Tentacles, which Patrick O’ Sullivan wrote but didn’t direct, is a movie about a woman who gets sexually attacked by a Lovecraftian tentacle monster. It might shock you, even if you are a hardened horror fan. And isn’t that at least partially what horror is for?
In addition to writing, O’Sullivan has directed several of his own scripts. Space Werewolf is a wonderful microbudget horror-comedy that pays fitting tribute to old monster movies. He’s also written and directed a film from the point of view of a chocolate bar that’s about to be eaten.
Currently, he’s working on Jason Vs. Katy Perry, adapted from the book by controversial Kindle author Kitty Glitter.
O’Sullivan was kind enough to take some time out of his day to talk to me about filmmaking, tentacle porn, rock-n-roll, and pornstars.
Give us some of your background as a filmmaker. How’d you come to be a horror-comedy writer? Well, comedy is a little trickier. I grew up loving horror movies. I’m in my mid-thirties, so I came of age during the home video boom, and USA Up All Night. Those were kind of staples of my youth. So, definitely the 80’s were big for horror, and I was of the age, so I had a front row seat for that. That was always in my vernacular. And when you start out making movies, the most important thing was to make movies that people found entertaining. And if you want to make an engaging piece of cinema, then you have to have a very good dramatic narrative, you have to be really funny, show tits, or you have to have violence.
I’m not saying I didn’t have a genuine love for it, but I knew with horror it would be easy to make effective, engaging films. And I do try to branch out and do stuff that’s a little more comedic, or a little more dramatic. The comedy and the drama comes from getting comfortable with yourself as a writer. There’s nothing worse than seeing a movie that’s a “comedy” that just isn’t funny. The writing doesn’t land, the jokes and performances are off. Being an audience member, nothing pulls me out quicker than somebody trying too hard to be funny. So I stayed far, far away from [comedy] for as long as possible. Even now I’m just starting to dip my toe into it because I’ve done it a couple times and I’ve had positive feedback. It definitely took me a lot longer to be comfortable as a comedic filmmaker than a horror filmmaker.
Did you start out as a writer, or did you direct your own stuff before that? No. Tentacles was the first time anything I wrote wound up on IMDB. I had been writing since high school. Since eighth grade. As soon as I realized this was something I had an interest in, which was when I saw Clerks back in ‘95. And then it was just a matter of figuring out how it worked with me.
In my 20’s I started playing in bands. When I first started making movies there was VHS, and then there was 16mm. And there was no in-between. So you’re either making these really shitty VHS movies with your friends (which I did), and editing between two VCRs, or you’re scraping together $7,000 to make a 16mm movie. So that didn’t work for me.
I put my filmmaking on hold to do the band thing. That you could do. You just get three guys together in a garage, and play some music. So I did the band thing for my twenties and then at the end of my 20’s, when the music thing didn’t really work with my day job anymore, it was easier to circle back into filmmaking because technology had caught up. And I know that’s a ridiculously pompous George Lucas kind of thing to say, but it’s kind of true. With digital cameras being the norm. When I first started doing this, it was before camera phones were as prevalent as they are now. The highest quality camera I’ve ever owned I’m also using to talk to you. And that opens so many different doors for filmmakers.
Tentacles was the first thing that got made. And that was a response to the ABCs of Death anthology. It didn’t win. I honestly thought it was going to be huge. This is live-action tentacle porn. Everybody’s going to be into this…and no…(laughs). We were so sure that was going to win, that it was going to be fucking huge, that I sat down and wrote an 85 page full length based on that concept. So we had the first draft ready for when everybody came calling. I don’t know if the world even needs that (laughs).
I read your Tweet on the film where you wrote, “I caught major shit for even “writing” a movie that involves tentacle rape. In some people’s eyes the writer was 100% responsible for that movie instead of the director and rest of the cast and crew. Wish writers always got that kind of credit.” Why did you put “writing” in quotes? Do you feel like it was less of a writing project because there was no dialogue?
No. There was a script that we had, and I wrote it and storyboarded it. But when you look at what a screenplay traditionally is where I do do two or three drafts just to punch up the dialogue and you’re so worried about character development and nuance and all this shit. And the writing credit that gets the most attention is when I sat down with the girl in the movie, who was my girlfriend at the time, and I said, “How’re we going to do this?” And the script was like two pages! It’s like writing a porno. You watch those porn movies and it says, “Written by Chi-Chi Boy” or whatever, but at the end of the day, what the fuck did they write?
Did you get any criticism from the horror community? Yes. In true Internet troll fashion, they debated my ex-girlfriend’s attractiveness.
That’s not cool. I know, right! But she was just being her. She was convinced that all these people leaving these comments on the Alamo Drafthouse website were girls she went to high school with or ex-girlfriends of mine or something. No, these are probably legitimate people sitting in their basement somewhere who don’t think you’re cute. Which was a shame. That wasn’t something she was expecting either. She never thought in a million years someone would criticize her for it and say, you’re ugly or you’re fat or something. It was terrible.
