TRENT HAAGA: MILD MANNERED KING OF SICKNESS

To Haaga, the urge is to bring horror, the emotion, back to horror, the genre. To do that, rules must be broken. The cliché of the pushed envelope must be evoked—and that envelope has to be pushed hard. Among hardcore horror fans, the prevailing attitude is that Hollywood’s approach to horror is, to put it mildly, lacking. And the indie offerings are, sadly, not much better. Buckets of blood and acres of nude flesh does not equal the feelings of dread that should be summoned by a truly great horror movie.

“I’ve been a horror freakazoid my entire life, you know. I wanna make movies that fucking freak people out. When I see (something like) the Dutch version of “The Vanishing” and it makes me sick to my stomach, that’s what I wanna do! That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve really enjoyed Troma for their ethos of filmmaking, more than the films themselves—which I do enjoy. I like their attitude. I came into Troma during what was a second renaissance for them. If you look at the time, even between the time of the book getting finished written, not even published, and now, Troma’s done nothing. “Tales From The Crapper” does not count – that’s a movie that someone else made and they bought and have been hacking up and shooting new stuff for. They’ve done the “All the Love You Cannes” documentaries, and the “Independent Spirit Documentaries”. They did really well with the documentaries for “Terror Firmer” and “Citizen Toxie”, for the discs, and those are not real projects as far as I’m concerned.”

For Haaga, the current problems with Troma stem from the current attitudes abounding within the company, co-founders Kaufman and Michael Herz excluded. Where once Troma stood for “anarchy through art”, now—judging from such sobering fare as “All the Love You Cannes”—the predominant focus seems to be on getting drunk and laid. The movies seem to be coming second. Third, in the minds of some of the crew, it would seem.

“When I worked there, and I did ‘Terror Firmer’ and went to Cannes with it, there was a core group of people that were a lot more like me. I understand what Troma represents, but I can put on a suit and I can meet the mayor of Poughkeepsie and I can get them to give me police cars and free use of the town,” Haaga says. “There were people like Patrick Cassidy, Josh Piesas, Tony Rosen – we were all educated, intelligent, graduated from (schools like) Notre Dame, Harvard – we had some guys who were really smart and knew what was going on. But as time went on and I started fading out, getting ready to leave, we started getting replaced by kids who were high school drop outs. We watched all the same movies growing up as these kids did, and I hate to say it, but the group I worked with were just smarter. You can get a sign and get Dolphin man, put on a skit and be funny and ironic. Or you can put on a Sgt. Kabukiman costume and get into a fist fight with the gendarmes (as evidenced in ‘All the Love You Cannes’). And that’s just what happened. The people who worked there while we were doing ‘Terror Firmer’ – Will Keenan, all these guys – just loved movies. And that’s the thing, as they went on, since ‘Citizen Toxie’ (Lloyd) hasn’t made another movie. He has these guys working, and they go to Cannes, but they don’t love the movies, they love the parties.”

By his own admission, it was during “the downtime” following “Citizen Toxie” that Haaga began to lose interest in doing things “the Troma Way”. After the living hell of making the fourth “Toxic Avenger” movie, Haaga worked on the studio’s U.K. show, “Troma Edge T.V.”, which utilized the no-budget ideal on a semi-weekly basis. While many of the episodes were very amusing, the show never reached the heights it could have. Despite its relative success thanks to legions of British Troma fans, “Troma’s Edge T.V.” still came off looking cheap and, more often than not, amateurish. “I’d say, ‘we don’t need $175,000 to produce an episode, Lloyd, but if you gave us, like $10,000 per show, maybe we could make something really fucking cool, and then they would come back and buy another twenty episodes.’ But that’s just not the Troma way of thinking. That’s when you start getting frustrated with Troma.”

The frustration led to Haaga and his wife moving out to L.A., seeking greener pastures in one sense or another. Of course, green pastures are hard to come by when the air is choked with smog. “When I first came out here, for money, I got a job as a telecine assistant at a post-production house in Burbank, and it was miserable,” Haaga laughs. “It was the worst goddamn job I’ve ever had in my life! Even though it was in the motion picture industry, these guys could have been taking nuts for car parts, you know what I mean? It’s the saddest thing to work in the industry that you love, and work with these guys who go ‘I make $125,000 a year running this telecine machine and I don’t care!’ To these people, it was just a frickin’ job. I actually got fired for ‘general insubordination’. They didn’t really have a real reason, they just didn’t like my general attitude. And you know what? I have no apologies. I deserved to get fired, it was a terrible job. And after a week of getting fired, I wound up having lunch with J.R. (Bookwalter), and J.R. was like, ‘hey, we’re going into production on this movie in eight days, you wanna meet the director?’ I went to the director (Tammi Sutton)’s house, and she goes, ‘Hey, you wanna line-produce this?’ Then it was like, ‘We’re going into production in eight days, we don’t have a ‘Killjoy’. ‘Okay, we’ll get a tall skinny black guy like we had for the first movie. How hard could that be?’ ‘Well, we were just thinking that you could play him.’”

