Independent film director Michael S. Rodriguez doesn’t want to toot his own horn. No wait, he totally wants to. “My films have something that is missing from the modern formula of today’s horror cinema, and that’s substance with a touch of morality… a bit of the ugly truth, if you’d have it.”
Rodriguez has plenty of reasons to be proud. With Last American Horror Show, his collection of short films, screening at Fresno’s Tower Theatre Friday and a feature-length film in production, he’s living the dream – a dream that started long ago for him in the tiny town of Kerman, CA.
Life-long Love (and a Busted Shark) Inspires a Career
Rodriguez has been directing independent horror movies for four years, but he’s been immersed in the genre for a lot longer than that. He credits his late father, who introduced him to late-night TV shows The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, with forming this interest, and Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece Jaws with cementing it. Jaws, in fact, remains his go-to influence when he needs inspiration: “There is so much on-camera as well as behind it going on that, to this day, astounds me. I mean, a shark movie with a shark that didn’t work for 75% of the movie and still scared the crap out of everyone. Brilliant.”
There’s a lot going on both on-camera and off in Rodriguez’s films, as well. It’s that ugly truth he refers to that makes his films relevant, and not just to a horror audience. The circumstances on-screen may be extreme and unimaginable (and very, very bloody), but the lessons learned from them can be applied to real-life situations. Because let’s be honest, there’s very little that’s scarier than real life, right?
Horror Inspires Intense Devotion In Fans
Sometime last year, Chris Fierro found himself in a blood-soaked living room looking for a dismembered body part – and he couldn’t have been happier.
Fierro is one of the hosts of the Blood Brothers Horror Podcast, which he began in 2014 as a way to connect with other horror fans while discussing the history of the genre. Like Michael S. Rodriguez, Fierro is a life-long horror fan whose obsession began with Scooby Doo and grew with the classic Universal monster movies.
Fierro first met Rodriguez in 2014 while Rodriguez was filming Lamb Feed, his second short film. After a day on the set, the director and some of his cast came by to record an episode of Blood Brothers, and the two became friends. Last year, while filming Love Starved, Rodriguez asked Fierro to assist on set, and he was thrilled to be able to help out.
I ask Fierro if seeing how the sausage is made, so to speak, ruins the horror.
“It actually made me appreciate it even more! So much work goes into making a movie,” he says. “Besides Love Starved, I’ve helped on the set of Lake of Shadows: The Story of Avocado Lake and even had a small role in the film. Everyone works so hard on the set, and loves working with Michael and his team.”
It’s this love and support that sets horror fans apart from other film fans. They seem to be really devoted in their admiration.
“Horror fans are the best,” says Rodriguez. “I just love meeting fans, whether through social media or in person at cons. They are so supportive and appreciative of the work, and that means the world.”
Fierro agrees. “The horror genre is one where the fans appreciate the entire history. In other genres or fandom, you see people like a specific type of that art, or from a certain time period or decade. Horror fans enjoy contemporary films and go all the way back to the silent era – they respect the origins while looking to the future of the genre.”
Potlucks & Dance Nights with the Horror Community
It’s this dedication to the genre that makes the horror community so welcoming. “I also believe it’s the easiest [genre in which] to meet new people,” says Fierro. “Two strangers that enjoy horror can become friends in a matter of minutes because we have all seen the same films and love the same characters.”
Here in the Valley, there are a number of ways for horror fans to get together and share their mutual admiration for the art. The Central Valley Horror Club, founded in 2008 by Kaci “Homicidal Homemaker” Hansen, puts together events and get-togethers throughout Central California. Each month, the Club hosts a movie night and potluck at Fresno’s Full Circle Brewing Co. (the next screening will be Sometimes They Come Back on April 7). They also host a “Dark 80s Dance Night” at Full Circle.
(I mean, really. Is there anything more quaint than a potluck? And this, from a group of people who love movies and characters designed to terrorize you.)
Blood Brothers will also return to hosting movie nights at the new Popolo’s Pizza location in Fresno. Their next movie will be April 26, and they promise giveaways and trivia, in addition to the free film screening, in Popolo’s new banquet room.
Last American Horror Show Premieres
And, of course, you’ll be able to find horror fans aplenty at the Tower Theatre tomorrow night for the premiere of Last American Horror Show, Michael S. Rodriguez’s collection featuring his films, Homewrecked, Love Starved, Night of the Sea Monkey, and Lamb Feed.
The collection is inspired by the horror anthology TV series Tales of the Crypt in that each film touches on different subgenres, but true to Rodriguez’s style, they all are morality tales. “With my thought process and style, you won’t be getting your typical horror movie,” he promises.
Rodriguez’s next film will be the feature-length, found-footage Lake of Shadows: The Story of Avocado Lake, which he is filming at Avocado Lake near Sanger (Avocado Lake is the subject of a lot of local urban myth thanks to a number of deaths that have occurred there over the years). This will be the first of Rodriguez’s films to be set in a real-life location; his previous films all took place in fictional towns. I ask him if he has plans to move from Fresno to Los Angeles to be closer to the film business.
“Although I’ve shot my projects all over the country, I prefer the quiet life as opposed to the hustle and bustle of L.A.” he says. “I have no plans or desires to move closer to the industry.”
That works out great for local talent, some of whom have made appearances in Rodriguez’s films. And of course, for local fans of both Rodriguez’s films and the horror genre, who will no doubt be out in full force tomorrow night to enjoy the show and to support a hometown guy who is living the (bloody, nightmarish) dream.
This one-night event will be held at the Tower Theater on Friday, March 31. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the movie will begin at 8, followed by a Q&A and signings from Timothy Quill (Army of Darkness), Marv Blauvelt (Slices of Life), Kaci Hansen (Homicidal Homemaker), and Tyler Gallant (Poison Sky).
There will be an afterparty from 10 p.m.-midnight at the Tower Lounge. Cost is $10 for admission to the movie and afterparty. Tickets can be found here.
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