scene like now in Wisconsin? Is it any more or less difficult to secure the resources necessary to get a project completed?
Cory: Is there a “scene” in Wisconsin? If there is, I don’t know about it. There are so many incredible actors, but as far as a film scene, I don’t know that there really is one. Then again, I made Incest Death Squad, I’m sure nobody is clamoring to have me as a part of their “scene” if there is indeed one. There are some insanely talented people writing, directing, acting, whatever. I don’t, personally, find it all that difficult. I steal shots, locations, lie to get people to sign off on release forms, not actors or crew, they know what I’m up to, but you know, to get a location or something, fuck yeah, tell them you’re making a student film. People around here either A, don’t give a shit what you’re doing or B, want to be a part of it. I write, direct, DP, edit, cast the movies, get locations, schedule, name it, I do it. And I’ve been lucky to have my cast and crews help me with everything. Tom Lodewyck is the greatest guy to me, he takes such good care of me and I love that guy. He’s helped me and the movies so much, I can’t even tell you. So, no, I don’t think it’s as difficult here as say LA to make a movie at the level I make movies at. I’m not making high budget commercial shit. I’m making weird exploitation movies.
RavMon: You prominently feature music in your films and I think you do it quite successfully. What’s your approach to picking the music for your films?
Cory: 9 times out of 10 I have a song in my head when I’m writing a particular scene. Most of the time I don’t have the money or resource to get that song, so I find something that’s close to it, and in most cases it turns out even better than what I had in mind before. I’ve been lucky. Star*Rats gave me their music for Incest Death Squad 2, Britny Fox gave me “Girlschool” for Incest 1. And Madison’s music scene is second to fucking none. Helliphant, El Valiente, Vid Libert. For Mediatrix I have Lords of the Trident. Mommy Sez No is a great band that always gives me awesome stuff to use. I don’t score the movies, well, I should say I haven’t, the closest I had was Judge Hydrogen’s stuff for Incest 2. On Mediatrix I have some music from Jack Acid (Sewer Chewer director James Hawley) that is just way far out that he’s given me. And thank you for the compliment, I’d like to think I have a good ear for music. I love using some death metal bands and stuff, but you have to create a mood. I know some people thought my use of Vid Libert’s music in Incest 2 was probably boring, but to me, his music elevated that movie to places I didn’t even imagine. I wanted a folk, acoustic, stripped down soundtrack for a bunch of scenes in the movie and Vid’s stuff just nailed it. You can’t just have screaming ass death metal for every fucking scene, then it turns into a cartoon. El Valiente’s music, to me, made Incest 1 the movie it is. All of the instrumental stuff in the movie is El Valiente. They’re one of the greatest bands on earth, and yeah, all of the bands and artists who have given music to the movies were a huge component in making the movies what they are, and I thank each and every one of them.
RavMon: What have your experiences been like working with Ted V. Mikels and what can we expect from “Corpse Grinders 3”?
Cory: Ted is my muse. Ted lives, breathes, eats and sleeps making movies. Ted is in his mid 80’s, has had financial issues, health issues with his back and such, but never, and I mean never, will you hear Ted complain. Instead he’ll talk all day about making movies. And it’s always about his next movie. “What should we do next, Cory?” I have said it in just about every interview I’ve done, the proudest achievement in my professional life is writing movies for Ted V Mikels. If I never do another thing, I will always proudly say that I wrote for Ted V Mikels. It’s a hoot working with Ted. When I wrote “Demon Haunt” for him a few years back, I wrote it knowing his budgetary constraints. But what did Ted do? Once he had it, he blew it up into a massive CGI undertaking that took years to complete. I told someone once that I could write a gritty script, send it to Ted and he could decide it needed a dinosaur in it, and that’s what you’d see on screen. The first like 14 minutes of Demon Haunt, I didn’t write. I saw the movie and went “oh my God, he hated my script and totally re-wrote it!”. After the 14 minute mark it kicked into my script, but Ted didn’t like that the movie just started with no real backstory. But Ted and I will go back and forth when we’re in the middle of a story idea. It’s not uncommon for us to talk 3 or 4 times in one night on the phone. He has an idea, he calls me, I have one, I’ll call him. It’s such a treat, a dream come true. And Corpse Grinders 3 is one that I have been mulling over in my head for a long time. I wasn’t sure if Ted would be open to doing almost a re-boot of the series, or what I thought could be a remake, modern day. It’s a hybrid. It’s got all of the fun little things about 1, but with my spin on it. Once I’m done, then Ted will put his spin on it, and what comes out, I guarantee will be fun. Demon Haunt and Astro Zombies M3: Cloned, the two I wrote for Ted, have been heralded by reviewers for being “exploitation with a soul”, and I think that comes from both of us. Moreso Ted than me, but I think we’re a good pair. And I’m blessed that he’s allowed me into his world. It trips me out every single time I think about it.
