Ted Nicolaou has been making horror movies for almost 40 years. His impressive filmography includes cult fan-favorites such as Dungeonmaster, TerrorVision, the Dragonworld franchise, and of course, the Subspecies franchise.
We got the chance to talk with Ted Nicolaou about his inspirations and experiences in the horror field; his long-standing career in filmmaking, and the release of Subspecies V: Blood Rise after taking a 25-year break from the vampire franchise.
Horror Geek Life: What was your first experience with horror, and what movies inspired you to become a horror filmmaker?
Ted Nicolaou: My first experiences with horror films were on Friday and Saturday nights as a kid in Dallas; channel 11 from Fort Worth. They had one of those late-night horror marathons hosted by a Phantom of the Opera-type character… I can’t remember his name now.
There, I was introduced to all the Universal horror films, like Frankenstein and Dracula, and I came to love horror. And Friday nights were always The Twilight Zone. Between that, and my father would take me on Saturday afternoons to matinées at our local cinema, and we would see science fiction and monster movies of the ‘50s, so all that was planted in my head.
I didn’t set out to be a horror filmmaker; I set out to make comedies and a variety of films, but I kind of slipped into it through my association with Charlie Band and his companies in the very beginning, and I found that I really love it. I love creating the atmosphere of horror films, so that’s where I’ve done most of my work.
HGL: How did you end up getting involved with Charles Band and Full Moon Features?
TN: When I first came out to Los Angeles, I got my first job editing on a movie called Roar, which was a Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren totally insane lion and tiger movie that was being shot just outside of Los Angeles.
I was editing there with a guy named Larry Carroll, who I’d known from film school in Austin. Larry left, and that kind of bumped me up to head editor on the film, and then Larry and David Schmoeller, who was another friend of mine from film school, sold a script to Charles Band in his earliest Charles Band Productions days in 1977 leading into 1978.
They hired me away from Roar to edit Tourist Trap, so that’s where I first encountered Charlie Band.
HGL: What has been your favorite non-horror movie to direct?
TN: Of the non-horror films I’ve directed, I would have to say Dragonworld. It was probably my favorite and also the most quality movie. We got to shoot most of that in the UK and work with an English cast, and that was spectacular; English Director of Photography and Production Designer, and the castles and manor houses that we were able to access for that film were just beautiful.
I also really loved working on a movie called Remote, which was kind of a Home Alone-based story about a kid fighting off a gang of bank robbers with his remote-control toys. That was another really fun movie to shoot.
HGL: What’s been the most fun you’ve had on a project?
TN: I think the most fun, and also the most horrifying because the circumstances of its production were so complicated and difficult, but in the end, it turned out to be one of my greatest life experiences would have to be the first Subspecies film.
We shot that in Romania in 1990, like six months after the fall of Ceausescu, and in Romania at the time, there was very little to be had in the way of resources or good food in restaurants, but we were able to shoot in the most amazing locations.
I made friends that became dear to me for the rest of my life, Vlad Panescu and Oana Panescu. Vlad was the Director of Photography, Oana was the Costume Designer; and Anders Hove, who has become a dear friend.
So, for me, that film marked a change in my attitude toward filmmaking and my ability to actually go into foreign countries and win over a crew and cast to the vision of a film.
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At the same time, I’d also have to say TerrorVision. My first feature is one of my favorite babies of a film because the making of that film was such a fantastic experience, working with Gerrit Graham, Mary Woronov, Diane Franklin, and Jon Gries.
Its critical reception was so horrific at the time that it came out; the movie was just so unlike anything that anyone ever expected out of a movie.
So, it really kind of set me back and hurt me really badly for a number of years, but over time, the kind of small cult of kids that turned their friends on to that movie grew and grew, and became a real source of satisfaction for me, that a movie that was so out of its time period and was so hated at the time, kind of grew into this cult favorite.
