Quantcast ICONS Interview with Zach Passero - director of WICKED LAKE

Zach Passero!

On Tuesday October 7th, WICKED LAKE hits DVD shelves and ICONS got the chance to speak with director ZACH PASSERO! WICKED LAKE was written by Chris Sivertson (THE LOST) and Adam Rockoff (GOING TO PIECE: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER FILM) and stars Marc Senter, Robin Sydney, Will Keenan, Justin Stone, Tim Thomerson and Angela Bettis. MINSTRY's Al Jourgensen composed original music for the film and cameos in it as well. Read on for our FRIGHT exclusive interview with Zach Passero! - By Robg. - 10/08

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? Do you remember as a kid what your introduction into the world of the fantastic and horror was?

First recollection? I was probably 5 years old, maybe 6. I had some babysitters; they were pre-teenage girls who were taking care of me. I was supposed to be asleep, but I was kind of a nocturne as a kid. I was always staying up no matter what, weather I was by myself in my room or whatever. But one night I got up and walked out and they were watching TV. They were watching this black & white movie with this woman swimming in the water, which I would later find out was the Amazon. And then there was this creature swimming underneath her. That movie was THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, but I didn’t know it at the time. The imagery to me was so captivating and frightening to me! But that was the first fantastic or horrific thing that captured my imagination.

I remember all those Universal monster movies on TV as a kid and there’s just something about the imagery of those characters. I don’t know if they scared me, but… the Wolf Man and the Creature? They were just so cool looking to me!

Yeah! There was just such texture and presence. There’s some base, primal reaction that you have to them and they just sort of stick in your mind. It’s not necessarily totally scary, as maybe seeing Freddy Krueger around the same time at the same age, but something (in Universal monsters) just captured the dreamscape of my mind back then.

Was it safe to say that from that point on you became a horror film? Or a fan of these types of films?
No! Actually, I grew up kind of a wimp! (Laughs) My parents were pretty strict with what I watched and didn’t watch. Although for some reason, my mom made me watch REVENGE OF THE NERDS when I was 10 years old. The impressions of horror movies that I had were from peeking through FANGORIA at newsstands as a kid or my friend’s copies or seeing commercials on TV for movies late at night. I’d always catch the commercials for the new FRIDAY THE 13TH or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and the commercials were always really good! It seemed completely disturbing to me. My imagination would fill in the blanks. And later on there was this backlash of “catch up” that I had. When I turned 13 or 14 and that was when it really kicked in. I started renting all these movies and thinking, “Wait a minute. These aren’t as scary as I thought they were, but they’re really fun!” I remember the impressions I had of them and then the things that my imagination would fill in. It was so much more horrifying then what I actually would end up seeing! All of a sudden, it was this new genre to me. It’s almost like the Science-Fiction genre, but they’re able to get away with a little bit more. Whereas you could have these character scenarios and crazy characters and creatures and some of the most inventive storylines…

For me there was always good mythology behind these horror characters. We grew up at a kick-ass time for videos. I mean, I used to just go and rent everything!

Yeah! And especially those franchises! They got crazier and crazier as they went on. Like the Freddy Krueger ones got trippier. There was sort of an “anything goes” scenario laid out for the horror movies of that time. It was kind of cool.

From this point on, what was the thing that initially got you involved in the filmmaking process? You were probably watching a lot of films at this time, so what was it that intrigued you into how films were made?

Actually, it happened at a really young age, from around the time I was 5 or 6. Right around the same time that I saw THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, I also was obsessed with the Muppets. And somehow I figured out “Well, obviously somebody had to manipulate these things and somebody had to put these stories together.” So I started trying to do the same thing myself around the time. Just like puppet theaters. Once I got older and started catching up on horror movies, STAR WARS obviously was something that got me interested. Because ILM was doing such amazing psychical special effects at that time. The model making, blue screen and creatures and stuff. When I got to 12 or 13, you realize people made the FX, the masks, the gore effects, and I realized that I could actually buy this stuff and play around with it myself. So friends and I would start making our own make-up FX and start filming it.
Can you talk a little bit about your working relationship with Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson, because your relationship with them dates back to their early stuff like ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE. How’d you all hook up?

