I first met Rob Pendergraft during my Junior year in high school. He would come and hang out with my then English teacher and now very good friend Mr. Ward. Actually, if it weren’t for Mr. Ward, I probably would have never pursued an interest in writing and you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now. I have a vague memory of us all playing lazer tag one afternoon after school. I spoke recently to Ward who told me I used to refer to Rob as FRANKENSTEIN. How apropos. Even back then, it was clear he was a horror movie fanatic.
After being featured on THE OLD SCHOOL AMERICAN HORROR panel at Comic Con, I felt it was my duty to sit down with my old friend and talk to him about his work on the HATCHET movies, where he got his start, and his new shop ‘Aunt Dolly’s Garage’.
Tell me how you got started in effects.
Well I started out doing stuff as a kid playing around as a normal kid would. You know, on Halloween do other people’s makeup and stuff.
I was a normal kid, I didn’t do that.
When I was growing up, we would always do really cool things like blowing up army men or something like that with blood all over us. You start getting more intricate with doing our makeups and everything and run with it. It ended up being one of those situations where people were coming to me like “Hey, do my make up. Do my make up. Do my make up!” And then I’d never really have any time to do my own so I’d just splatter blood all over me.
Did that come from any art background?
No. No it was just something I liked doing. We would always do things. Like, Halloween is my favorite holiday. And every now and then it’d just be one of those things where there’d be a birthday party or something and we’d show up in gory makeups because we thought it’d be fun. I’m kinda disturbed like that, in a way.
Disturbed? You? Never!
After high school and everything, I was working a normal job still not knowing what I’m going to do with my life and a friend called me saying there was a clerical position open at Roger Corman’s Studio…
You didn’t get to meet Roger Corman, did you?
No but I applied for the position to be a clerical worker in the art department and I met with the art director and he said they needed somebody to do this and apparently I was qualified for that. Then I met with the Vice President of the operation there and she looked over my resume which consisted of things like Halloweens and things I did with friends in high school. Just doing really arcane SFX where I had no idea what I was doing. I had pictures of these things actually stapled to my resume. She kinda had that look that everyone else gets like ‘What the fuck is this guy doing?’ And she then said, “Look you’re too much of a creative person to be doing a job like this, you’d go insane.” And I was like, “I can work on this for now, this is fine.” But she said, “No! I’m going to give you a number for some people to call and you tell them I’m sending you personally to them.” One of the people on the list was John Beuchler who I ended up calling. And he said, “Sure, come on down and you can do some intern work.” I went down there and worked for him for a couple of weeks as an intern. And he liked what I was doing and soon hired me on and started paying me. That’s where I started.
Did it ever cross your mind you’d be doing this for a living when you were going to high school birthday parties covered in fake blood?
It never really crossed my mind and actually it really still doesn’t because I still look at every project I do as a fun thing to do instead of a money making venture. The minute I look at something and I’m like okay we’re going to make money off this or something like that it’s no longer a fun project, it’s more work. So I never look at things in that respect. I have to keep the fun alive. I don’t want to be a burnt out person that despises what I do.
And when you keep it fun, that resonates with the audience when viewing the finished product.
Like when we were working on stuff for HATCHET 2 when we talk about the kill sequences, there is a certain bit of fun that resonated between myself and Adam or whomever I was working with. Like oh, it will be fun if we did this. It’s not like, will we get more people to like the movie if we do it this way. No, we were looking at it through our own childhood kind of ways. Like this would be fun doing it this way and we’ll have fun shooting it.
He handed me THE hatchet for a quick pose.
When I first met the HATCHET 2 crew at Comic Con, I got the sense that everyone involved was coming at the project through a shared, almost nostalgic, love of the genre. You guys are fans first so to shoot something new and exciting that you would have found cool as a child reflects that nostalgia on screen.
Speaking of nostalgia, what was the first horror movie you worked on?
The first horror movie I worked on was probably HALLOWEEN 7 and I never went on set. There was this whole snafu with the Michael Meyers masks. The director wanted one mask, the producers wanted another mask. So they went to John’s shop where I worked at the time because we made masks for HALLOWEEN Part 4 and 6. And they were like, hey can you get the molds out and run some more Michael Meyers masks so we can have the ones from the originals. I didn’t work that much on it besides doing some latex in the molds and stuff, that was about it. From there, we started working on stuff like MINER’S MASSACRE…it’s hard to remember all of the movies since it was 12 years ago. We did a movie called FOUR DOGS PLAYING POKER which was a movie about a heist that went wrong. There was a bit in there where we hung Tim Curry up on a meat hook and cut his legs off at the ankles and let him drip dry till he bled to death. So that was fun
Are there any people in this business who inspired you to get into SFX or still inspire you to this day?