Haaga’s inauspicious debut for Tempe Video, “Killjoy 2”, in an inarguable mess of a movie. Ostensibly a follow-up to the original Full Moon production, the sequel was badly conceived, badly acted (Haaga and co-star Debbie Rochon being the sole exceptions to this statement), and atrociously directed. The movie tries to continue the story of a murderous spirit, raised by voodoo and dressed like a clown, who is summoned to avenge wrongs, loses control with weapons and puns, etcetera, etcetera. The final project makes little sense and is a chore to get through. It starts out like an urban drama, and becomes a different movie once Haaga’s Killjoy arrives. The title character actually does not fit the story, but Haaga is obviously doing the best with what he had to work with.

“With ‘Killjoy 2′, fundamentally, I think what happened was, nobody wanted it. Tammi Sutton, the director, wanted to direct, but I don’t think she particularly wanted to direct that movie. Nobody wanted to! We were saddled with a bad script from the get-go and everybody knew it. So that was kind of bad.”

By the end of the eight-day shooting schedule, Tempe, was about to go into pre-production on the next scheduled film, “Hell Asylum”.

“We wrapped “Killjoy 2” and the next day I was hopping on a plane to Jersey to do Paul Scrabo’s movie (“Dr. Horror’s Erotic House of Idiots”). So that night, the last night (of the “Killjoy 2” shoot), J.R. comes up to me and says, ‘listen, we have to start pre-production on our next movie’ – which at the time was called ‘Prison of the Dead 2′ – ‘in, like, eight days. We’ll have a week off, and then we’re gonna go back into preproduction. And we don’t have a script. You wanna take a crack at it?’ So I said, ‘Okay’. I hopped on a plane the next day, flew to Jersey, and I wrote that script at night in eight days at Scrabo’s house. I was acting during the day, and then we would wrap, we’d eat, I’d write the script for four hours. Eight nights, while shooting another movie, I wrote ‘Hell Asylum’. One draft. And when I got back, we threw it in the Xerox machine and started making copies—before Draven had read it, before J.R. read it. It was just like ‘alright, we got it, it’s 80 pages, just throw it in the Xerox machine. Make copies, get ‘em to the actors, because we start shooting in a week!’”

The “Dr. Horror’s” shoot coincided with an event that changed the world as most Americans—and certainly all New Yorkers—knew it. The second day of shooting: September 11, 2001. While the cast and crew worked hard to keep rolling on the madcap, outrageous comedy, New York was in chaos. And for days afterward, the skies were silent. “I’ll never forget that experience, at least. Shooting a comedy during the day, writing a horror movie at night, my wife was obscenely pregnant, and New York is burning.”

While the light-hearted and well-received “Dr. Horror’s” survived the tragedy around it and emerged as highly entertaining, “Hell Asylum” was greeted with a less-than-stellar response from horror fans. Again, it was a proposed sequel to a movie only marginally successful in the first place. Constricted to a single set, Haaga took the (then unique) approach to place the actors in the confines of a reality television show filming in a supposedly haunted prison. It featured “Witchouse 3” co-star Tanya Dempsey and Stacy Scowley (world-famous as the girl with multiple boyfriends in a seemingly ubiquitious “Kia” commercial). Not a terrific film, but a miracle of planning and commitment.

“What’s unfortunate, people who watch ‘Hell Asylum’, who rent it, buy it, whatever, don’t have this back story. They can’t look at it from the point of view of “hey, this dude wrote this script in eight days, they did preproduction in a week, shot for another eight days”, and for that movie to turn out the way it did, given those constraints, I’m pretty proud of it. But I don’t tell people that until they’ve heard the whole story. Obviously, it’s not great by any stretch of the imagination, but I challenge Michael Bay to do it.”

Get the rest of the interview in part three of TRENT HAAGA: MILD MANNERED KING OF SICKNESS>>>




Posted on April 28, 2004 in Interviews by

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