It was at the impressively young age of 18 that James Cullen Bressack was doing the rounds to promote his first feature film, My Pure Joy. Written and directed by Bressack, the film deals with the all too common notion that a kid who consumes horror will ultimately begin acting out this violence in real life. Although both hailed and maligned for the explicit violence, My Pure Joy made one thing very clear; there was a new talent on the horror scene.
Having crossed paths a couple of times on Twitter, I was aware of Mr. Bressack and his quickly growing filmography. In fact, it was his film Hate Crime that first brought his name to my attention. After viewing the trailer on YouTube, I knew that I never wanted to see that film so, imagine how conflicting it was when Mr. Bressack suggested I start with that film to get an understanding of his work. You can read my review of Hate Crime here.
Mr. Bressack is currently traveling to various film festivals to share his latest film, Pernicious. Having declared it the best representation of who he is as a filmmaker, James is exceptionally excited for people to see Pernicious; he was also kind enough to take some time out of his day and speak candidly with me about his career. I found James Bressack to be an exceptionally friendly, engaging, very well spoken, intelligent and simply lovely person to chat with and I hope that you feel the same after reading our exchange.
LF: You were at a Pernicious screening this past weekend; are you still doing those?
JCB: If it gets into more film festivals. I've gone to two and then I'm going to one in Australia and I might be going to one in Florida. I think every film festival should play it, so that way I can travel the world.
LF: I think that's a really great idea.
JCB: Yeah, just start a campaign, "It doesn't matter what you think about the movie, you get to spend time with James." I think that might sell people on.......nothing.
LF: So, you started really young. Do you get tired of people asking you about that?
JCB: No, I feel it's just part of what I have to do at all times in my life. I always have to answer these questions.
LF: Well, is there a question that you wish somebody would ask, but they never do?
JCB: Yeah. "Do you like long walks on the beach?" No one ever asks me about my love of long walks on the beach. It's funny, because a lot of my twitter followers and people who talk to me and even people that have worked with me on set, know that even though I make horror films, I'm pretty silly and say a lot of silly things.
LF: Your parents are in the entertainment industry; do you like to talk about that or no?
JCB: Yeah, sure. I'm here to talk about anything that you want to talk about. My mother was a voice actress and my dad wrote animation. He was one of the writers of Pinky and the Brain and Animaniacs and my mom was the voice of Strawberry Shortcake, Magic Star from My Little Pony and one of the characters from Jem and the Holograms.
LF: What a wonderful sentence that is that you get to say! So, how was that growing up; was it obvious that you were surrounded by people in cartoons?
JCB: Well, yes and no. My mom can do a lot of funny voices, my sister does a ton of funny voices and my dad, basically, behaves like a cartoon character. I feel I had a normal upbringing, though. You know, my parents were wealthy and then they weren't; a lot of people lost a lot of money during the WGA strike. My parents got divorced when I was twelve, so I feel like I just kind of went through the gamete of what a childhood could be; it was kind of fun.
LF: So, what age did you get into horror?
JCB: Well, I've always liked horror movies. Horror movies were like, my thing, and I realized horror is the one genre that you can make a movie and not have stars in it as long as it's scary or bloody, ya' know? So, I went and made a horror movie for my first movie because I only had seven thousand dollars. So, it was either do something people will watch or don't, because you don't just make a comedy.....the difference is, people don't care so much who's in a horror movie. You can do them without names if you're creative enough, but for a comedy, you only want to watch a comedy if there's certain people you find funny in it. Ya' know, name any comedy coming out that doesn't have one of the Seth Rogen people in it. I don't think it exists.
LF: You like horror anyway, though; you're not just one of those guys who's using horror because it's easy.
JCB: No. I love horror. It's my favorite genre to watch. Growing up, I was really obsessed with Hellraiser, I was terrified of the transformation scene in American Werewolf; it scared the crap out of me. I've always been a huge fan. I like crazy, underground horror, like all of the Olaf Ittenbach films, I got really into the disturbing stuff; that's what I really dug. I have tons of horror tattoos; I got a Hostel Elite Hunting tattoo on my chest...so, horror has always been my genre.
