In a small Colorado town, three non-demon hunter friends must use every skill their minds can fathom to stave off the demon apocalypse. So goes the intriguing description for long time DN alum Eric Power’s Attack of the Demons, his second trip into the realm of cut paper animated features. With the Attack of the Demons proof of concept trailer making its chilling way online recently, I spoke to Eric about 90s nostalgia, taking his paper animation craft to another dimension and how the VoD release of his first feature paved the way for this more ambitious passion project.
Stranger Things seems to have massively revitalised an interest in retro vibed projects but Attack of the Demons is actually a passion project you’ve had in mind for a while. Can you tell us more about the story, the roots of the film and your collaboration with Andreas Petersen?
Yeah! There are so many like minded filmmakers out there. We all grew up with these amazing films that have imprinted on our minds and influenced our own creative endeavors. Attack of the Demons began in 2010, before my first film Path of Blood took over. I had a very loose concept of a small Colorado town overrun by monsters living deep underground. The film stayed a dream until 2015 when I was introduced to Andreas Petersen. We shared similar tastes in horror and began revisiting my early concept, which Andreas fleshed out into a full screenplay. When he sent me the first draft, I could not keep a smile off my face. He brought something to the table that I feel I’ve been missing in my previous work. The story and characters are the beating heart here and if I can do justice to the words on the page, the audience should be in for a real treat.
The film centers on a small town in Colorado where an evil force is awakened from deep within the mountains during an annual Halloween festival. The terror escalates until a small group of friends are the only force standing in the way of a demon apocalypse. We chose to set our story in an alternate universe 1994. One of the coolest things about this for me personally is it frees things up for me to play in a nostalgic world almost as if it is seen through a fever dream. The concept of alternate realities already interests me, so it’s really been a blast diving down the rabbit hole. When it comes to our reality however, there were numerous cinematic influences ranging from the Giallos of the 70s such as Lamberto Bava’s Demons, to the wild no holds barred films of the 80s like Re-Animator, From Beyond, and the Blob (1988).
When we last spoke you said, “The next step is characters that can rotate in 3 dimensions and burst out of the confines I thought were holding me back.” Have you managed to crack that or any other technique challenges which were frustrating you?
I have most certainly burst through several barriers that I previously thought were there. Cut paper animation is often thought of as flat and very 2 dimensional. I feel like my work has become far more layered with believable depth of field and movement. I have run several tests since last we spoke in order to achieve the effect of a character rotating in 3 dimensions. I’ve had some success, one of which you can see in the skeleton from the Movie Tron ad whose head rotates to the camera. Recently I tried it on a more detailed human face, but the effect drew too much attention to itself I felt, so I scaled it back. In order to achieve it, the inbetweens need to be very seamless. It’s something I need to work on some more, but I do believe I’m getting close.
I am approaching Attack of the Demons as if I were shooting a live action film, so cinematography is key. I feel the shot choices and editing are going to be instrumental in pulling audiences into the world. Lighting is also key, and it’s something I am experimenting a ton with lately. If I am lucky, all the elements will merge together to form a compelling whole.
Path of Blood, your first venture into feature length storytelling, was released on Vimeo On Demand two years ago. How was the experience of finding an audience for that independent project? How has that experience laid the groundwork for how you’re approaching the production and promotion of Attack of the Demons?
When I released Path of Blood on Vimeo, it didn’t get a ton of views. However, it happened to reach the right people. I was contacted shortly after releasing the film by a producer in L.A. who had appreciated it. He is the guy that introduced me to Andreas. He also hired me to direct an animated short film as part of a larger project of his. It’s yet to be released, so I can’t go into detail on it. Suffice to say, these were major developments that will dictate the future of my film work. None of this would have happened had I not made Path of Blood.
Admittedly, it’s been challenging finding an audience for Path of Blood. Without a budget for marketing of any kind it falls to word of mouth and putting in the work myself, sending out press releases, etc. Vimeo was a great place to debut, though. They actually put in a bit of a campaign to spread the word and sent out a few ads to promote the film. Path of Blood was on the service for a year. In that time I ended up finding a distributor who specializes in genre titles. I’ve been working with them on putting together a Blu Ray release. It is getting primed for release soon, likely in early 2018.