Basically, the friendship with Chris Sivertson and Lucky McKee and Justin Stone who ended up being in WICKED LAKE playing Fred, we all went to film school together. And we all lived in a house together, and kind of banded together because we didn’t have necessarily the same approach to filmmaking? We were bonded in that what we were trying to do and what we wanted to do was different then what the school was teaching or was supporting.


So we lived together and worked on each other’s films and somehow that was enough. We helped each other out. Our collective was influencing and helping each other. It started as far back as then. Obviously, we graduated and everyone went their own directions. Then when Chris and Lucky decided to do ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE, they called me. I focused a lot on animation in film school, and just building things; doing special effects and things like that. So, they called me to do the zombies and also to act in the film. It was the first step of all of us trying to start our film careers, but also still working together and helping one another out. It just kind of went from there.
Lucky went and did MAY, and I came in and helped on Chris Sivertson’s segment in there, the Jack & Jill segment. And then Chris went on and did THE LOST, so I worked on the camera crew there and just kinda hung around, just to help in any capacity. I made my first feature soon after ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE and Chris and Lucky came out & acted in it, but also worked on the crew. Ideally to me, if you have a good group of friends that like to work, and like to work together and enjoys what they’re doing, then you have the perfect scenario for making films because then it’s like a family environment and not a 9 to 5 job the way some people would treat it.

Well, you’re working with your buddies! In simplest terms.


Now, will we ever see ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE? Because I know there has been talk for a while about releasing it somehow.

Yeah, I’m not the one to say, but I hear them talking about it a little more often. And in some ways, I think it’s better that it didn’t come out when it did, and not that it shouldn’t have! But now there’s like a weird added element that it’s aged well. It’s got this weird total retro element because it’s from the first days of VD cinema. It’s just interesting. It’s got a weird feel to it now that just adds to the experience.

Lucky did a panel a few years back at a FANGORIA show and he showed the trailer for ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE, and it looked like such a blast! I’ve been waiting for it to come out every since.

I think now they’re seriously pursuing it. There’s been a lot of talk, but there’s been some things that have come up recently and now they’re ready to actually pursue it.

Right. Well, let’s jump right into WICKED LAKE! I’m not sure where to even begin! So for the people reading this, how about a quick synopsis from the director himself? What is WICKED LAKE about?

Um, WICKED LAKE. Basically, it’s about a clan of women versus two clans of men. Basically. In it’s most basic form. And that’s what attracted me to it was this whole central battle where you have these women who seemed like they were victims and that actually end up being very strong and central to the story. And then the two predatory clans that come after them. Not only that, there’s some weird references to horror cinema thus far in it but it takes it in a new direction I feel like.

It’s cool. It seems almost like 2 films because of that. You have the whole first half where the women are the victims, and then the 2nd half where you’re not sure what direction it’s going to go in! What are the origins to WICKED LAKE and how did this come to you?

