by Steven Sanchez
In Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel, Frankenstein, somewhere out there in the night of a European village, the mad scientist, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, is hard at work creating a monster in secrecy. As of right now, somewhere out there in Fresno, whether it be day or night, one man is concocting a witch’s brew of story ideas with which to scare mortal moviegoers. While every-day people are thinking about bills, lunch, and weekend plans, what goes through this man’s head is: what would happen if the zombie apocalypse happened right now? If a slasher killer was chasing me right now what would I do? If I could be a monster, which one would I be?
That man is none other than Fresno’s filmmaking auteur, Michael S. Rodriguez.
Born in Madera, but raised in Kerman, the sinister director became a licensed phlebotomist; he likes to say he “worked with real blood before fake blood.” Being a film buff, he pursued his dream and made a short film, Night of the Sea Monkey in 2013. (This was before there was a film community in the Central Valley.) And from that point on he hasn’t stopped. His next films were the shorts Lamb Feed (2014) and Love Starved (2017). He then moved on to features like Lake of Shadows and Last American Horror Show, both in 2018. Through these projects, he’s been able to work with big screen, scream queen goddesses Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp—I dare you to watch the ending), Lynn Lowry (George A Romero’s The Crazies, David Cronenberg’s Shivers), and small/big screen favorite, Robert Allen Mukes (House of a 1,000 Corpses, Westworld, Weeds).
The saying, “things that go bump in the night,” well, more than likely it’s Michael and his collaborative team, constructing a horrific scene that’ll haunt our nightmares. Most of the cast and crew he has working with him have been around since the beginning. He dislikes the discriminatory perceptions people have who assume, just because he makes scary movies, that he must be a freak 24/7. Actually, he’s a father of four and a family man. The only difference is that any time he’s on set every day feels like Halloween.
In the spirit of the ghoulish holiday, we’ve decided to feature Michael in our October issue. In an in-depth interview, we ask him what frightens him, how does he make a scene that scares people, what are his favorite horror films, and is Halloween his favorite holiday? He also gives us the scoop on the latest picture he has in the works. Get to know more about this gothic minded virtuoso.
Steven: Tell us about your new film? What’s it about? When can we see it?
Michael: The Dark Lullaby is my latest attempt at darkness. It’s a short supernatural piece shot in black and white. It’s my nod to film noir. Look for it at film festivals in early 2019 and a trailer dropping close to this Halloween.
Steven: What’s different about this film in comparison to other films you’ve done?
Michael: Well, noir was definitely a new look and challenge for me. As well as delving into the supernatural, I am always up for a challenge, and I believe I fared well, but we’ll wait for the audience to decide.
Steven: You’re like a mad scientist when it comes to thinking of scary stories, so where do you get your inspiration from?
Michael: They are derived from life experiences. Although I create ghosts and goblins they are more often reflections and metaphors for the real dread in our lives.
Steven: Has there ever been a scene you shot or an idea you had where you thought, I just took it too far?
Michael: We would need one or two chapters to talk about them all, but yes and I will give you one example of that. When shot the home invasion scene for my short, Homewrecked, I went a little Stanley Kubrick and demanded several takes until the actors were furious with me and with each other. It worked for the finished product and critics raved about its realism.
Steven: What scares Michael?
Michael: Just reality, where we are going in life and how we are treating one another. Especially as of late—I mean it’s pretty frightening.
Steven: Is Halloween your favorite time of year and what plans do you have going on this month?
Michael: Believe it or not, I am not that big on Halloween. I stay indoors, do not go to parties. Maybe hand out some candy and watch a good scary movie. I am good with that.
Steven: With some scary movies there’s a social commentary in the picture. Are there any significant commentaries that you’re trying to express with your movies, that are issues that this country is dealing with?
Michael: I love films with social commentary. I believe George A. Romero did it best. But sure, my work is filled with nuances that are cautionary tales for the actual world we live in. I deal with anything from religion to PTSD. Nothing is off limits in my movies.
Steven: With everything that is going on the world, there’s a lot of scary stuff being shown on the news. Has the thought ever crossed your mind that there’s just too much horror out there right now?
Michael: Yes. While promoting my short, Homewrecked, I said, “Beyond monsters and ghosts, evil does exist and it waits outside your door.” Trust me, I am a firm believer in that.
Steven: I see a lot of filmmakers jump from horror into comic book movies. Have you ever thought about going into a different genre, or do you plan on staying with horror?
Michael: I think I may someday implement some action in my movies, but will remain true to the genre that got me started. It’s those stories I tell best.
Steven: What are your favorite horror films?
Michael: Ah! There are so many! Let’s see: the original “Halloween,” “Jaws;” all the “Dead” movies freaked me out as a kid. Then you have all the great stuff from Europe. Just too many to recall.
Steven: Favorite horror film directors?
Michael: Alfred Hitchcock, Stuart Gordon, Frank Henenlotter, William Lustig, Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, John Carpenter. The list is a mile long!
Steven: What kind of monsters scare you?
Michael: Zombies have always scared me. Well, I guess the fact that in the films, it’s always our human mistakes that get us killed by them. I just don’t want to get bitten!
Steven: What monster would you be?
Michael: I’d love to be a werewolf. They have a dual life as opposed to vampires. They are humans by day and creatures by night. Best of both worlds.
Steven: What’s the anatomy of a jump scare? How do you achieve one?
Michael: I leave that up to my editor and composer; I just direct the monsters. They are the ones that make it scary for you. The right editing cut and sound effects with [an] excellent score for the win every time.
Steven: You’ve worked with the same crew on all of your movies. What do you like the most when it comes to working with them?
Michael: It’s like being around family for hours. The love is real, it’s there and it shows in the work.
Steven: What’s the one film you turn to for inspiration while making a movie?
Michael: Always Jaws. Despite all its production problems, it still looks flawless (in my eyes). Storytelling at its absolute best.
Steven: Do you prefer to shoot indoors or outdoors?
Michael: Indoors you can control light and sound. Outdoors you have to deal with Murphy’s Law. Give me indoors any time of the week.
Steven: How would you describe a Michael S. Rodriguez film?
Michael: A story that may provoke a thought or two.
Steven: What does the future hold in store for Michael S. Rodriguez?
Michael: In this business, you never really know. I guess, hopefully, that I’ll be making my art for years to come.