What really blew up in our face with that at the time she was a very active, very well known sex blogger. She had thousands of Twitter followers, and this was five years ago, not like now where everyone has 1,000 Twitter followers and they’re all Russian bots. She reviewed sex toys for Adam and Eve, and had all these blogging gigs. And she was like, “I’m going to do this and promote it on my Twitter. We’ll generate a bunch of votes that way.” But the first few negative reactions shook her confidence, and she really didn’t push it.
I thought Space Werewolf was a wonderful tribute to old Z-grade horror / science fiction. Did you have a love of low-budget camp movies growing up? I always loved movies with a monster. For me the perfect horror movie had a monster, there was a trick to killing the monster, and the monster had weaknesses and strengths or powers. Making [Space Werewolf] was cool. That was when I had gotten back into filmmaking. That was the first thing that I shot. Looking back now, I can say that a lot of it was improv. You write a script and usually when it comes time to film you think of better stuff to do, or someone does something funny on the set and you roll with it. That’s how I’ve been with all my movies.
You know, I’m not one of these dudes who’s super crazy about the Universal Monster movies —
I was thinking more like Roger Corman stuff. Ed Wood. That kind of thing. Mostly Troma. If you got the Roger Corman vibe it’s because I’m incredibly cheap. Ed Wood — it’s because I’m kind of incompetent (laughs). I mean, I wasn’t trying to emulate that aesthetic, I think it just occurred naturally.
Your movie BloodSpray: The Musical was done for a 48 hour film festival, which are known for their challenges already. It seems like it’d be even more of a challenge to write music for it. So what were some of the challenges you faced?None. My buddy Mike Vanderbilt. He worked with me on Space Werewolf and BloodSpray. Me and him were in that band that I was in during my 20’s. Right now he’s the assistant editor for Daily Grindhouse, and he’s also contributed some stuff to the AV Club. Me and him have done 48 hour film festivals together in the past. If you were to ask me about any other year, I’d say the hardest part would be me and him collaborating, because we have a tendency to butt heads. And there’s no time for that in the 48 hour span. That year, we had wanted musical. There’s like thirteen genres you can pull from, and I had said I really wanted to get musical that year. I fucking pulled it out of the had and boom, there it was.
We were comfortable working in a musical environment, so we sat down and put the songs together, came up with the lyrics. I did the vocals for the evil devil worshipper guy. We had a girl come in and do the vocals for the female lead. We knocked it out, we sang what we had to fucking do, and then we went and filmed it the next day.
Right now you’re working on adapting Kitty Glitter’s novel Jason Vs. Katy Perry. Is that going to be another short film?
Yeah. The book itself is maybe thirty pages long. It’s a novella, if even that. The first draft of the screenplay was about seventeen pages. That’ll probably translate to about twenty minutes, give or take.
I don’t know if [Kitty Glitter] is even a boy or a girl. We connected on Twitter randomly. And I saw the title and said, I will quick pay you five dollars right now, not even reading it, if I can make this into a movie. And that’s literally how the whole thing started.
Then I read the novella and was like, “Oh fuck.” This isn’t unadaptable, but his is way more out there than I thought. We went back and forth and talked about story stuff, because it involved some elements of Friday the 13th Part VII. It’s not in canon, obviously, but it’s faithful. They’ve watched the movies. They know their fucking Friday the 13th.
And we incorporated some other stuff, too. Tommy Jarvis is going to be in the movie, and Lady Gaga. It’s one of those things where you can come up with ideas for hours.
You’re not worried about copyright or anything? I’m assuming since it’s a parody, it’ll be protected. (Laughs.) It’s so funny because a year ago, a Chicago filmmaker wanted to do a Scream fan film. I was like, absolutely not! Why the fuck would you waste your time with that? You can’t make money off it, all you’re doing is setting yourself up to get sued, and here I am, less than a year later making Katy Perry Vs. Jason.
I’m not really worried about it. I’m not going to try to make money off of it. I know that [Kitty Glitter] did another book called Wesley Crusher: Sex Machine, and that one got taken down. They had to change it to Wil Wheaton: Sex Machine, and that was fine.
We reached out to Larkin Love, who’s an adult film star, who looks a lot like Katy Perry, and asked if she’d be interested in doing it, and she said yeah. We’re still trying to figure out the schedules because we wanted to shoot in August. She’s not based in Chicago, which is where I’m at, so there’d be the matter of flying her out. It would exponentially increase the cost of production, but at the same time it would bring a lot of notoriety to it too.
Anything else you want to add? Any future projects beyond Katy Perry Vs. Jason that you want to talk about? I self-published on Amazon a collection of screenplays that I wrote. It’s called Four Short Films by Pat O’Sullivan. They’re four of my favorite short films that I’ve written, and they’re unproducible. It would take too much money, and one would be completely CGI. But I honestly believe there’s value in the screenplay format as literature. When I was in high school I had to read Hamlet. For some reason it’s okay to read plays as literature, but what about screenplays? It’s not something that you see very often. Certain people, like Quentin Tarantino in the 90’s used to release screenplays as books a lot. I felt that these were legitimate literary works of merit.