As a video store child of the ’90s, Liam Regan was brought up on a steady diet of ’80s horror consisting of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and the Child’s Play franchise. Inspired by the Troma back catalogue, Regan went on to develop his first feature Banjo which is unlike anything we have seen before.
After news of his embarrassing sexual accident breaks, Peltzer (James Hamer-Morton) conjures up his childhood friend Ronnie only to be manipulated into exacting revenge on his co-workers in the most gruesome fashion possible. Expect laughs, plenty of gross out moments and a massive case of the feels, Banjo is a definite must see at Frightfest.
Ahead of the upcoming festival this Bank Holiday weekend we sat down with Liam Regan to discuss what horrifying accident inspired the film, his friendship with Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman and the importance of an anti-hero in horror movies today.
SCREAM: Hi Liam. Thanks for taking time to chat with SCREAM about your film BANJO. When did you decide to become a filmmaker?
Liam Regan: The first time I bought The Toxic Avenger 2 from Blockbuster Video as an ex-rental I was always a fan of horror movies as a kid. I used to go to the video shop and I rented films like Cat’s Eye, Puppet Master, so a lot of the independent straight-to-video films. When I saw The Toxic Avenger 2 I could tell that it was done on a smaller budget and I was only eleven years old at the time, as I saw it was low budget and the maniacal humour mixed in with violence and gore I loved it and I guess that is what inspired me to think that I could potentially do something, or at least try to do something like that. I then purchased the Troma back catalogue, I sat an watched them all, and I was inspired and here I am now.
I understand that from your love of things Troma you built a strong friendship with the famous Lloyd Kaufman. How did this develop?
As you know, I have been a Troma fan since I was eleven years old so when I first heard that Lloyd was visiting the UK in 2002 Leicester at Troma Convention I thought it would be a great opportunity to go there and meet my hero. I went to the convention as Sargeant Kabukiman NYPD which is one of the Troma mascots and it was from there on out that I developed the friendship and we kept in contact via email. He visited the UK again in 2010 when he did a two-day masterclass in London at Oxford University. Since then we were shooting emails back and forth. He told me they were going to shoot Return to Nuke ‘Em High in Summer 2012 and I saw it as a perfect opportunity to live out my dream to work on a Troma production. Lloyd sent me a copy of the script and as a Troma fan I already had a vision for this film so I took it upon myself to write a hundred and ten page script and it took him back that someone had taken the time to write a script without being asked to and he asked me to fly over to Buffalo Niagra, New York to work on the production. That was a dream come true and that was my film school right there to work on a Troma production. We slept on the floor of an abandoned funeral home with a ton of other people so yeah, working for Lloyd was my film school.
Tell me about Banjo. I’m aware that it began life as a short. Is this true?
Yes. I was coming out of a relationship in 2011 and before that relationship ended I snapped the banjo string of my penis which was a horrific thing to happen which I think would make a terrific horror film. I was in Leicester Square in 2011 at the time and I saw the Mother’s Day remake by Darren Lynn Bousmann at the Empire in London. I turned to my girlfriend at the time and I said what happened last night could make a really fucked up horror film. I went home and wrote a three page script and the hardest thing was to get people involved due to the extreme content. That developed into a fifteen page script and we made a short film called Confessions Of Peltzer which played a few festivals like the Tromadance festival in Jersey.
Brilliant. So how did the short turn into a feature?
Shortly after the short played at Tromadance I started to receive emails from people who had seen the film and that kinda inspired me to flesh it out again into a feature script. The thing is with anything you can’t tell much of a detailed story with a fifteen page script but I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to explore some of the characters and think about what they would do after the short film. So I sent out the feature length script and people were interested and thought the script worked so yeah that is how it all came about. Really it was inspired by a sexual accident that turned into a joke that turned into a feature film… it’s kinda crazy.
I understand that you’re a big horror fan and have attended Film4 FrightFest for a number of years as a fan. How does it feel to know that your first feature film will be playing the festival?
When I heard the news I was like, ‘Okay, I can die now.’ It’s crazy. I went to FrightFest on my own five years ago in 2010 and the year after I met so many people, so many friends. I love FrightFest because it is such a friendly family environment and for me to have my film play FrightFest that is a huge honour. It is a dream come true, it really is. There is no festival in my eyes that is bigger than FrightFest. It is the premiere genre festival in Europe. It’s fantastic, it’s brilliant… so yeah it is kind of like my bucket list is almost complete now. I can die happy.
Congratulations Liam. You deserve it.
Thanks man. I appreciate that.
OK so let’s talk Banjo. Tell me about your cast…
With Banjo we originally made a trailer for a Kickstarter campaign to generate a small fraction of the budget. I met James Hamer-Morton, who plays Peltzer Arbuckle, and I had sent him the script and did my best to convince him to be in this crazy little horror film. He’s fantastic, he’s been in films like Dead Love which was done by Chris Gallagher who is another FrightFester. We had Dani Thompson, who plays Deetz in Banjo. She is a producer and an actress who has appeared in films like Serial Caller. We also have Laurence R. Harvey from The Human Centipede franchise. I first met Laurence at the UK Premiere of The Human Centipede 2 at the FrightFest allnighter in 2011 and since then I always had him in mind to play Clyde Toulon. He liked the script and he came onboard.
Same with Dan Palmer from Stalled which also played FrightFest in 2013. Me and Dan have been friends on Facebook for many years as we are both fans of James Gunn who of course is the writer of Tromeo & Juliet, my favourite Troma film. He’s best know as the writer and director of The Guardians of the Galaxy. I sent Dan the script and he loved it so he joined the project. Damien Morter plays Ronnie and he was the writer/director of Book of the Dead: The Eschatrilogy which came out earlier this year on DVD. He was also the director of photography and also the editor.
