Pretty much chaos incarnate, Atlanta filmmaker Eddie Ray is back at the Atlanta Film Festival this year with Satanic Panic 2: Battle of the Bands, the next phase of his increasingly epic look at that mythical band who, while commanding the top of the pop charts with their Satan-loving tunes, still find time to diligently work at violently snuffing out devil worshipers on behalf of the U.S. government. The laughs are suitably doubled up this time around, especially with the addition of a neon-haired rival troupe called When Tempers Flare, best described as TLC gone very, very bad--so bad that the video for their first big hit (the title of which we'll keep as a mystery) leaves the usually unshakeable Satanic Panic gang speechless with shock. Satanic Panic 2 is the kind of Atlanta production that doesn't take itself too seriously (and I should say, its laughs are big and well-earned), but also doesn't put any brakes on what it has to say or how it says it. In other words, it's certainly not a movie for the easily offended. But for those on its wavelength, its nasty wordsmithing will ring out as utter street poetry. Ray's newest movie also has a sneaky core of sentimentality to it, lending a strangely snarky edge of sweetness to all the onscreen bloodletting. The first installment was a huge hit at the 2012 ATLFF, and this one--bigger, longer and uncut--is sure to elicit screams of approval from its audience when it plays at the 7 Stages Theater on Friday, March 27 at 6:30 pm (tickets can be purchased online here). Recently, I talked to mastermind Eddie Ray about the film, his love of the horror genre, his adoration for the Atlanta filmmaking scene, and life as part of the Adult Swim team:
So I was Satanic Panic virgin until the other day. Do you think people need to see the original movie before seeing the sequel?
Virgins are great, too--Dick Dano can sacrifice them. Look, if you see part one, it just makes part two even more fun, but we tried to design the sequel in a way where you didn't have to see part one to enjoy it. I love the first part, though, so go watch it and laugh! It has a great Scooby Doo-esque chase scene in it. And you can also see when Satanic Panic used to be a Christian band!
The second installment really wrenches up the laughs and the weirdness. Was it a more difficult writing and directorial process this time around?
I always feel like sequels are harder. More characters, more story, more laughs, more blood, more songs, more cursing, more locations. You really have to amp up everything you do in the sequel or people will get bored... hell, I would get bored. People forget the first rule of moviemaking is to entertain. I saw Goldie Hawn on Nightline or some show like that back in the 90’s say something like “It’s called the entertainment industry for a reason." I was like “BLEEPin' true." Honestly, you can entertain people even if they are crying while watching your film. So me and my co-writer Max Fisher just tried to write a fun and exciting movie with memorable characters that you will love and want to hang out or even make out with. Who knows what you're into?
You've really got everything in Satanic Panic 2. Like, for instance, since it has a “Battle of the Bands” as part of its plot, you take potshots at a wider variety of musical styles. Were there any fake bands you left out in editing?
OH MY GOD YESSSSS! I am so glad you asked. We left out the “Limp Lizards” and the “Latter Day Taints." We talked about them in part one. We'd like for the Limp Lizards to show up in the next movie. They were never filmed, but if you look close in part two you can see their poster on the wall behind Dick Dano--it’s right before Dick shows Satanic Panic the Connie show. I do love all the bands, though-- they were so much fun to create. The band Super X-13 is real, I should say. That is Shane Morton’s outfit. He did special effects makeup for Dear God No, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell and the upcoming Frankenstein Created Bikers. The band “Diligent Witches" is played by filmmaker Jiyoung Lee, who directed Female Pervert and Moral Sleaze (and both have played at the Atlanta Film Festival). I love that Atlanta has a lot of cross contamination. I always love working with other amazing Atlanta talents! Most of my actors are from a theater group called “Twinhead Theatre.” If you have never seen one of their performances, you're really missing out. I saw them once years ago and said "I want them for my movies." I eventually cast them all.
"The Latter Day Taints" is a superb band name. And, I have to say, I love the Connie show sequence--it may be my favorite part of the movie. And then there's the addition of a pretty hilarious bit of animation. Can you talk about that?