And even today, when I go out to night clubs to hear bands, people come up to me and tell me how important that film was to them. That movie has been a real source of pleasure for me.
HGL: TerrorVision has one of the catchiest horror themes of all time!
TN: Oh man, The Fibonaccis! Right around the time of making that film, there was a club in Los Angeles called Club Lingerie, and they had some of the best music and a gigantic dance floor. The Fibonaccis played there a lot, and when we were seeking music for the film, the sound of The Fibonaccis was just so unique and new wave and poppy and fun.
My wife suggested that we should reach out to them, and I did. John Dentino and the band really gave us some great music for that film.
HGL: Now that you’ve returned to the Subspecies franchise, do you ever see yourself returning to your other movies? A TerrorVision 2, maybe?
TN: I was doing an interview with Diane Franklin six months or a year ago, and it occurred to me that with streaming, as kind of the current way of ingesting TV, that would open up a whole new world for not only filmmakers but the Hungry Beast.
It’s crossed my mind that maybe TerrorVision would be something to revisit. Although, the circumstances of making TerrorVision in Italy with the Production Designer, Giovanni Natalucci, yielded a movie where every person that was involved with it added something that took the script and elevated it, making it kookier, crazier and more cartoon-like.
I don’t know that you could capture that lightning in a bottle again, but it’s something that’s rolling around in my head, yeah.
HGL: The fans of the films would probably love it!
TN: I would think so, although it might be better to be left alone and let the movie be left to stand on its own, but it sure would be fun to take on modern-day television in the same way we took on satellite TV at the time.
HGL: What was it like returning to the Subspecies franchise after 25 years? Were there growing pains, or was it like you never stopped?
TN: You know, over the 25 years between when we did Subspecies 4 and Subspecies V: Blood Rise, I wrote the script just after number four, and decided to make it a prequel.
During the time, that script was even more ambitious than the current film is, and Full Moon just didn’t have the resources to pay for the movie that we wanted to make, and Charlie understood that Denise, Anders, and I really wanted to hold out for the right moment when we could make the film in the way it should be made.
Because after Subspecies 4, I didn’t want to disappoint the people who loved the series, and all of us wanted to make something great. So, 25 years passed, and basically because Anders, Denise, and I have been in touch and met up at conventions over the years, we all have a very solid friendship and collaboration.
When it finally became time to put the money together and actually make the film, to me, it was just exciting as hell. Anders felt a little anxiety about returning to a character that was so iconic and wondered if he could recapture that magic. Denise is so up for anything and wanted to do the movie, and it gave her an opportunity to expand the acting chops a lot.
RELATED: ‘Subspecies V: Blood Rise’ Review: More Blood and Backstory Make for a Solid Series Return
For me, the most anxiety-provoking thing was going to a foreign country and starting fresh. I had the help of guys named Seager Dixon and Justin Martell, who kind of put Charles Band together with the production company in Serbia, and they’re pretty big fans of the series, so they were doing everything they could to make the movie as high quality as it could be.
Going into a foreign country, you start out hoping that you can find the right cast, and hoping that the collaborators like the Director of Photography, Production Designer, and Costume Designer will get on board with the way you want to make the film.
In Serbia, I found an amazing crew. Vladimir Ilic, who was the Director of Photography, brought so much to the movie. Ivan Radojevic, the Production Designer, is like a mad genius who took very little money and created some sets that are just spectacular, and Costumes really tried their best with the money they had.
Our casting director, Jelena Stevanovic, really sat with me and was super patient as we saw every actor that we could possibly see in the weeks leading up to shooting.
For me, you enter the country, and you go, “Wow, this is cool, here’s a good bar, here’s a restaurant I can eat at, and how in the hell are we going to make this movie?”
Step by step, as your collaborators come on, you kind of unload the information that’s in my brain to their brains and make it their responsibility, and the minute you find cast members and start discussing with cast members, all of the anxiety kind of reduces as more and more people are there to help you pull the train along.
