If you are interested in low budget film and/or independent horror, it’s likely that the name Todd Sheets is not a new one for you. Sheets has 46 director credits and 44 writer credits on IMDb, not to mention a slew of other credits as an editor, producer, actor, etc. His 1993 Zombie Bloodbath tends to be the title most folks have heard of, but his recent releases Dreaming Purple Neon and House of Forbidden Secrets have gained quite the following. Longtime fans know that he has fought through serious health concerns over the past several years, so his heart and love for filmmaking feels even more pure and powerful than ever.
Despite being one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, Todd Sheets makes extremely dark and gory films with extremely limited budgets. Fans of practical effects, gore, and the shot-on-video aesthetic will find a lot about Todd’s films to love. Made on a budget of only $13,700, the recently-finished werewolf film Bonehill Road is just starting to make its early festival rounds. Having had the chance to see the film and speak with Todd about it, I can honestly say that I love how different it is than so much of what I have seen in the past few years. My experience with Todd’s films is limited to just a few, yet this is my favorite one thus far. Linnea Quigley, badass werewolves, and ooey gooey gore effects make this one a must see for folks who dig on horror and exploitation the way I do.
The early buzz on the film seems to be all positive, with many impressed by how Sheets stretched the budget, as well as how the film fits into the Todd Sheets catalogue. In many ways, Todd’s signature style is on display:
I think I have a style, developed for years, but seriously applied since House of Forbidden Secrets. I tell a story, but I try and make every movie very different. All horror flicks, but House was an homage to Fulci, Dreaming Purple Neon was going all out “Drive-In Movie” gorefest/insane exploitation and this one is my take on the werewolf genre… my favorite monster. The lighting is very much me… not as garish as DPN or House perhaps, but the use of shadows and light… some cool camera tricks… but mainly when the red stuff hits, you know right away. I do not cut away or get shy about the brutal stuff. But in many ways, this is also a departure for me.
In other ways, the film is something different for the seasoned director:
I concentrate heavily on story, suspense, the acting and the monsters. And you can tell I love these monsters. I wanted the gore there of course, but I also wanted to show how all of us have grown from one film to the next. Dreaming Purple Neon was me showing the world that I was still a splatter director, that I could make a movie nastier and bloodier than any of my old films. It was the goriest and most outrageous film I ever made… but do it with style and still tell a good story. House of Forbidden Secrets was my comeback from a heart attack. Quadruple bypass surgery. Hospital for 31 days, almost died. And I had been raising kids and doing radio… no movies for a while there. Semi-retired. So that was my big comeback and I wanted to show people what I had learned. I wanted to make Fulci proud, and I even had Fabio Frizzi worked with us on the soundtrack. Fabio said I would make Lucio proud – one of the great moments of my life. House told a very complex story, different dimensions, ghosts, demons, time travel… it was gory, but it surprised people by how in depth the story and script was. Bonehill Road lives in between DPN and HOFS. It’s bloody and shocking as hell.. but it has a great story, amazing acting and a lot of suspense.
From beginning to end, the most impressive thing about this film is the effects, notably the creature design. At such a limited budget, having a genre legend in a main role and great looking monsters seems almost impossible, but Sheets figured out how to do just that.
Pretty much all our money went into the creature suits and gore. A bit for travel expenses and hotels, but most for effects. The creature suits were Midnight Studios Effects, the heads were GDS FX. A suit was done by Marvin Blake and all other effects on set were Jacki Butler and R.J. Parish. The transformation with Dilynn is 80% Joe Castro. We shot that in LA.
But even with all of the money going into the effects, it’s still only a fraction of what a big film uses on a single creature or effect. When I asked Todd just how they made that budget stretch and he said, “We worked our asses off!” before going on to credit the incredible Joe Castro (Terror Toons) for his work on the creatures and the effects, as well as the entire cast and crew.
Doing effects but not taking a salary, putting every dime on screen. Joe had 16 days notice, he prepped, worked his ass off… no salary. We went to LA, shot for a whole day, did prep the day we got there, Joe Castro blew us away. We shot in his studio. We used his lights and such, and I brought our camera and matched it as close as possible on set, in camera. White balancing and such. We did have some color correction, and I did it WHILE I edited. I shot as close to “in order” as possible and started editing right away. I did sound design as I went and I color corrected as needed, but did as much in camera as possible – like it used to be done. The cast and crew threw in 100%. Some weeks we would shoot 2 days, some 4 or 5 days. We did what we had to do in a short time and got it done very efficiently. Having this crew helped a LOT. We kind of talk shorthand by now. We know each other well, and newbies pick up fast. It’s like a family on set and no one slacks. The cast were prepared, rehearsed on their own time during off days. We just all pulled together and made it happen. Every dime is on screen. I have never taken a salary, not once. It all ends up on screen.
Giving up time and effort with no monetary compensation is pretty incredible, so it’s hard not to giving a ton of credit to everyone here that worked their asses off for little to nothing. The film may not appeal to the average filmgoer, but independent film fans will appreciate the hard work put in to a film like this. The story is strong and effects are stellar. If being critical of the film, the only downside is the certain need for some upgraded cameras and equipment; with this in mind, someone needs to give a director like Todd a nice budget. If a film like this can be done for less than the cost of a new car, its hard to avoid daydreaming about what such a creative mind could do with a cold million Blumhouse type budget.
The long and the short of it is that Bonehill Road is a title you should pay attention to and Todd Sheets is a filmmaker you should support. Follow him on Twitter and check out the new DVD release of Dreaming Purple Neon from Unearthed Films. As a fan of horror and fan of low budget fare, I loved the film. I endorse checking it out, even if only to support a hard working indie filmmaker, though mostly to see how much can be done with only $13,700 and a lot of creative effort.
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