Yes, the animation in the music video “I’m Secretly In Love With You” was produced by a good friend of mine named Victoria Cook. She is amazing. I love animation and the '80’s cartoon Jem and the Holograms inspired me with this film, so it felt right to have animation in it. Also, I think people are pleasantly surprised when this happens in the film. I'm all about surprises and keeping things moving. I want to be surprised just as much as the audience and I love this part of Satanic Panic 2 because it’s so magical and Jem-like to me. Victoria and I also work together at Adult Swim Cartoon Network and we also work on a web series called Sparkle Hooves, about a sassy animated gay horse that lives in Atlanta. It is NSFW or your kids or your wife or whatever! Nothing I do is. I live in an NC-17 world. Here is a link https://vimeo.com/album/3286548
Yeah, Satanic Panic 2 is definitely a hard R, if not an NC-17 offering. Let's just say, you don't wanna have any sort of delicate sensibilities if you're steppin' in to see it. You'll be getting the vapors inside of 30 seconds. Anyway, I have to also point out you also have terrific low-fi graphics and special effects in the film, too. Is it measurably easier for indie filmmakers to add effects of this sort to their movies these days?
My amazing co-writer Max Fisher does all those graphics. He did all that and was also the editor too! SAY WHAT?! That’s right--in film, we all wear 10 hats. That’s what real filmmaking is. You learn to do it all. Honestly, without Max Fisher, this film would probably be Jank Busted (a mess)! So I owe him a lot. He is very talented and I trust his opinion and ideas. The truth is, we balance each other out and work well together. He loves the ideas I have about over-the-top characters, music and montages. It’s hard to find people in life that trust your ideas or even believe in you at all, so I am very lucky. Go Max Fisher!
I'm interested in the original casting process for the Satanic Panic four. Were the roles written for these actors, or was there any sort of audition process you went through?
It’s funny because my advice to other filmmakers is that the characters in your film are the most important part of it. I feel like they should almost be created first, then put into a story. The band Satanic Panic could be pulled out of this movie and put into a grocery store and they would still be entertaining and fun to hang out with. That being said, in a lot of ways, the people I hang around are entertaining as hell. As to my lead actors, I love all four of them in real life and also as characters in the film. In some ways they are like their characters and, in others ways, they are not. I think my whole life is like an audition process. For instance, years ago when I first meet the person that I call my brother today, I said to him "You look like you would be a good serial killer in a movie." A year later, he played one in a film I made. If you meet me, you're probably being cast as something in my head that day.
One of the funnier aspects of the new movie is the addition of When Tempers Flare. Those women are, for me, among the film's highlights, they're so dang wild! How did you find these actresses, and can you talk about how you directed them into such a fury?
I love those characters!!! They are amazing. While writing part one, I was talking about those characters already. I saw Christina Boland in a play and talked to her afterwards about reading for the part. Emma Dickerson was a friend of a friend and she also came and read. Sasha Brown I knew and she was excited to play the part. It was tricky because they are in an all-girl hip-hop group that hates white people. So a lot of their dialogue is about stomping out crackers and so forth...they even have a song about it. So, I had to make sure they were okay with a page or two of this white-hate dialogue. I honestly love this scene. Remember, folks, it’s a comedy, and yes, there is message by the end. If you are reading this, you will just have to see the film to get it.
And I have ask you about the detailed costume design in your films. Are all the clothes made for this project? It feels like they might take up a major portion of the budget!
Costumes are a bitch, but so important in my films. I love crazy hair and costumes. Having bands be the main characters in the film is also a way to get away with them wearing crazy costumes and big hair. Performers are always wearing amazing outfits on stage in real life. Honestly, I am not interested in making films where characters are sitting around talking about their emotions while wearing jeans and t-shirts. Who the hell cares? What a friggin' drag! I see that crap every day in real life and I hate it. Ughhhhhhh! Give me a new world with new people! Also, yes, those outfits and wigs were pricey as hell but look amazing. I wish people really dressed this way. I wear fancy shirts with fake blood on 'em all the time. Why not?
Yes, why not, indeed. Are you an Atlanta native?
I have lived in Atlanta forever, but if I am gonna get real I grew up in Riverdale, just like rapper Waka Flocka.
The reason I ask that is because, last year, Shane Morton, one of your makeup people and cast members on Satanic Panic 2, said something pretty smart when asked why there are so many horror fans in Atlanta. He said it was because of Ted Turner showing all those old monster movies on TBS (or Channel 17) all throughout the '70s and '80s. I figure you're a big horror fan, too. Do you agree with this? Do you have any memories of watching horror films on TV back then?