LF: So, do you like the extreme ones the best?
JCB: I do, yeah. Hostel is one of my favorite movies. Audition, I think is the best horror movie ever.
LF: So, Hate Crime. Would you consider that your foray into the extreme horror? Or your first movie, (My Pure Joy) which I have not had the pleasure of seeing, a lot of people said that was very violent.
JCB: That was really violent. I actually dedicated that one to Eli Roth and Frank Henenlotter. Brain Damage is my all time favorite work of his because it has comedy and horror; I thought it was so much fun.
LF: Now James, we have to talk about Hate Crime. (I can hear James giggling) It's the one movie I didn't want to watch and it was the one movie you told me to watch, so I did. Where did this idea come from?
JCB: So, I was in Texas on my way to Oklahoma for a film festival that was screening My Pure Joy and we stopped off at a bar (I was on a fake I.D. because I was 18 at the time.) and I'm with my business partner who is Jewish; I'm Jewish as well. So, we get accosted by Skin Heads, saying things like, "You're a Jew, ain't you boy. I've never seen a Jew before. Where your horn's at, Jew boy", stuff like that. I was so taken aback by that because growing up in L.A., there really isn't that, so I did some research. There's so much anti semitic stuff still going on in the U.S., but if you're in a town like New York or L.A. you don't really notice it, but I think we're all too sheltered to realize horrible things happen. It's not just anti semitic. Hate and prejudice just exist. Period. There's so many violent hate crimes going on every year and it's not getting better. When we see a recession dip, people like to blame other people for it and they always blame minorities. So, the movie was really a message piece of "this is a worst case scenario".
LF: It wasn't based on any particular crime?
JCB: No, it was not based on a particular incident, but based on what I thought was scary. I've had a fear of home invasions my entire life; they've always been a scary thing for me. I mean, tell me, where do you feel the most safe?
LF: Home invasion is my worst fear which is a lot of why I didn't want to watch that movie.
JCB: I know. People feel the most safe in their home and to deconstruct that and make them not feel safe in their home....... I don't know if you've ever had your house broken into while you're not there, but I have once before and the idea that someone could go into your personal space when you aren't there, or are there, puts you on edge. It makes you feel naked.
LF: How long did it take to film Hate Crime?
JCB: It was a 15 day shoot.
LF: That's a lot of yelling for 15 days, huh?
JCB: Yeah, hahaha.
LF: Did anybody get emotionally exhausted or stressed out from it?
JCB: Yeah, stressed out emotionally, they definitely did. They all came together as a family, but I know that the actors went through a lot.
LF: Was it hard to find people to fill the roles of the family members?
JCB: Yeah. It was hard to get people to want to do it. It's so intense and messed up, a lot of people were offended by it in the auditions. I was full disclosure with them about what they're going to have to do and people would back out when they read the script. I tried to waste as little time as possible; I would have scenes for them to read and I would make sure they were some of the worst scenes in the movie so I could see how they react. We had people walk out of the audition before even reading the script. I remember when I did My Pure Joy, somebody read the script, walked into the audition room, slammed the script onto the table and said, "A woman gets killed in this, people get raped, it's horrible and you should be ashamed of yourself." I was eighteen, it was my first movie, my first audition, so I thought, well, if I'm offending them now, I'll be offending them later. This is awesome!
LF: What did you learn on My Pure Joy?
JCB: A lot. I think every single time I do a movie, I learn a lot and I think that's why I improve every single time I do one. I think that, basically, I improve every time I do something, or at least I try to.
LF: It's really clear that you're very proud of Pernicious. So, tell me why.
JCB: I think that it's a really fun, gory movie that people are going to be surprised about. It's more of a slow burn story which I dig. I've always been a fan of slow burns, so it's kind of like if Hitchcock did Hostel meets The Ring.