RavMon: Tell us about your next feature, “Mediatrix” – a film that sounds like it will explore some of the same religious themes as “Incest Death Squad”, but with a completely different tone and perspective.
Cory: I don’t want this to come across wrong, but I don’t make horror movies. When I think or horror movies I think of the big gothic Hammer stuff, or the stalk-and-slash movies, or zombies or whatever. Incest 1 and 2, to me, were just exploitation movies. They had horror elements, but so does CSI on tv. That’s not a horror show. It’s got more gore and violence than either of my movies, but that doesn’t mean it’s horror. I only ever set out to make weird movies. That’s it. That’s all I ever said I wanted. I wanted Incest 1 to be weird on all levels, from the fucking frantic shitty camera work, to the humor, everything. Weird. Period. The script was an indictment on Bush’s politics and the religious right and their manipulation of people. Mediatrix, same ball game. Again, not horror. Not one bit of this movie is horror. Exploitation. It’ll be a slicker movie. On Incest 1 I just wanted to make the movie the way I thought it should be made. In the time between Incest 1 and Incest 2 I was giving way too much credence to reviewers and other filmmakers and their opinions, whatever. So I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself to make a more streamlined movie in all the technical aspects, never losing sight on the story aspects. And Paula Waterman Duerksen, who wrote the story, has given me a script that I could have never have written. Either couldn’t write or just didn’t write, either way, the perspective is different because it’s someone else and that someone else is an incredibly strong woman. It’s really from her brain, through my eyes, to your screen. So yeah, the perspective is totally different. It’s going to be fucking amazing, though, I can promise you that.
RavMon: Are you religious?
Cory: No. I’m self aware. I’m probably spiritual in some way. I mean, there has to be more to the whole scheme of things than just fucking Lady Gaga, XBox and Facebook, right? I mean, your Kindle doesn’t broaden your third eye, does it? Unless you’re reading a digital book on how to broaden your third eye. I believe that there was a Jesus, and that he was fucking amazing. Do I buy into organized religion? Watch my movies. I think spirituality and a sense of your own mortality and your place in the world means more than just shuffling off to church for an hour a week so your neighbors can see you making your appearance there. People hide behind religion because they’re afraid to face themselves.
RavMon: Why do you think religion is featured so often as a source of antagonism, not only in horror, but in fiction at large?
Cory: Because people are afraid of it. They’re afraid of dying, they’re afraid of going to hell. Oddly enough, they’re not afraid of the consequences of their smallest actions on a daily basis. What are the two things they always say you are not to discuss with people? Politics and religion. Well guess what I’m going to talk about? And guess what I’m going to flank with boobs, cursing and blood?
RavMon: There’s a long list of “B-movie” mavericks that includes Ed Wood, Roger Corman, Lloyd Kaufman, as well as the aforementioned Charles Band, Ted V. Mikels and many, many more. You seem to be carrying the torch of this peculiar niche of filmmaking, employing a broadly similar aesthetic and approach to the form. Is that a fair assessment?