I’m a fan of everybody’s work when it comes down to it like Rick Baker and Stan Winston. Even the old school stuff, the stuff that really got me into it was the classic Universal monsters like Jack Pierce and John Chambers with stuff like PLANET OF THE APES. All the people who did the classic monster movies. That really stuck with me back in the day. But then I loved growing up watching Slasher movies. Obviously the TERMINATOR movies and ALIENS. Rick Baker’s work with obviously AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. That stuff blew my mind when I first saw it and it still holds up today. Then you get people like Rob Bottin with THE THING, you know, all that kind of stuff. These pieces of work are awesome, almost like cornerstones and definitely things I look at as influences besides just being a fan of their work. When I see stuff like that in the classics, I want to emulate them and put my own versions in the projects I work on. Like in THE THING where you see the dog’s head flower open, that’s all practical EFX. They figured out how to do that. I see a lot of that lacking in movies today where they end up using computer generated EFX which doesn’t end up looking as realistic it should be. Like it’s more of an afterthought and lacks actual craftmanship.
What is your favorite horror film?
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON hands down. I watched it with my dad when I was a kid and it was really my first introduction into horror movies. Scenes where you see the gil-man swimming under Julie Adams and the hand coming up on the side of the boat can really freak out a five year old. That was the movie that made me not want to go into my little plastic swimming pool. That and the fact that I saw JAWS around that same time. The original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is my second. That movie really screwed me up as a kid. What else? The original HAUNTING, THE EXORCIST, POLTERGEIST. I have a big favorites list.
I see you wearing Iron Maiden shirts a lot. Can you explain the correlation between heavy metal music and horror movies?
What can I say, they just go so damn good together. Also Iron Maiden and their awesome Derek Riggs covers were very big inspirations for me as a kid that helped me get to where I am today. So when ever I can, I like to fly my Maiden colors.
Adam went on record a
t The Hatchet 2 panel regarding how he feels about the horror sub-genre of torture porn. I’ve gone on record in the past regarding my distaste for it. What’s your stance?
I’m really not one for the torture porn movies. I do have a great respect for them though simply for the suspense that they put an audience through and the incredible effects they incorporate in them. I’m a little more traditional in my movie viewing experiences where I would rather revel in the glory of the ramped up inventive humanly impossible kill as opposed to the way too real slow painful agony kill. THE HELLRAISER movies are about as far as I go, but don’t get me wrong if I had the chance to work on one of them I totally would just to apply my craft while having fun on set but I would probably end each work day by quietly sobbing in my car.
Are you one of those people that believe in the HITCHCOCK point of view that what is left up to your imagination, film wise, ends up being scarier than seeing every intricate gory detail of a kill? For instance in the PSYCHO shower scene, you never see a knife stabbing Janet Leigh.
I’ve never really put much thought into it. Coming from my end of the world, we’re not necessarily looking at it like when we’re doing a kill sequence, if it’s a scary kill sequence. We look at it more along the lines of if it’s a cool sequence. When we’re hacking people up in the swamps and everything, we know the scare factor is going to be more of who’s going to get it and when are they gonna get it. That’s where that kind of fear comes from. More into the world of the effect of the scene on the day that we’re shooting it, it’s more along the lines of okay now that scare is over because we know this person is about to get killed, the kill needs to be looking cool now.
Was there ever an effect or prop you had to design for a movie that you thought was way too difficult or impossible to accomplish?
Hell, most the ideas Adam Green has are way difficult and next to impossible. It’s like ‘Hey we need a Burger King head and a Jack in the Box head next week, here’s $150 bucks to make it happen. They totally have to look like they do in the commercials’ or ‘Hey we’re starting HATCHET 2 and we need you to start RIGHT NOW. Quickly we need 17 on screen kills and enough blood where you can drown a family of five while they sit in their Buick. Oh yeah and the kills need to be epic. We need Crowley to ***** ** with the **** * *** and then **** ** **** ** blood flies *** * ****** *** ** the guy tries to run but ****** *** * ***** *********** blood ** ***** ** more blood ***** ******* bloody mess ** **** *** ****** ** * ***** * ** ******* ***. You got that?’