Shane told me that once and he knows his horror. I worked on the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse haunted house with him and I co-wrote the movie version with Jonny Rej. I never thought about it before, but my mom used to watch Channel 17 and 36 all the time when I was little and there were horror movies playing all the time growing up. I love horror movies and Atlanta really is a horror and Halloween town. That’s the real deal. I get called the King of Halloween in interviews here all the time 'cuz I bust that ass every year for it. But nobody deserves that title, really. He who gives to horror and Halloween is a king of it. So that's anyone who works hard for it. There really are so many things to do here that revolve around horror and Halloween. It’s amazing. Should we call Ted and thank him? Maybe. I mean I work at Turner now. So...Thank you, Ted!
I know you've said some people see your films as being rather like the works of John Waters, but that you don't see the similarity. I definitely do see it, especially in the extreme, world-chomping confidence of the characters in his films as well as your own. But where do you see your styles diverging?
I guess I see the Waters in it. I just think it’s such a huge compliment that it’s hard to take. I mean, John Waters is amazing. I can only wish to film something as remarkable as his work one day. Somebody once told me I was like a nicer Atlanta version of John Waters, just 'cuz I don’t make my actors eat crap. Yeah, he influences me, for sure. I don’t see his or my stuff as vulgar, though. I see it as honest and real. Seriously, in real life, I sound like most the characters in my films. The reader should know I'm being quite PG for this interview. In real life, I have said most the lines my characters say. If you ever seen Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, there is a character named Eddie and he reacts the same way I would in those extreme situations. I am not into myself (much), but the director Jonny Rej wanted it that way. I love cartoons, horror, violence, pop music, smart-ass characters, trash, bitchiness, John Carpenter, Transformers, Halloween/Halloween costumes, and music videos. If you mix all that together, you will get my films. Oh, yeah, and cursing! I love cursing.
I know it pains you to leave the curse words out of your answers here, so please accept my apologies. You know, the Satanic Panic movies also remind me of maybe an impossibly high-end public access production (and I say that as a compliment, since I'm a public access veteran and fan). Did you ever work at People TV, the public access channel here in Atlanta?
No. It always seemed like a fun idea, though. I think Adult Swim is kind of like public access in my head. Crazy and fun ideas happen here and we just do them. I love working here. I have worked here for, like, eight years now. Before that I worked for a record label called Universal Music. Music, TV and movies have literally been my life.
How would you describe the filmmaking community in Atlanta? It seems very closely knit, like everyone's quite devoted to each other's projects.
Really, it’s amazing how it just keeps growing and growing. I think it’s because everyone is just so willing to help each other on their projects. Nobody complains--they just help for free. We all love making films, or even contributing to other people's films. I think that’s what makes Atlanta so great when it comes to film. Let's put it this way: in this year's Atlanta Film Festival alone, Victoria Cook and Brian Lonano made the short film Crow Hand; then Victoria Cook did the cartoon animation in Satanic Panic 2; Jiyoung Young is in Satanic Panic 2 and also directed the feature Female Pervert; I have a small part in Female Pervert; Dave Bonawits edited Female Pervert and shot Satanic Panic 2. See? Cross contamination!
I absolutely see. Okay, so, finally, we come to my standard closing question, since I'm such a movie geek: name five movies you love, or that you think inform your filmmaking style?
My fave movies ever:
1. Watership Down. It’s the realest film I have ever seen. I cry every time I see it. It’s so much about life and death--and it’s about cartoon rabbits.
2. Aliens. It’s scary and intense, but the characters are so amazing and memorable.
3. The Transformers animated movie from 1986. Honestly, I know every line in this movie. I think it’s about the ability to turn into something different. Plus, I love robots.
4. Return of the Living Dead. The punk rock teens are some of the best characters ever written!
5. John Carpenter’s Halloween. Those three girls--Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, and Nancy Loomis--are amazing in that film and I want to hang with them.
Movies that are probably like my filmmaking style--at least, for this film:
1. John Waters' Hairspray, with those crazy over-the-top characters and dancing.
2. Mary Poppins, with humans and cartoons living together.
3. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Tough characters killing and laughing.
4. Jem and the Holograms. Life as a music video and soap opera.
5. Purple Rain. Costumes, hair, music, performances, drama.
Bonus: Paul Verhoven's Showgirls, just because I love mean girls!
Atlanta native Dean Treadway is the Co-Host of Movie Geeks United, the internet's #1 weekly podcast devoted entirely to movies, with over 700 industry guests and four million listeners worldwide. His blog, filmicability, has more than 500 articles obsessing over films present and past and is approaching 1 million hits.