Cory: I certainly don’t belong anywhere near those names. The fact that Ted’s last 2 movies say “written by Cory J Udler and Ted V Mikels” is already weird enough. Like I said before, my influence is 25 years of watching Corpse Grinders and Troll and Surf Nazi’s Must Die and Polyester and the Warhol Dracula and Frankenstein movies. My movies aren’t for everyone. I don’t want to be Michael Bay. I want to be Ted V Mikels, in that 50 years from now you look at my movies and go “he made comedy, he made horror, he made sci fi, he made drama”, you know? I know there’s no money in this for me. I don’t want to sell my soul, I have no aspirations of making huge money doing this. I just want to be able to do it. I think a lot of people get into things needing to succeed to great heights. I already have. I wrote movies for one of my idols, I wrote a sidebar for Lloyd’s next book, I work for Charles, you know? You can’t put a fucking price tag on what I’ve been able to do and see, man. But as far as carrying on along the trail those guys blazed, a boy can dream, you know?
RavMon: These movies are incredible on so many levels and have rabidly devoted fan bases, yet they’re often over looked by the mainstream. Are these the types of movies you set out to make or is this niche where you find your opportunities most readily exist?
Cory: I said it earlier, I just wanted to make an honest and weird movie. That’s it. The exploitation movies, the weird shit, that stuff spoke to me. It meant more to me. You can’t watch Astro Zombies and not know that came from the heart, you know? But watch fucking The Last Airbender and you know that came from nowhere. That came from a conveyor belt in the Hollywood system. These movies will never have massive success, especially in today’s marketplace where we are void of grindhouse theatres and drive-in’s. Hell, even the home video market is a tough sell. But what these movies do have is a shelf life. It’s a slow burn. Instead of being a 20 trillion dollar 3D remake that comes out, hits number one, drops to number 7 the next week, hits DVD, huge for a week, then nobody cares, movies like Astro Zombies and Troll and Blood Feast, those last forever. Every few years it’s a new group of kids that discover them and breathe new life into them. That’s fucking awesome. Longevity, that’s what these movies have. In 20 years is The Social Network going to mean a fucking thing? It’s a Facebook movie! Is Facebook going to be around in 10 years? MySpace was the biggest thing since discount carpeting when it came out, now it’s basically nothing. Astro Zombies, that lives forever. But no, I didn’t set out to make anything except exactly what I wanted to make. Weird fucking movies. Period. I didn’t put the digital film wear and hairs on it. I just made what my heart told me to make. As fucked up as that may be.
RavMon: Do you ever worry about getting pigeonholed?
Cory: Nah. I did at one point, I was really freaking out about being the “Incest movie” guy forever. But you know what? If I am, fine. They were honest, they were mine. They were a snapshot of my mind at a certain point in my life. I have never aspired to do anything other than make a weird movie or two, so, no. Not worried. I love everything about the movies and all of the people who have supported the movies and bought the movies and made their friends watch the movies and to the cast and crew of the movies who made it all come to life. I love that. I’m lucky.
RavMon: Will we ever see a mainstream Cory Udler picture?
Cory: Only if I completely change my perspective on life, film, art and the world.
RavMon: When Aaron and Amber meet at the bar, “Incest Death Squad” becomes an entirely different film. The tone turns much bleaker and it morphs into a much more cerebral, almost melancholy movie. Later, we even feel some odd empathy for Amber, of all characters, as Aaron leaves the farm. I think that speaks volumes about your potential as a filmmaker – that you can leave “B Movie” territory any time you’d like to. Was that shift in tone planned in advance?
Cory: Yeah, for sure. Incest Death Squad 1 and 2 are both nothing more than character studies. Incest 1 is, and I hate to keep saying it, a super weird movie. It’s slapstick, it’s drama, it’s just fucking strange, it’s gross, it’s bizarre, it makes you laugh, makes you gag, makes you feel, makes you think. It’s not slick. But it’s all about the characters and their situations. Thank God I had the actors I had, dude, because without them, it could have been just fucking bollocks. When you see “B- movies” today, there’s nothing about them that makes you think, nothing you can hang on to. They’re just “4 friends camping, woods, boobs, blood, axe, lather, rinse, repeat”. That bores me. I want something fucking out there, man, something insane, something that I have never seen before. So basically, I try to make the movies, the genre movies, that I would want to see.