Adam Rockoff who wrote the first draft of the screenplay, he’d done the book GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER FILM. This was his first script and he sent it to the guys at Fever Dreams in New York. John Carchietta, one of the producers just really latched onto it. So they talked to Chris Sivertson to see if he wanted to rewrite it and direct it himself, so he did the rewrite on it and I think quickly got busy with I KNOW WHO KILLED ME. He basically suggested that they give me a chance to read the script, and that I’d be a good choice to direct it if I liked it. He called me one day and said,
“Hey man, I did rewrites on this script. It’s a really weird, crazy film and I think it’d really be up your alley.” In a lot of ways, Chris and I, back in school we’d stay up all night long watching Elvis movies. We’d watch 6 Elvis movies in a row and just alternate with beer and booze between them. (Laughs) So there’s this weird inherent sense of humor between us, so I think he thought I’d understand and “get” what he added to the script. At first read, the script was completely new to me and I saw this weird sort of offshoot of the “rape/revenge” story, which actually made me really uncomfortable. I saw these really exploitive lines that kept getting skirted. I thought, “Wow, this is this huge visceral experience.” But reading it again, there’s all this weird dark humor, and there’s a whole Russ Meyer influence. I had just been watching as lot of Russ Meyer films. In a way, they’re kind of weird horror films! The man is always twisted by a female’s sexuality, but they’re kind of these weird monsters in themselves. All this stuff kind of came together. I was living in El Paso, Texas at the time, I still do, but I’ve been transient living my life. I had been working and living there doing music videos and commercials, so I had a crew that I worked with regularly.
People that knew what they were doing and loved what they were doing. We’d get together and do shoots, but it didn’t feel like a work day. It was like what we were talking about before. It’s like a family of people that know what they’re doing, love what they’re doing and working with people like that helps the day go by. No one would watch the clock. By the end of the day, we’d feel like we did a good job and got it done. So, I really wanted to work with these people that had all become comfortable with one another, and I felt that everybody was ready for it. I pitched Fever Dreams that we shoot in El Paso, Texas, which would be cheaper in some ways for budgetary concerns. Plus, having this psychic connection of working with this crew that I’m established with, like with the DP Stephen Osborn. They came out to El Paso just to hang out, and basically as I read it I knew exactly what locations I wanted to use. Somehow it all just lined up really quickly for me. I had to take them on a tour of El Paso and nearby areas, and everywhere that I’d wanted to use. By the end of the trip, we were all great friends and they said, “Yeah, there’s no reason you shouldn’t do it here with your people.”
Wow. Ok, so… you start the movie out right. WICKED LAKE opens on a very naked Robin Sydney. You got me right off the bat with the first 2 seconds, so thank you!

(Laughs) Yeah.

But Robin, besides being incredibly hot was also in THE LOST. In fact you have a couple of people from THE LOST in this film. Let’s talk about the casting. Let’s start with the girls first because obviously you needed really hot girls to be victims and then be able to turn the tables. You needed good actresses that also happen to be ridiculously hot! (Again, thank you!) How’d you find them?
Not to put down the importance of any of the other roles, but since the girls were the central backbone of the film, the casting of the girls would define what kind of film we’d come out with. We could’ve cast a bunch of bimbo’s that didn’t mind getting naked, and it could’ve been pretty terrible, I think. (Laughs) Not that I can say if it’s great or not, because I made the thing, but I feel like going into it, we knew that we needed to cast good actresses. Basically, Robin’s the only “known” that we used. I think we went through the casting process totally open to casting unknowns with the girls. We were trying to find girls that were the actual age of the characters rather then older girls.
We were looking for people that were comfortable with their bodies and sexuality, but also who could actually act and could add something. To me, the most important thing with the girls was the relationship we would have and the dynamic. I wanted to be able to talk openly with them, given the nature of the story. I wanted their help, I wanted to be able to collaborate with them. With central female characters, I didn’t want to force their strength in the story and in the execution of the filming. So, I know it’s an exploitation film in a way, but I also feel it’s not completely exploitative to women. The most important thing to me was that if we went into this thing and it was exploitive toward women, then it’d work against itself.
I chose girls that I could have an open dynamic with and say, “Ok, this is what I want to do here” or “this is not what I want to do”, “the nudity is required but I want it to be matter-a-fact”. It’s like, yeah, Ok, they’re naked but that’s because its part of their character and sexuality and their power. Given that I’m a guy, I felt I needed to be able to trust a girl to tell me “this makes me uncomfortable” or “this doesn’t feel right”. We found that balance and walked the fine line and made the film I wanted to make. And I feel like we got the right girls. Each one had their own distinct personality, which they needed to have. But they were also all really intelligent, fun ladies, who also happened to be comfortable with themselves and we could all collaborate and come together to make this film.
Of course, I have to bring up Marc Senter because I actually just recently saw THE LOST for the first time, and one of my friends best described it; I haven’t felt that way at the conclusion of a movie since HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. I was so disturbed by how that film played out, and the main reason is because of Marc’s performance…

He was amazing and intense in that film!
Yeah! But to see him here in WICKED LAKE as Caleb, a completely different character, I just could not stop laughing every time I saw him. I loved his “So, anyways?” (Laughs)

Yeah! Well, that whole thing apparently was an addition from Chris’s writing – the “So anyways?” side of Caleb. It came out in the rewrites, and it’s based on someone they’ve had interactions with. So I guess someone on the circuit out there while they were touring on THE LOST, this guy kept surfacing who would show up and you’d always know he’s there because he’d be like “So anyways” and they’d all turn around and he’s there.

