Ever since George Romero shocked audiences with Night of the Living Dead, Pittsburgh has become a city synonymous with the horror genre. In 2009, Mark Ricche and Christian Stavrakis added to that connection when they founded their locally based production company Cryptic Pictures and made Mortal Remains, a docu-thriller that investigates the life, career and mysterious death of filmmaker Karl Atticus, referred to by some as the godfather of the slasher film movement. Written, produced, directed and edited by Ricche and Stavrakis, the 90-minute film contains interviews with various horror aficionados, including Blair Witch Project director, Eduardo Sanchez, as well as details on the sinister circumstances surrounding Atticus’ last work.
Mortal Remains screened at a number of film festivals, including the Terror Film Festival, where it won two awards, and was given a sneak preview at Horror Realm‘s spring convention. The macabre shockumentary will soon represent Pittsburgh at the Three Rivers Film Festival, and Ricche and Stavrakis talked with Steel Cinema about their first feature film.
You’ve both been in the film business for a number of years. What influenced the creation of Cryptic Pictures, and why did you choose to base it in Pittsburgh?
MARK: Chris and I have been buddies for 25 years, since high school, actually. A friend of mine works in acquisitions at one of the big studios, and when I pitched the idea to him, he thought [Mortal Remains] was worth developing. So after years of filmmaking for fun, Chris and I decided it was time to create a formal partnership in order to produce our first real feature.
CHRISTIAN: I was born here, though I grew up in Maryland. After we graduated from school, my family moved back to the ‘Burgh and Mark would often come to visit. When we decided to make the movie, shooting it here was almost a foregone conclusion – I had written the original story and was intimately familiar with the material, so casting was easier, locations were easier to nail down, and it was less troublesome for Mark to travel back and forth since I have to work around my day jobs.
Mortal Remains is the company’s first feature release. Where did the idea for the film come from? Blair Witch Project writer/director Eduardo Sanchez took part in this film. How did he become involved?
C: It was certainly inspired – at least in part – by Blair Witch, which we acknowledge in the film. We went to high school with Ed; he was two years ahead of us, so he went on to college while Mark and I were doing our thing in TV Production class, but we all knew each other and we became cheerleaders when Blair Witch hit the jackpot. But our inspiration was the same – old TV shows like In Search Of or Ripley’s Believe It or Not with Jack Palance, grainy old B-movies, especially the grindhouse fare of the 70s and 80s. So the project is really rooted in nostalgia, and I hope it strikes that chord with our audience.
M: Chris has always had an affinity for horror movies. I was strictly into adventures – Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Back to the Future. I never got into horror until Chris taught me to appreciate the genre. But now that I’m more familiar with it, I understand some of the primal “triggers” that make good horror movies as effective as they are. There are certain themes or situations that elicit an almost universal response, and we made an effort to work as many of these into Mortal as we could.
The film recently won two awards at the Terror Film Festival, and it’s made the rounds at other horror/sci-fi/fantasy movie festivals. It’s also screening at the Three Rivers Film Festival this month. In your experience, how do you feel genre film festivals differ from more traditional film festivals?
M: That’s a toughie, since this is our first experience with the festival circuit – we really don’t have a frame of reference, and the Three Rivers Festival is our first non-genre event. The other shows we’ve attended so far were all horror-oriented, and they were all great fun, because horror fans are so enthusiastic.
C: I can expand on this a little. I’ve attended a lot of horror conventions over the years and have made many, many friends based on our mutual love for the genre. Horror fans, by and large, are outsiders. We tend to be somewhat introverted, at least until we’re among our own kind, and then it becomes acceptable to geek out, to cut loose and cheer on our favorite monsters. Making horror movies for horror fans is terrific, because you know at least some of your audience will get it, some of them will dig it, and hopefully the rest will at least appreciate what you’ve tried to do.
M: That said, it’s a great honor to have been accepted into a traditional festival like Three Rivers, because genre fare often tends to be overlooked or scorned in the world of “respectable cinema.” Knowing that our film transcends those boundaries makes its acceptance all the more satisfying, and we hope that mainstream moviegoers will get a thrill out of it as well.
Can we expect more horror films from Cryptic Pictures, or are you branching out into different genres? What’s your next project?
M: There is a project near and dear to our hearts that we are beginning to flesh out, a period piece that we’re really having fun developing. Definitely not a horror movie, but that one must take a backseat to financial necessity for the time being.
C: Which is a euphemistic way of saying that the next project in the pipeline is of course Mortal Remains 2, which we are currently writing. We’ll be going into production next summer, and interested parties are welcome to contact us, because this one will be much bigger, bolder, and bloodier than the original picture.
M: We’re making distribution arrangements for the first film, and we’ve got interest from a couple of different outlets; what we’re hoping to find is someone who sees the potential for a marketable franchise and is willing to come along for the ride, so to speak. There’s a lot more to be discovered about Karl Atticus, and we’ve only just begun to dig!