Path of Blood prepared me for the challenges of feature storytelling in a million ways. It was a trial by fire that I jumped into head first back in 2011. While I am incredibly proud of what I was able to do with Path of Blood, there were several lessons I needed to learn. My screenplay, which I wrote myself, wasn’t anywhere near the level of what I am working with now. The film ended up clocking in at just an hour as well, which it turns out only borderline qualifies as a feature film. Some festivals would not accept the film on those grounds alone. It existed in a fuzzy world between a long short film and a short feature.
Path of Blood is also a much more niche film. It is a samurai film created in the style of the chanbara’s of the 70s complete with Japanese voice acting. The market for a film like that is far smaller than the horror film we have planned with AotD. I remember my early talks with Vimeo, they were kicking around the idea of helping me dub the film in English.
I want to invite people into the process this go around.
The amount I’ve grown as an animator and filmmaker since Path of Blood was released is significant. Rather than jumping into my new project purely with passion and a dream, I am jumping in with full storyboards based off a screenplay we’ve been fine tuning for 2 years and with confidence I can pull off all my shots the way I envision them.
When it comes to promotions, I am pulling a 180 from what I did with Path. With the first film, I decided (for some reason) to keep things under wraps and never show too much of the film for fear of spoiling the audience. I was way too secret with it. This time around, the promotions have already begun. I plan on making the film ‘publicly’, which means I will be posting numerous behind the scenes pics and videos to Instagram and other social media. Live animating is a possibility, as are production diaries and how tos for budding animators. I want to invite people into the process this go around.
John Dixon returns from Path of Blood to provide the film’s score, what movies were you guys looking at for musical inspiration? Were there any John Carpenter soundtracks in there?
John is like my secret weapon. He elevates everything he touches. Just listen to the score for Path of Blood, it’s gorgeous. As with that film, I plan on trusting in John’s artistic sensibilities. We discussed the horror films that have influenced the screenplay and definitely looked to Carpenter’s work. While we did discuss these films a little, the truth is, John already seems to know what the film needs.
A few months ago he surprised me with a series of concepts he had developed after reading the screenplay. They are truly fantastic. It’s like a mix of some 80s synth stuff you may hear in a show like Stranger Things, but it has this deeper almost 70s grungy power behind it like something from The Goblins. There’s an undertone of punk rock and just really gnarly stuff going on. It’s going to stand on its own as a fantastic soundtrack and unlike anything I’ve heard recently. When in doubt, trust in John.
Attack of the Demons is a project very much in its early stages, what are you looking for to get the film moving forward?
We have scaled our budget down into various tiers. We are operating on the lowest tier right now, but have funding for the rest of the year with a little over half of the low tier amount promised if we can secure the remainder. This means it’s in production though! By the end of the year we should have the first 20 pages of the screenplay shot and in the bag if all goes according to plan. It’s very exciting but nerve wrecking at the same time. The quest for funding continues on, but the film is going to happen. We’ve made it past the first hurdle, so it will not exist purely as a proof of concept for much longer.
And finally…what can you tell us about the recently unearthed VHS tapes that proceed the horrifying events which took place on 31st October, 1994?
Oh man, you can tell I am having fun with the world building with this side project?! One of the main characters from the film is a genre cinema enthusiast. He often records old movie marathons on a program called Movie Tron. The idea is one of these tapes was found years later, which captured a broadcast from the time leading up to the film. It acts as a bit of a found footage film.
The big plan with this project is to maybe (still a maybe right now) release a ‘bootleg’ version of Path of Blood as if it was recorded on Movie Tron. This means we would cut in several ‘commercial’ breaks into the film and present it as a found footage film. The commercials themselves would shed light on the world of Attack of the Demons.
For instance, we may have an ad from the local news channel that is running a story on the legend of the old silver mines. Other ads may be more mundane, such as the commercial we have already made for Nickel’s Arcade which is one of the locations in the film. I’m ridiculously excited about the idea. It just sounds like so much fun to me. As a kid, one of my first experiences with a samurai film like Path of Blood was watching a Zatoichi film on a program such as this. It would be kind of fitting in a weird way to present my own film in this manner.