Vancouver-based filmmaker Ryan Nicholson has gained notoriety over the last few years for a string of graphic and excessive unrated horror flicks that have mixed explicit sex and violence as a tribute to the shameless exploitation films from the 1970s and ’80s. Following early efforts Tortured and Live Feed, Nicholson’s breakthrough came with the stylish giallo/slasher throwback Gutterballs, which was soon followed by the equally offensive Hanger. His most recent picture was Bleading Lady, which first entered production under the title Star Vehicle and stars regular collaborator Dan Ellis.
Nicholson’s taste for the gruesome seems somewhat apt considering that he first started out in the film industry as a special effects artist, working on such Canadian-based projects as Stargate SG-1, Final Destination and eXistenZ, the latter directed by cult filmmaker David Cronenberg. Nicholson finally made his directorial debut in 2004 with Torched, which would gain minor exposure from its inclusion in the Hell Hath No Fury collection. Following his first feature Live Feed Nicholson soon caused controversy with the sexually explicit and sadistic Gutterballs, a loving homage to the slasher and giallo that he had grown up enjoying.
Ryan Nicholson talks independent filmmaking and struggling against censorship.
What do you feel are the winning ingredients of a good exploitation picture?
Sex and Violence…violent sex…any combinations of either make for something memorable.
Do you recall your early memories of film and what kind of movies did you like as a child? How did your tastes change as you grew older and how did you first discover the darker side of cinema?
Monster movies like The Thing and The Fly in the ’80s really influenced my love for horror. Pieces and The Funhouse; their lurid ad campaigns captured my attention. But I think it was actually detective and true crime magazines that got me into the more exploitative horror. The covers of those mags were very sleazy and that led me to search out movies with similar exploitative content.
Do you believe that a filmmaker can go too far or is it their responsibility to challenge both the audience and themselves?
I don’t think you can go too far when it’s legal to make and distribute. When it’s illegal, you’ve gone too far. I don’t really see a grey area there. I use a lot of fake sex parts and organs, which look very real but are very fake. They don’t complain and I can do whatever I want to them, they’re rubber!
What is your opinion on censorship; should the government have, to some degree, the right to shield the public from the more extreme images or should everyone have the right to choose for themselves?
I think that the viewer, if of age, should have the right to choose. Children shouldn’t watch adult-oriented films, they should watch Disney, for fuck sake! I believe in a rating system; NC-17, R-rated, etc., it seems to work for the most part. My movies are unrated anyhow. I can put whatever I want in them without issue.
If you were given the chance to remake one movie in your own style with complete freedom which would you choose?
I would love to tackle something like The Fly or Scanners, something Cronenberg made because you know that I would go crazy with that crazy material. It’s already half way there!
How involved are you in the marketing of your movies? Are you inspired by the kind of promotional campaigns you saw as you were growing up?
I am heavily involved. I like to do homage art and cool shit. Keep it fresh and fun. I think horror fans dig our stuff because they know that we are just like them, horror fans that aspire to make nasty ass shit!
With drive-ins losing popularity in the 1980s and the theatres of Times Square having been replaced by more respectable outlets, do you feel that the spirit of exploitation still exists?
I think that the spirit of exploitation is disappearing, only because no one has the balls to make these kinds of movies. They don’t make money and most people who make movies want to make money. That’s why it’s hard to do what we do. People aren’t beating down the door to fund our movies, and financially they are barely paying for themselves with DVDs getting less and less marketable. We need to find new ways to distribute our product and get back what was put into them, otherwise no one wins.