LF: That is a really big statement.
JCB: Well it's Hitchcockian style with the Hostel and Ring elements. I'm sure Hitchcock would have done it better, though.
LF: Did you write Pernicious yourself or with a partner?
JCB: I wrote it with Taryn Hillin.
LF: Do you normally work with a writing partner?
JCB: No, it just seems like I have lately.
LF: Because what about To Jennifer. Where did you come up with that?
JCB: I was going through a breakup and I wanted to make a movie that would be inexpensive. I thought, what could I do. Well, I have this iPhone in my pocket and I just started brainstorming. I came up with the end of the film and then I filled in everything from there. I came up with the twist and then filled in everything up to there.
LF: And you did all of this on an iPhone?
JCB: Yup. iPhone 5. The entire movie.
LF: What was the most annoying part of doing that?
JCB: People not thinking you're shooting a real movie because you're shooting it on an iPhone. We also got away with a lot though, too. Like, the stuff on the airplane we got away with because they didn't realize we were shooting a film.
LF: O.K. on to 13/13/13. My biggest question about this movie is...that little girl. Her parents were totally down with what her role entailed?
JCB: Yeah, totally O.K. with it. You'd be surprised. Kids do a lot of weird stuff in my movies and the parents are always O.K. with it.
LF: Cool. So, where did the idea for 13/13/13 come from?
JCB: I was given three days to write that and having been born on leap year myself, I was like, O.K. that could be the reason why. Leap year wasn't supposed to exist; my birthday wasn't supposed to exist. You'd be surprised the amount of people who have reached out about the whole leap year thing. I grew up thinking that nobody had my same birthday, but I've met many more since this movie. This movie is not my favorite of my films, but I think it's cool that all of my movies have a little bit of me inside them. Blood Lake, Hate Crime and Pernicious are my favorite of my movies. To Jennifer is one of those movies that you either love or hate; I think I probably would have liked it more if I wasn't in it.
LF: O.K. Blood Lake. Please tell me that you can say something about Shannon Doherty.
JCB: Yeah, I can. I can say a lot of things about Shannon. Shannon Doherty and I became very close friends while making that movie. We've worked together twice now since Blood Lake, I talk to her on the phone at least once a week and see her at least twice a month for dinner. I've become very close friends with her husband as well. She's a sweetheart; one of the nicest people ever.
LF: She's very funny. I saw her on an interview show and she seems to be one of those girls who has gotten a bad a rap.
JCB: Definitely. She's very funny, very sweet and a very caring person and I've very much enjoyed working with her and have become very close friends.
LF: Have you ever had anybody get particularly upset with you after seeing one of your films?
JCB: Oh yeah. I've been called misogynistic more times than I can count.
LF: Of course you have. All men in horror have.
JCB: Yeah, I don't know how that works. When Hate Crime came out, I got a lot of people calling me anti-semitic. I was like, "Dude, I'm Jewish." People don't do their research.
LF: Really? Honestly, I just assumed you were Jewish after watching that movie. It seemed personal; your movies feel personal and that's what I like about them
JCB: Well, as I said, I try to put a piece of me in every single one.
LF: What do you plan to do from here on out?
JCB: I plan to continue making movies and hopefully people will continue to watch them.
LF: What do you think would be the finest compliment somebody could pay you?
JCB: Telling me that my movies inspired them to make movies because that's what I did. I watched movies and it make me want to make them myself. I feel that's the highest compliment anyone can pay a filmmaker. That's why I wanted to make To Jennifer. It was made for $500 and was made with the thing that's in everyone's pocket. It just shows, go out there and make something. There's no excuses. If you have a good story, that's all that matters. As long as you like it and you believe it it, that's what matters because I can guarantee that some people will love it and some people will hate it and that will never change. A movie will always find it's audience.
LF: Well, you've been delightful to talk to James. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
JCB:Thank you so much. I'm happy to have done so. It was great chatting with you; thank you so much for taking the time to talk.