Then, the only big problem is the schedule, and the budget, and how do you make the movie in the time that you have to make it?
HGL: Did you ever think that Subspecies would become one of the longest-running vampire franchises in movie history?
TN: Actually, when we made Subspecies, the circumstances of the production were so difficult, the actors were forced to be in Romania in the bitter cold in autumn going into winter for weeks longer than they were contracted to be there. Everybody was furious, and drunk, and it was a nightmare of a production.
It was such a nightmare that I started keeping a journal just to kind of turn it into some kind of comedy for myself day by day. After the crazy day of shooting, I would go to my room and write to get it out of my head into some form of humor.
At the end of the film, I knew that Anders was an amazing actor and brought something spectacular to the character of Radu, and it wasn’t really until editing and post-production when we screened it for Paramount that I realized, “Ah, we actually pulled it off, against all odds.”
So, when we went back to do Subspecies 2 and 3 in one long shooting schedule, we improved in so many ways, with the story and the techniques we used to make the film. But you never know how a movie is going to do, or how long it’s going to last, or how it’s going to be taken by audiences.
So, it was a bit of a surprise to me that it’s become such a beloved franchise, and I know that Anders is largely responsible for how people feel about the film, because he created such an incredible vampire.
HGL: Do you plan on continuing the Subspecies franchise now that Subspecies V: Blood Rise has been released?
TN: I would love to tell a few more stories of Radu, and now that we’ve brought in some new characters in Subspecies V, like Ariel, who is played by Stasa Nikolic, who I think is just a spectacular young actress, and Yulia Graut, who plays Circe; another amazing actor who lives in Serbia but came from Russia.
I would love to do more Subspecies films. I think the trick now, is that Charlie Band spend much more money than he’s been spending on films in recent years to make Subspecies V, and now it has to make its money back. If it makes its money back, and he sees there’s some sort of financial reward for taking the gamble, then yeah, we would all jump on board and make another one. We’ve all already been tossing around ideas.
HGL: How did the Alamo Drafthouse Premiere go?
TN: It was really amazing to see the film on a big screen, and realize how the production design, the cinematography, sound design, all that plays into how the movie is meant to be seen.
I think at the various Alamo Drafthouses, the audiences were sparse to medium to full house, and so I wish it had been a little more publicized and a little bit more well-attended, but the first screening we had in LA was full and it was so cool to see it with an audience. It’s always fun to experience a film with an audience, and it’s something we hadn’t done since the days of Full Moon’s contract with Paramount.
So yeah, it helped the movie gain a little more recognition and I hope we can do more deals with the Alamo Drafthouse.
HGL: Where can horror fans find Subspecies V: Blood Rise to watch?
TN: Subspecies V starts streaming on June 2nd, 2023. It will be available on ScreamBox, the horror film service, and on the Full Moon Features streaming service, and on Amazon.
HGL: Lastly, do you have anything coming up you want our readers to know about?
TN: At the moment, I’m still kind of taking care of the last loose ends of Subspecies V, but at the same time, I’m starting to work on another screenplay, that I can’t really talk about yet. We’re rolling around some ideas for Anders, so we’ll see. Subspecies kind of reinvigorated my passion to keep working as much as possible.
I just have to calm myself down enough to sit down and write all day, because there’s a big difference between writing and being on set and having a whole crew of people, and the whole social interaction of making a movie. It’s a whole different kind of mindset that’s required to force yourself to sit down and write.
We would like to thank Ted Nicolaou for taking the time to talk with us. You can follow Ted Nicolaou on Instagram or Facebook to keep up with his film career. Subspecies V: Blood Rise is available to stream on June 2nd, 2023, on ScreamBox, the Full Moon Features streaming service, or Amazon.
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The post Interview: Director Ted Nicolaou Talks His Career in Horror and the Subspecies Franchise appeared first on HorrorGeekLife.