Lloyd Kaufman also appears in the film. What was it like to have him on your set?
Lloyd does have a cameo in the film. To have your hero in your first film is great and a real dream come true moment. It was fantastic. Lloyd flew himself out to shoot Banjo. He was only here for one day. He flew over in the morning, had a rest, did his scene and then flew back the next day. It felt like I had received his blessing by him being a part of Banjo. On set he was great. He was fantastic. Plus, having him in the film it got people interested because it had his seal of approval. He has been great. He’s been promoting Banjo across Social Media on his Facebook page, on Twitter and his support as a well known independent filmmaker is fantastic.
Tell me about your shoot…
Banjo has been a four-year production and feels like a journey. We started shooting the first leg of production in August 2014 and we started the second leg in September 2014. It was twenty two days in total and we shot in Derbyshire, Barnsley and Sheffield. We also flew over cast from New York; we have a very transatlantic cast when it comes to the movie. The film is set in a fictional town called Henenlotter which is a nod to one of my favourite directors Frank Henenlotter who directed Basket Case, Frankenhooker and Brain Damage. I wanted to create the same feeling that Tim Burton did with his movies in the early 1980s where it is set in a small town that has its characters. The film is not set in any particular time so we use different technologies such as floppy discs, big mobile phones alongside modern day technologies to create a timeless feel.
I love how you’ve put a lot of thought into the film. With that in mind, I want to ask you about the effects which look entirely practical. Was that your intention?
Yes, without a doubt. I wanted to make a throwback horror film to things like Basket Case in respect to the fact that these type of films use lots of practical effects. I’m not a fan of CGI, I don’t think it works with some movies. However, I prefer the old Kevin Yagher and Tom Savini practical effects. With that I used Paul Wild from Graphic Illusions who is also a long-time FrightFest goer and I think he did an incredible job on this movie.
He really did. What was your favourite scene to shoot?
I think my favourite scene to shoot was the entire cooking montage sequence with Peltzer and Ronnie. They are throwing flour, eggs and milk all over the kitchen and it was great. It felt like it really had the things we were looking for in a horror-comedy buddy movie.
I get that. Damien Morter plays the role of Ronnie in the film. His character reminded me a lot of Rik Mayall’s iconic performance in Drop Dead Fred. What was your inspiration behind the character?
Drop Dead Fred was a film I definitely watched prior to writing the script. In fact I watched many films whilst I was writing the script. I would say there are elements of Fred in Ronnie. I’m a huge Rik Mayall fan and of slapstick humour and what he brought to the table in that movie was fantastic, especially with the relationship he had with Phoebe Cate’s character. I like to think that Banjo has the heart of Drop Dead Fred and so it was a small inspiration for the role yeah.
Tell me more about the creative process of how you created Ronnie.
Ah, with Ronnie I wanted to make my very own Freddy Kreuger mixed with Funny Man which is a lesser known British film which came out in the mid ’90s. Originally we were going to make Ronnie Ronald Regan the US President but the more I wrote about the character I started to realise that Ronnie is his own person so I decided to distance that character away from Ronald Regan and turn him more into a Freddy type of person.
I used to watch films like Friday the 13th, Halloween and I am a huge fan of the Child’s Play franchise. These films had their own anti-hero and today you don’t really see that in horror films anymore. The last person to do anything like that was perhaps Adam Green with Victor Crawley and the Hatchet franchise. I thought maybe Ronnie could be the new face of independent horror.
Okay. When Robert Englund played Freddy Kreuger he had room to improvise his scenes at certain points during the shoot. Was this the case with Damien Morter? Did he improvise some of his scenes too?
When I was writing the screenplay all the humour was there. With Ronnie, Damien improvised a lot of stuff and the chemistry between him and James Hamer-Morton who plays Peltzer was strong. They are very yin and yang and they really brought the script to life. Together they had the perfect dynamic as they really played well off each other.
To answer your question, Damien really made Ronnie a character of his own without a doubt. I may have written and developed the character but it was Damien who brought him to life. With a lot of the ad-libbing we had to actually cut it out just to make the running time but Damien definitely improvised during his key scenes and brought a lot to the table, it was great.
Why should our readers check out Banjo at Film4 FrightFest?
I am a big fan of FrightFest. I feel like I grew up on horror movies all my life and was a video shop kid in the ’90s. I’m now thirty years old and grew up on films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Child’s Play franchise. I feel that Banjo is a love letter to the low budget horror movies of the ’80s and I think it is a fun throwback. Much like Scream was a love letter to the slasher film, Banjo is a love letter to films done by Frank Henenlotter and of course Lloyd Kaufman. I feel that if people like extreme violence, slapstick humour and a lot of heart then Banjo is a great film to watch on a Monday morning at 10:45am. In fact I think it is a great kick in the balls that everyone needs.
So what’s next for you Liam?
Right now I am submitting Banjo to more festivals which is quite an expensive thing to do as an independent filmmaker. So I’m trying to shove it around as much as I can. I’m also currently writing another screenplay called Parent’s Evening which is best described as I Spit on Your Grave meets Mean Girls. So yeah that will be my love letter to films like Heathers and Mean Girls with a dash of rape revenge so you could call it the first ever black comedy rape revenge movie but I’m not sure how that is going to turn out. Fingers crossed that it will go into pre-production if we can generate some kind of funding.
That sounds absolutely insane. Listen, thank you Liam for your time today. Break a leg with the World Premiere of Banjo and I hope you have a fantastic FrightFest.
Words: Jon Dickinson (@marvelguy)