RavMon: What are some of the lessons you learned from making “Incest Death Squad” that prompted changes going into to making “Incest Death Squad 2”?
Cory: I’m constantly learning. That’s the fun. I don’t think there were any actual “lessons”. I just wanted to make a totally different movie, you know? I made part 1, why make it again? I wanted to fix the mistakes I had made, either technically or personally, from doing 1, and make 2 just better all around. I don’t know if I did that, but I know we made a better movie for sure.
RavMon: “Incest Death Squad 2” eschews much of the campy humor. Why?
Cory: Well, like I said, no sense in making the same movie twice. I wouldn’t have done a sequel to the movie if I didn’t think I had more to prove and say. Nobody was paying me to make the same movie, and I probably put more pressure on myself than anyone else ever could have. I actually shot a scene with Lloyd for the movie, but it was way too goofy and way too campy. On Incest 1, his scene was the first we shot. First thing for the movie was that scene. That set the tone. I wanted to set the tone myself on Incest 2, and I did by making the script super dark from the word “go”.
RavMon: Indie horror is often times made by people with lots of passion and imagination, and little “classic” technique and experience. The results bear innovative, outside-the-box methods of storytelling via film. As a result, indie horror has always blazed trails that mainstream movies eventually follow. The areas where the lack of experience and technique tend to negatively manifest are acting and writing. For example, my crazy uncle probably won’t win an Oscar for his role as “GUY WITH AXE”. Having said all that, your films have featured some relatively impressive acting chops. I think Greg Johnson, in particular, has done some interesting things as Jeb and Tom Lodewyck and Melissa Murphy both old up carrying the load with their experience. What’s your approach to casting and how much emphasis do you put on coaxing specific performances out of your actors when you’re directing?
Cory: This is going to sound wrong, but you need to start with a good script. You do that, the actors are going to work at least to the level of the story and the words. I was lucky enough that everyone you mentioned, and also Carmela Wiese, Matt Ukena and everyone else, acted way above the material. I think horror filmmakers and indie filmmakers put more stock into what they’re shooting it on, or how they can win a film fest award for sound design than they are about the actors on screen that an audience has to spend 90 minutes with. I’m a gut-instinct-guy with actors. So far, obviously, my instincts have been right. I haven’t had to coax anything out of the actors thus far, they are all amazing.
RavMon: What’s your take on the fact that a vast majority of studio backed horror movies are remakes? Does it affect your outlook on the future of the genre and your approach to it?
Cory: Not one bit. I don’t live in that world. I don’t want to. It seems disgusting to me. They are remakes, or uninteresting ghost stories, or sequels, prequels, threequels, whatever. Horror is always a guaranteed money maker. Regardless of any other trends. And horror fans are starving for horror. Anything horror. They’re amazing fans, the most dedicated. But someone who’s going to shell out $10 bucks to see Piranha 3D probably isn’t fucking dying to see Incest Death Squad, you know? So I don’t concern myself with that. Like I said before, nothing going on today in horror or exploitation influences me at all. Not that I don’t think there’s good stuff being made on a larger scale, there is. But it’s just not something that strikes a chord with me.
RavMon: What’s more terrifying to shoot, Lloyd Kaufman’s “Grandma Blowjob and dead, bloody vaginas” monologue, or Greg Johnson’s penis?
Cory: [laughs] Both are very erotic, in their own special way. Neither is terrifying to me. They’re both a pleasure to shoot, due to the fact that those are 2 of the most fearless, dedicated performers you could ever wish to work with, and I’m blessed that each of them gave so much to me and to the movies and to the fans of the movies with what they were willing to say and do.
RavMon: Following the success “Incest Death Squad” and its sequel and with “Corpse Grinders 3” and “Mediatrix” on the way, what else can Ravenous Monster readers expect from you in the future?
Cory: No idea! That’s all I have for now. I’m not one of those guys who has, like, 12 projects in various stages of never getting done on IMDb. I’m focused on Mediatrix and writing Corpse Grinders 3, that is it, that is all. I’ll talk to you in 6 months, and if I’m lucky enough, I’ll have my next project in pre production!