Rob Schmidt's name became familiar to genre fans in 2003 with his directorial debut "Wrong Turn". After stints with episodes of both "Masters of Horror" and "Fear Itself", Rob is back with his latest film titled "The Alphabet Killer". The story is loosely based on the real life "double letter murders" that took place in Rochester, NY in the 1970's. As you'll discover, the process of shooting and marketing the film has actually reopened the case in the small Upstate New York community. Here's what Rob had to say on the subject when we sat down with him recently.
Crime creates pain... There's been a lot of real suffering that occurred around those cases.
So this is your first feature film since you director "Wrong Turn". How would you describe the film?
First let me say that Alphabet Killer is a supernatural thriller, it's not a horror film. I was kind of bummed out because the international sales guys really sold it as a horror film. I love making movies like "Wrong Turn", but this isn't a movie like that.
Were you involved in any of the writing process?
I did several passes on the script after I got it. It was definitely the work of the original author though.
I find it interesting that you say there are supernatural elements, but it's also based on a true story. Can you explain that a little?
You really need to see it to understand that. It is based on the "double letter" killings in Rochester, NY. And there are elements that may or may not be supernatural in the movie.
Were you aware of this particular serial killer before you got involved with this film? For people who don't live in the area it's definitely a more obscure case.
Like probably a lot of your readers, I read a lot of true crime and I think I've read about most every serial killer that has been reported as a serial killer. I mean I don't know if that's something to be impressed by (laughs), it's like a hobby. It's a really troubling, powerful thing that exists in humanity. It's hard not to want to know about that because it's so bizarre. A lot of the killers, even like Dahmer, that sounded horrendous but he had a reason for what he did. People hated him when he was a kid, he was lonely, so he killed them and in order to feel like he posessed a part of them he would eat them. It's disturbing but it's understandable. In the double letter killings there's this thing that isn't understandable, like why someone would murder, and beyond that have sex with little girls just based on having matching letters for initials.
I noticed you have a lot of recignizable character actors in the film that made the cast seem pretty hand picked. Did you have them in mind for these parts, or did they come to you?
It's a pretty tight script, and I think the parts were attractive to the actors. A bunch of them were people I had worked with before; Eliza, Michael Ironside, Michael Donovan, Tom Noonan. So ya, we got a lot of greally great people. We got a lot of good genre villians to play normal people.
Bill Moseley in particular, sort of came on the scene as this out there guy that people didn't know what to make of, but he's been really omnipresent in the last few years. Can you talk about working with him?
Well Bill's a friend, and I remember Bill from Chop Top in "Texas Chainsaw 2", like a gazillion years ago. But you're right, he's really become present lately. I haven't seen "Repo! The Genetic Opera" yet. I'm really excited about that movie and seeing Bill in it.
He's a really intereseting man on screen. He seems like a normal, solid leading man but there's something really strange and disconcerting underneath the surface with him. After "House of 1,000 Corpses" was "Devil's Rejects", and I just think he's awesome in that. He's like this uber-mother fucker. He's just great. In "Alphabet Killer" he's like a gentle social worker guy. I think he pulls that off pretty nicely actually.
So one of my writers attended the premiere in Rochester, NY, the scene of the crime so to speak, and he said that there were people in the crowd who had personal connections to the crimes. Some family members, acquaintances, etc. You had to have anticipated that right, reactions from loved ones?
It's happened before. It happened throughout shooting and there's two things. One - crime creates pain, that's why it's crime. There's been a lot of real suffering that occurred around those cases. So consequently there are relatives of the victims around who are really victims themselves. And that's a big part of what goes on in a situation like this. The other thing, is there are some people who are looking for money. They see a movie as a concentration of money and feel like they should get some of it.
But I will say, since production started... It's an open case, and for a long time there wasn't any work done on the case because this fireman had died, he had committed suicide around the time fo the third killing. The cops assumed he was the murderer and they couldn't try a case against a dead man. Because it was getting some press as an open case again, they exhumed that guy's body and through DNA testing found out he wasn't guilty. His family had spent all these years thinking their dead relative was this horrible murderer, so that's a good thing that came out of this. But the fact is that if you make something like this, it brings up some pain for some people.
Do you find those confrontations hard to deal with?
It's challenging, because I want to be respectful to those people. If there's real pain on their part I don't want to make it worse. I know morally though that the flipside of it is that the guy might get caught because there's press and more activity. And people have been found innocent who have been presumed guilty, so there's at least as much positive to come out of this as there has been negative.
My brother had mentioned that there has been increased interest from the local media there regarding the case.
I had pressed that. I had pressed the local outlets to try and get more publicity for this case. I mean the first place we opened was in Rochester, which was a little creepy, being in the killer's home. But it was a good place to screen, and there's been a lot of interest there. I think we were #4 in the country last week for per screen average. So there's been a lot of interest in the press.
I noticed that the release is sort of tiered, and it will be opening in some other places. What's the deal with the release?
Ya, I think they call that platformed. It's in Rochester, and I think it's opening in Buffalo soon. It starts in LA this weekend, and then as time goes by they'll either expand it to other theaters or roll it back.
So when will we be seeing the DVD?
I think the DVD will come out along with "Dollhouse", the new Eliza Dushku series, which I believe is February. So it will be 3 or 4 months from now.
So "Wrong Turn 2" came out this summer, and it was directed by Joe Lynch. Were you at any point involved in that project?
It was on my radar, but when they decided not to make it a theatrical film, it wasn't really a viable thing for me to do.
Were you involved in the creative process at all once you decided you weren't interested in directing?
No, Stan and I were out of it once they decided they wanted to do the franchise as a direct to video thing.
So have you seen Joe's take on the series?
Ya I have seen it. I'm very flattered to have started a franchise. I know a lot of people love "Wrong Turn 2". I tried to play the horror straight on "Wrong Turn", and we had enough resources that we could do really do graphic kills. That's the type of graphic horror that I like. I made a "Masters of Horror" called "Right to Die", that has some comic elements to it but the gore is believable. That's important to me. There's another style of horror where it's more phonier and that's what makes it work. It's played more campy. And I think that's kind of the difference between the two, but I also think it's driven by budget.
So I see you directed an episode of NBC's "Fear Itself" which hasn't aired yet. Will NBC be showing those episodes that weren't aired this summer?
Ya, I think that was the chaos of the olympics and all that. NBC was kind of scrambling. They claim they'll come up next season, so I'm looking forward to that coming out.
So, can you compare the experience of directing a "Fear Itself" as opposed to "Masters of Horror" for Showtime?
It's tricky because "Masters of Horror" is about balls out graphic horror. You have a mandate to do whatever you want. "Fear Itself" is more suspense, and jump scares, because it's for NBC and for whatever reason the FCC doesn't allow you to skin people on network television. It's a fun epsiode. I think people will enjoy it. It's about a girl whose mother dies and she gets sort of fascinated by the occult and she gets into some trouble around a Ouija board. It's kind of grim and sad.