Cinedelphia writer Dan Scully talked with Bloody Knuckles director Matt O'Mahoney in advance of the Philadelphia premiere on Wednesday, April 22 during the Cinedelphia Film Festival!
Cinedelphia: I've seen probably a hundred different movies about a disembodied hand coming alive, but at no point did I feel like your movie was stepping on any well worn territory. It felt fresh. I wonder if that's something you were aware of.
Matt O'Mahoney: Yeah I knew I wasn't breaking new ground with the reanimated hand ... I knew I was dipping my hand into the territory of films like Evil Dead 2. The hand from that film is a big influence. Films like the Beast With Five Fingers, Idle Hands, and The Hand ... So yeah, I knew I was not pioneering a new subgenre. But I wanted to keep it fresh. I had an idea and this just was the best way to tell this story. An artist losing his hand is a pretty good place to start when you're talking about the larger theme of censorship and stripping and artist of his voice.
C: I think what separated it from all of those other movies is that in Bloody Knuckles, the hand had the body's best interests at heart. It wasn't a villainous hand.
MM: It's not very adversarial. I mean, he's really trying to rouse Travis back to normal. It's not a killer hand in the sense that Travis has to stop it. The hand is very much a good guy.
C: So you brought up the idea of censorship. The anti-censorship message is very strong. I work in comedy and one of the things I've had issues with lately is that so many people ignore context and end up being reactive and trying to silence the comedian. I'm curious as to watch your views on censorship are and how they informed this movie.
MM: Well I've always been very opposed to censorship. Since this movie has come out, since the attacks in France against Charlie Hebdo, a lot of people have contacted me and said "this is what your film is about". And it is. It is not just addressing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons or the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark a few years ago, but the conversations about censorship that came up afterwards. Political correctness was another nerve I wanted to tap on. I grew up in an era where there were a lot of free speech battles going on and there was a lot of skin in the game. There was a lot at stake. The National Endowment for the Arts was under fire. 2 Live Crew had been declared obscene and people were going to jail for selling their record. You had comedians like Sam Kinison and Andrew "Dice" Clay doing some pretty far out material. And pissing a lot of people off. There were these champions of free speech that I think we've kinda lost. I think those voices are kinda being silenced. I know comedians are in the crosshairs as well. It's almost every other day you hear someone's apologizing for this and that. I wanted this film to serve as a reminder that it's the most offensive speech that must be protected, because that is what ends up protecting all of us in the long run.
C: That's a line from the movie!
MM: That's how I feel. That's the thesis of the film. That's what the hand represents. He and Travis represent the lowest common denominator. That's always been the benchmark that protects all of us. You know, The Daily Show wouldn't be able to do what they do if it wasn't for Larry Flynt, who was the scumbag pornographer of his time, taking on Jerry Falwell over the Campari ad. And that's what it's all about. It's not about protecting what Larry Flynt says or what the Westboro Baptist Church says, to use an extreme example. It's about the protection of everybody's speech. That's why Jewish lawyers defended the American Nazi Party - because they saw something bigger than a bunch of shitheads marching around with swastikas. There was something bigger at play. That was the message I wanted to get out.
C: It's a wonderful message and it's clear as day in the movie. More importantly, I didn't feel like I was being beaten over the head with it. I was enjoying myself first.
MM: That's great. If people get the message that's great, but if people just wanna see a fuckin head-crushing, good-time movie, I've got that for you too!
C: That's another thing I wanted to bring up. There are not enough head crushings in movies anymore!
MM: Thank you. It took some doing, that head crushing. I hope I get to do it some more.
C: As an audience member, I will say we are clamoring for more head crushing! Ooh, and beverages that make you melt! That's a thing that I love. Street Trash is where it's at.
MM: Oh yeah, the influence of Street Trash is pretty prominent in this film. I love people melting, people exploding, head crushings. I try to make every death as much of a gory set-piece as I can possibly make it. Budget permitting.
C: They were phenomenal gore effects. And honestly I was expecting for the effects for the hand to be 100% shots of someone just reaching from off camera, but there was some very clean work of it fully disembodied and running around. I imagine that a lot of budget went into that?
MM: We definitely spent some money there. We made the movie at a time that was really good for us. There's kind of this slow period for film production in Vancouver after Christmas where you have access to really talented people who would otherwise be working and you'd never be able to afford! But they're willing to come out. Image Engine, who did effects for District 9 and Elysium, those guys just came really through for us. They were incredible. Without those guys, the film would be much different. I'm not a fan of digital blood but sometimes practical effects don't always do what you want them to do! Thankfully Image Engine did a really good job adding some extra splatter but hiding it really well. That said, our practical make-up effects artist, Matt Aebig, did an outstanding job. We put a lot on his plate and he always delivered.
C: I never could have called it. I really though the blood was all practical.
MM: That's what I wanted, for the whole film to be practical, but there are certain things you just can't do. You can't have a hand running down the street without some help from your digital FX pals!
C: When making Bloody Knuckles, did you run into any limitations that ended up improving the film?
MM: We definitely had some problems that didn't help the film much but forced us to really hustle. We had a guy who had a location that would have covered 10 locations in the script at one place. This guy strung us along forever and at the last minute he backed out. We'd already gone to camera and now we're scrambling to find 10 locations. It was a nightmare. But, if anything good came from it, it was that we all came together and had to knuckle down and work with what we could find.
C: The theme for this year's Cinedelphia Film Festival is "outsider art". Do you feel like that's an accurate description of what you do?
MM: I don't know. I guess "Vulgarian Invasions" could be considered outsider art! What I know of outsider art is art that people will kind of laugh at or mock, but it comes from the heart. The artists don't give a shit. They're doing what they want to do. So yeah, I guess in that respect "outsider art" fits us. I'm doing what I want to do. I'm making the movies I want to make. Why the hell do it for a project you don't want to do?
C: Did you produce the artwork for "Vulgarian Invasions" yourself?
MM: I did. I originally went to Robin Bougie, the creator of "Cinema Sewer" magazine. He was totally down to do it, but he had a deadline for a book he was putting out and the timing just didn't work out. So then I had to do it.
C: After finishing the movie, I went back to the opening credits just to revisit the artwork and take a good look at each "Vulgarian Invasions" cover, and I had a lot of laughs. I think that may have been a limitation that absolutely helped the film.
MM: Actually yeah! That's a really good point. That was a limitation that ended up working out pretty good in our favor. There was a lot of tracing involved, though. I'm not that good. The tough part about drawing the comics was coming up with who to take the piss out of next!
C: I think the lo-fi quality of it is what brought out the humor. It felt more crass, which really worked.
MM: Yeah, I wanted to live in that world of underground comics. Part of their charm is that they're crudely drawn and don't look like mainstream comics. They're handmade. If you see Robin Bougie's stuff, it's fantastic, and everything in Cinema Sewer is done by hand. He won't even type his film reviews! I love that.
C: At one point there is a ridiculous sounding Chinese gangster rap song. What is that?
MM: That is a band called The Notorious MSG. They're a group out of New York. I heard it on a podcast. It's a crazy song. We had a lot of music we had to replace and thankfully that wasn't one of the songs. I wanted the Golden Dragons gang to have a gangsta rap vibe and I heard this song called "Chinatown Hustler". I had to put it in there. It's great.
C: What's next? Are you working on anything new?
MM: I've got a bunch of scripts that I'm working on, and right now I'm just sorta pinning one down. I have a bunch that are in various stages of development. I've got to stop spinning my wheels and just pick one.