Yeah to answer that question I would say HATCHET 2. When it came to building the effect sequences for it there was a lot of impossibility to it because the rule for the HATCHET movies is no CGI. It all has to be in camera effects. Plus the fact that Adam is an awesome guy to be around and work with, we never really felt the pressure we should have felt on this project. However there were a couple sequences that Adam wanted to do that we felt were not possible in the practical world and they were ultimately scrapped, but actually even better sequences came up out of those ashes that we loved more. Really that is the coolest thing, when you can have a director that is totally willing to collaborate ideas for the benefit of the film, it really makes things less difficult to accomplish.
Tell me about Aunt Dolly’s Garage.
Well it’s the garage that my Aunt Dolly owns. It’s part of her house. She has a big garage that she lets me use to make SFX and stuff.
All the makeup SFX for HATCHET 2 was done in Aunt Dolly’s Garage?
Yes they were. When HATCHET 2 was a go, Adam Green was pushing me to be my own company for once. I was very intimidated because I’ve never done it before like that. But he pretty much rationalized it to me where he was like you’ve been doing it all yourself in your garage it’s time for you to start picking it up and do the whole movie in your garage. We were agreeable about it but it wasn’t until I was driving home that I was freaking out like what did I just get myself into?
The garage isn’t very big.
No, it’s not. I mean, I’ve always had a knack of making things work in tight spaces. As a kid growing up, I always had a mass amount of toys and action figures and I was always able to put them up and be able to make as much room as I could So I took that same mentality to the garage itself with putting everything in their own specific space.
It does seem very compartmentalized.
Yeah, all the spaces on the walls are completely usable. The ceiling space and I have found places to put shelves. I try to use as much space as possible. Turning that garage into a shop was kind of an undertaking as it was because I had to get an electrician friend of mine to wire lighting in there and put us on some dedicated breakers or circuits so we didn’t blow a fuse in the house. And from there, just really trying to make space for everything we had.
Interesting, you’re working on multiple projects right now all in that garage?
Yeah. It’s like after we got done with HATCHET 2 in the garage we kinda got the vibe on how we all work together in such a close proximity with each other on things. We kinda ran with it and now it’s pretty easy.
So you squeezed Victor Crowley in Aunt Dolly’s Garage?
Yeah we had Victory Crowley in there and pretty much everyone else who gets killed in the movie in there getting live cast. We had double the amount of kills for the movie and they were done all in my garage. That was kind of interesting because we had bodies weighing on my sofa in the living room as a storage place for them when we weren’t using them.
I’m sure your neighbors love you.
The neighbors would be walking their dogs and normally they would let their dogs crap on our lawn and not care. But then they start seeing us work with these bodies, blood, and stuff and pull their dogs off our lawn trying to get out of there as soon as possible.
After viewing the footage Adam showed at Comic Con, I’m curious were there any changes to the Victor Crowley makeup for HATCHET 2?
When it came to getting the makeup to work right, we kind of redesigned it again to make Kane be able to play the character and have more movement in his face and not be as encumbered as he was by the suit in HATCHET 1. Give him a little more freedom with HATCHET 2 to do more since he had way more stuff to do. When you look at the footage from HATCHET 2 especially with Kane’s face, he has so much more free range of emotion and he can be more expressive in his makeup than with the first film.
Speaking of the footage Adam showed at Comic Con, you’re to credit for all o
f that. All those kills, that was you.
Yes it is.
How does that feel? You had everyone in that room cheering in response to things you created, some of which were quite effed up.
That’s the thing. When we were talking about the kills and everything, we wanted to go as full force as we possibly can. It’s like the motto with Ariescope,like with the Halloween shorts we’ve done every year, is like how are we going to top this? How are we going to top this? And every year we end up topping ourselves somehow. And that’s how it transpired with HATCHET 2. How are we going to top HATCHET 1 since we did all these cool kills in that? Adam came up with a bunch of really cool kills and I threw a couple in there too. We just all started talking about how cool it’d be to do things on that scale and let that much blood fly around on things.
It’s been twelve years since you started and you’ve come a long way from pictures stapled on a resume. Where do you hope to see yourself twelve years from now?
Oh I have no idea. I have no idea what’s going on tomorrow. Honestly, I’d like to still be having fun doing practical EFX. I can’t say anything like my goal is to be the best in the world. I’m not even looking for that. I’m just looking to have fun doing the EFX that we have with the gang I’m doing it with. If we happen to get big or popular along the way, that’s just something that comes with the territory. We’re just after having a good time. Have a little bit of fun and that freedom we’ve been lacking in the horror movie world for the last fifteen years. That’s what it really comes down to for me.
We finished our beers and I let him get back to work. Keep an eye out for Robert Pendergraft’s name. He has a bloody bright future in this business. Okay maybe not bright, but bloody. Very bloody.
– Aaron Pruner