So, there was this Caleb incarnate person.

Wow. So what was it like working with Marc? Because again, he proved how great he was in THE LOST?

Marc was fantastic! Marc was just a great ally from the beginning. Yeah, I met him on THE LOST and we became friends during the filming of that, and he just has a genuine love and gusto and understanding of acting. He is very much a professional. I like his approach. He becomes the character! Like the first thing that he and I did for WICKED LAKE, we went shopping together at American Apparel.
He wanted to be able to dress like Caleb. So we’re standing in American Apparel and he’s going and trying on these short pink shorts and little tight shirts for me. It was a great day. The whole sales staff was both disturbed and intrigued by what was going on. But basically, from then on he dressed and lived as Caleb until we started shooting. He becomes engrossed in the character. I like that! I’m kind of a sucker for that stuff. Having him on the set, he was just a strength. When you have actors that are just that good, the playing field gets raised a bit too.

I know this is a slight spoiler, but I was bummed when he got impaled to the door. However, I think he’s still alive and hanging there right now as we speak. I’m glad you didn’t completely do him in.

(Laughs) Yeah, it was like “yeah, you’re in the movie and you get impaled through the door. You get to work every day, but you’re stuck to the door for every day, all day long for 12 hours.” In a weird way, it was kind of hilarious. But I like the subtlety he added. To me, Caleb is like the one pure soul in the film, but he’s too delicate for this world as a lot of people start out. But he maintains it, although he is a little twisted in his own way. He also brings the idea and the reminder of humor. At the beginning of the movie, he’s funny but kind of disturbing. But as the movie takes over, it becomes way more disturbing then anything he does. He brings back the humor to it every once in a while and reminds you that we’re having a fun ride, and not to take everything too seriously.
Another actor I wanted to bring up who surprised me, I had to do a double take, was Will Keenan. A lot of people know him from the Troma movies, TROMEO & JULIET and TERROR FIRMER, and I was really surprised that he didn’t take part at all for the TROMEO & JULIET anniversary edition. I always got the impression that maybe he was trying to shy away from the genre? But here he is in WICKED LAKE, so how’d that happen?

I think your impression is true. I think… Will’s an amazing guy, and talented in a lot of different ways. He’s more of a producer these days. He’s got a lot of big projects he’s rolling around with. That’s the direction he’s aiming himself in. But at the same time, he did come from Troma and we sent him the script, and strangely enough, the editor Kevin Ford had worked with him on another one of his directorial films, so there was this weird connection via the friend community.
He read this and thought it was somewhat of a return to the genre, but at the same time knew that I didn’t want to make a Troma film. I wanted it to be something different. The thing that really attracted me to him as an actor in the first place was his reel. He had a bunch of Buster Keaton style psychical comedy. It was totally elaborate crazy stuff that people just don’t do anymore. That kind of impressed me. I love TROMEO & JULIET and TERROR FIRMER, but that’s not what I wanted to make here. He came around and became interested and we had a lot of fun.

The two coolest words about your movie are… Tim Thomerson.


I’m a huge fan.

Thomerson is awesome! When I mentioned the movie marathon’s before with Chris and the crew that lived in the house with us. I remember one night, we watched DOLLMAN and TRANCERS and all these Thomerson films.

Which he himself has never seen! He once told me at a convention that he doesn’t watch his own films!

Yeah, I don’t even know if he’s seen WICKED LAKE yet or not! What I love, I spend part of my time in San Diego and he lives up the street. He’s amazing! He’s a total character actor. He’s a total comedian. He has an amazing sense of comedic timing, which was great for Jake. It was another balance of levity for the film, the Jake and Ray characters. They’re the stereotypical cops and characters, but they’re also a little weird. They played the stereotype but also took it in a different direction. Thomerson is amazing. I wish that we had more time with him! He was only on the film for 4 or 5 days. Watching the footage? I could totally watch a movie just about Jake and Ray driving around.

(Laughs) Oh sure!

