Freak Out - Interview with Dan Palmer and James Heathcote
By: Craig Villinger on November 17, 2006  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Trained to kill… by idiots!

Best friends Merv and Onkey find an escaped mental patient and decide to turn him into a walking, stalking killing machine but eventually lose control of their creation in the hilarious low budget UK horror/comedy FREAK OUT, which was finally released in the UK by Anchor Bay Entertainment in May this year after a production history which dates back to the start of the millennium. Now, with the film also taking the US by storm in the form of a feature packed two disc special edition, Digital Retribution decided it was time to corner Actor/Writer/Producer Dan Palmer (Onkey) and star James Heathcote (Merv) to talk about the films lengthy production history, genre references... and bum feeling.

Digital Retribution: Our site had been online for over four years when Freak Out was finally released, and it seems as though we'd been hearing about it since before day one. Why did it take so damn long to get the film finished? 

Dan Palmer: Basically none of us were paid on this gig so every member of the cast and crew had to juggle either work and/or college so scheduling shoots was always problematic. If you also counter in; equipment fucking up, sound gear/tapes being stolen from the back of the boom operator's car, the lead actress dropping out, an elderly actor kicking the bucket and the Arriflex 16mm camera frying from the inside you have approximately 4 years of Hell.

James Heathcote: I needed many toilet breaks and all they provided was a newspaper and a swift point to a nearby bush.

DR: The film is a wild mix of everything from slapstick, send-ups, camp humour, horror references, J.R. Ewing references, and splatter. What films were influences on Freak Out?

DP: I love 80s horror films and I love 80s teen flicks so any of the big-hitters from that era are responsible. But also those weird horror/comedy hybrids that never get any attention; Wacko, Student Bodies, Freaked, Return Of The Killer Tomatoes etc.

DR: Was there actually a Target audience for this film?

DP: Basically I just pictured me as a teenager.

JH: Not my parents.

DR: So many filmmakers opt for the cheaper video option these days. What made you decide to shoot on film?

DP: At the time we began DV or HD had not really reached the desired heights, plus we thought that throwing ourselves into the film medium would be a trial by fire. Sure the movie has some really grainy moments here and there but personally I love the fact it evokes the feel of Evil Dead or Bad Taste or Texas Chainsaw. Our next flick is gonna be on HD so it will be like we've taken weights off our feet and we can now run instead of jog ..badly

DR: What were you both doing with your film making lives before Freak Out came along?

JH: I was working in a Video Store. So in a way I was making it in the film industry... ok maybe that's sad. It's strange now as the very video store I was working in seems to refuse to sell the Freak Out DVD. Bastards!

DP: When I left school I was in the lucky position of knowing exactly what I wanted to do. I was also fortunate as my hometown hosts one of the most prestigious Film Colleges. I'd been spending the majority of the summer avidly soaking up production stories in Fangoria. With all of this combined, it was a real no-brainer. (I've skirted around all the time I spent whacking off over Drew Barrymore movies).The Film School was where I first met Christian James, who went on to direct Freak Out. We began making goofy short films, and it started from there.

DR: The DVD has been out for a few months now. Has anyone actually purchased it?

DP: The US/Canada disc only just hit stores on Nov 7th. The UK disc came out in May and sold out on Amazon in its first day.

JH: A lot of UK stores had to order in more because they didn't realise how many people would be after it. Some people from America and Australia pre-ordered the UK version as they were desperate to get their fill a couple of months early.

DR: You guys have been getting almost unanimously positive reviews so far. Has it all gone to your heads yet?

DP: True we have had a startlingly amazing amount of awesome reviews, but we've had the odd smattering of stinky, mean-spirited ones to bring us down to earth.

JH: I think that because the DVD has an embarrassing hidden feature of me, it keeps it from going to my head no matter what the reviews say.

DR: Freak Out features a lot of nods to other horror films. When you first conceived the film this was something we hadn't seen a lot of, but  as the years ticked by, sly genre references became common place. Given the lengthy production schedule, were you ever worried about your ideas losing their freshness?

DP: You only have to worry about that if the references and 'spoofs' are all you have – but I worked hard at creating two characters in Merv & Onkey who horror geeks can really root for.

DR: Some of the Horror references are obvious, but Freak Out is also loaded with subtle nods to films which a lot of people probably aren't too familiar with. Has anyone actually counted the number of references  in the film?

DP: Yeah some dude on MySpace has actually done the 'definitive Freak Out in-joke guide', it's in the 100s and he's left a bunch out!

DR: As well as Horror references you've also crammed in a disturbingly large number of Dallas references.  Since today's audiences are  more familiar with The OC and crap reality TV shows, do the Dallas references go over people's heads?

DP: That's when the age bracket really dictates the laughs, you can see the audience members who are like mid-20s and older getting the joke and those under that age pretending to get the gag when secretly they are thinking 'What the Hell's a JR?'

DR: Horror flicks are generally loaded with gratuitous female nudity, but apart from a hint of Chilli Gold cleavage and a quick butt shot we got absolutely nothing, yet we were forced to watch James Heathcote lather up during a lengthy shower sequence, and endure the sight of Dan Palmer's pasty white torso. What gives?

JH: Nicola wouldn't do nudity or anything of a 'sexy' nature. Dan and myself were far sexier than any of the female cast. Well that's what he told me...

DP: Some chicks dig that pasty white torso, I'll have you know! Well obviously you haven't seen the full uncut version of SLASH PUPPY situated on the VIDEO STORE section of the DVD, that's 5 minutes of full on BOOBY ACTION!

DR: We've already spotted Merv and Onkey in Jake West's Evil Aliens, but is there a chance we could see even more of these two in future? 

JH: If you get a chance to see a film called Small Town Folk you'll see both of us again ..but as very different characters.

DP: Well if Anchor Bay U.S wanna stump up the meagre moolah for 'BRIDE OF FREAK OUT' I'd be more than happy to bring Merv & Onkey back. I have a nice idea for a follow-up so we'll see.

DR: And will we see more of the frequently referenced ARSE PIRANHA and SLASH PUPPY?

DP: The life expectancy of both an Arse Piranha and a Slash Puppy is unfortunately very short.

DR: Bum Feeling (the art of luring an unsuspecting victim into groping their own buttocks) was an important part of the film, but were there any real-life bum feeling incidents on the set during production?

DP: Only when you'd bend over for your script when Director Christian James was in the room.

JH: I'm not a bum feeler in real life so I wouldn't know about this. Not at all... no, I didn't do any bum feeling. shh. 

DR: Beyond Therapy recently announced a casting call for its next production. Can you give us any juicy details about your next offering?

DP: Ooh, you really are a movie detective aren't you. Well it's gonna be a dark horror comedy but in the 'real' world this time. If you liked Freak Out you'll like this but at the same time I think we'll be opening up the flick to a wider demographic. It's quite a dark subject matter. 

DR: And finally - What else does you have planned for the future?

JH:  My plans are changing a lot at the moment, so we'll have to wait and see.

DP: Well who knows? 'Freak Out II : Looney Boogaloo'?

Freak Out in now available in the USA and the UK through Anchor Bay Entertainment. An Australian distribution deal is yet to be negotiated...

Dan Palmer (Left) and James Heathcote (Right) with 'Loony'.

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