They could be driving around and Jake could offer his age old wisdom. And I would totally be happy for an hour and a half. He showed up looking a little different then I expected but I was totally stoked with his hair and mustache. (Laughs)

Another intriguing thing about WICKED LAKE – I grew up loving MINISTRY. I love Al Jourgensen. And here he is doing the music in your film, and I love that he cameos at the beginning as the teacher reading a porno mag in class. (Laughs)


How’d he get involved in this?

At this point, we’re old friends. About 5 or 6 years ago, I worked camera on one of his music videos, a couple of albums back. He lives in El Paso now. He’s an honorary Texan. He records there and built a studio there and has his record label based out of there. Him and his wife Angie – it was just one of those things where you meet someone and you just keep them in mind. A half a year later when he was doing his new album with REVOLTING COCKS, he called me and wanted me to do animation for him. I did this animated music video for him and that was the start of our friendship. I love hanging out with Al, Angie, their dogs and their crew. They have a tight-knit crew that’s really fun and kind of crazy. He and I have a really similar sense of humor and creativity even though we execute it differently. We just get each other in a weird way. We lead totally different lives, but there’s this weird understanding and connection there. And so, I did a few music videos for them. Did the tour visuals for MINISTRY for a couple of years. When WICKED LAKE came up, he was just really excited for me. He was like, “Man, I want to read the script. I just want to see what this is. I’m really happy for you.” He read it and said, “Dude, you have to let me do something! I can do score work, I could be in the movie. Whatever you want.” So, that’s how that came together. He was just so eager and happy to help me out, and just came on board totally gung-ho. And it’s kind of perfect for his creative trajectory, or his creative life, because he had just technically put to bed MINISTRY and put to bed REVOLTING COCKS, so his plate was clean and he was just into hanging around the studio and playing around. He was recording 70’s covers, which ended up being the last MINISTRY album. He was just experimenting, so that really lent itself to the spirit of working on the score for WICKED LAKE and the songs that ended up being in it.

Well, that’s amazing that he would offer to help out in that way.

It means a lot to me that he got involved and that he cared.

Awesome! The DVD for WICKED LAKE is officially out now. Anything we can expect on the disc, any goodies?

I put together the special features myself. Growing up in the dawn of laser discs, and then the dawn of DVD’s, the most exciting thing back in the day was getting a Criterion disc and seeing extras. And seeing how they’ve changed as DVD’s have taken over. It’s become the expected thing to have features, and some times they’re kind of sub-par. I put together a weird bunch of deleted scenes and takes that I just couldn’t use in the film. Bloopers, and a weird reel of 20 minutes of extras. We had so much fun on the shoot itself. It was like a rock n’ roll 15 day shoot, but with the community, it was like summer camp! Everyone was taken out of their element, they came out from LA. They got taken to this small city in Texas and everybody’s staying away from home, and we’ve got this Texas family of crew, and everyone just bonded and it became this working party in a way. It was like being at summer camp and I wanted something to capture that spirit. We had a great still photographer that chronicled everything. Instead of one of those stills gallery that you flip through, we edited together like a photo montage to music, which captures the spirit. Like most things these days, there’s stuff always held back for the inevitable 3 disc double dip or whatever. (Laughs) Lucky McKee and his dad Mike (who’s actually in the film); when he wasn’t working and Lucky was just around, they basically shot documentary footage. They probably have 10 times more footage then what was actually shot for the film.

(Laughs) Wow.

So this stuff is all out there. And I know he’s just started editing that and I know it’ll end up as it’s own feature length feature.

So what’s next for you?

There’s a couple of things. I’ve been writing a lot. I’ve got 2 more genre films that I’d really like to do. I have a weird psychedelic biker horror teen love story. I would love the chance to do that next year. Before WICKED LAKE started, I had co-directed a film with Justin Stone who played Fred in WICKED LAKE. Chris had shot part of it. It’s this long old-school 70’s drug, road freak-out film. In the wake of WICKED LAKE, I’ve been putting some of that money towards finishing that film. I’m getting the final sound elements now like the score and whatnot. I hope that’ll be done in November. It’s called MOTEL, GLIMPSE.

I’ll look for it! Zach, thanks so much for your time!

Special thanks to Victor Bonacore!

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