Within the vast world of D.I.Y. film exists Dark Prism, a surreal horror-satire created by the multi-talented director and artist Dylan Greenberg in 2015, when she was only 18 years old. With Lloyd Kaufman as her mentor and part of the cast, it definitely has that Troma edge to it. Horror fans will appreciate the nods to Phantasm, Carrie, Rocky Horror Picture Show and Twin Peaks. Other prominent cast members include Mac Demarco, Robert Prichard, Reverend Jen, and even Dylan herself.
I was completely taken by surprise when I watched this film, having never seen any of Dylan’s previous work, and it quickly became a favorite. I ended up watching it three times. The cinematography is beautiful and skilled, the special effects are wacky and awesome, the actors are talented and really know how to commit to their roles, there are plenty of quotable one-liners, and the movie itself doesn’t let up. You’re entertained from the get-go and it keeps enticing you further down this bizarre, dream-like rabbit hole. It feels like more of an adventure you’re experiencing.
The movie is about three different girls whose lives are very different, but entwined within each other in a complex way having to do with the dark prism itself. I know that’s vague as all hell, but this is really the type of movie you need to experience for yourself. Every scene invokes its own mood. For example, there’s a part where Margaret’s father anxiously starts writing in his journal about how his daughter won’t stop staring at him in this unsettling way, and it made me feel tense. There’s also a realistic scene of Margaret having a panic attack that actually made me start breathing heavily. Performances like this are so powerful and tragically rare in mainstream films, where so much seems overly-scripted.
I really don’t think you need to be a Troma or even a horror fan to enjoy Dark Prism. There are prominent nods to Mae West and 1920’s filmmaking, and there’s also a ton of fantastic music. Every song feels like it was carefully chosen (yes, even the silly grindcore track); at times it feels like you’re watching a movie with several music videos mixed in. There are even two original songs for the movie performed by Matt Katz-Bohen (of Blondie) and his wife Laurel.
One of the most hilarious scenes in Dark Prism is when Margaret’s dad is being harped on by his boss (Lloyd Kaufman) about “the rodent project.” More of my favorite notable scenes include Margaret’s encounter with a terrifying penis monster, the messy murder of her friend Caleb, Margaret and her cousin as children, some charismatic topless mermaids (as seen above), an underground historical figure fighting ring, and Reverend Jen’s funny conversation with Mr. Information in a room that strongly reminded me of Peewee’s Playhouse.
Director Dylan Greenberg on January 6th, 2017.
You can watch all of Dylan Greenberg’s films on Disck Pictures and watch the trailer for Dark Prism below. Here is my interview with her:
Dark Prism is your third film. How did your career in cinematography begin? Who are your influences?
My career in film began when I picked up a camera and started shooting things, I suppose. I was 5 years old and my mother had an old VHS camera. I taught myself to edit and eventually do special effects. For a long time I made skits on my YouTube channel called “dyli” and amassed over 300 videos from the time I was 9 years old to the time I was 15. Then I started making more art films when I met my godmother Reverend Jen and took inspiration from her, and someone I truly admire, Scott Shaw, who invented a new type of filmmaking called the Zen technique.
I made my first feature film, Glamarus, when I was 17. It was executive producer by Scott Shaw himself and featured one of my favorite actors of all time, Jacob Reynolds, who plays Solomon in one of my most favorite movies, Gummo. In my film, he played an older version of myself who lives in the TV. Glamarus was very surreal and impossible to decipher, and eventually I started making my movies more structured, which led to Dark Prism – which is non linear, but I think it is really solid as a film.
My influences are my very own boss and mentor (and in a way, uncle) Lloyd Kaufman, who directed Class of Nuke Em High and The Toxic Avenger; no wave filmmaker Nick Zedd, who I am privileged enough to have recently co-directed a new film with; Scott Shaw who I mentioned earlier; Guy Maddin, who I hope one day notices that I mention him all the time in press because I am a big fangirl of his; Harmony Korine; and also my godmother, Reverend Jen, who truly changed the way I view art.
The musical sequences throughout the film were some of my favorite bits. You have great taste in music and you really know how to eloquently portray it on film. Do you tend to pick out the music first and base the cinematography on it, or vice versa? And do you create music videos outside of your films?
I usually film my scene before I pick out the music, but then I edit the scene to the music. Music is important to me, and although I have never directed a full musical, I consider my films a means of putting visuals to the music. I think music is one of the most important parts of the film, and if a film doesn’t have music, that, too ,makes a big impact because of the lack of music. That in itself is a kind of music.
Yes, I direct many music videos, including “Melt Yourself Down” for James Chance and the Contortions, which premiered in MOJO, and one of my personal favorites is a video I directed for the band Onset called “Once Now Twice.”
Dark Prism is a healthy length for a movie and every shot has depth; clearly a lot went into it. I watched it a second time and caught a bunch of things I didn’t notice the first time around. How long did it take take to shoot and edit?
The film took about 8 months to shoot and edit. We started in February and finished in November, I believe, and then the movie premiered in late December.
Some of the coolest special effects occur when Margaret is using her powers. How was that accomplished?
I love questions about special effects! So the fireballs Margaret shoots are pieces of paper I set on fire then I took the fire out of the video by removing all of the “black” hues, only leaving the fire, and superimposing that onto the video, and I can animate it on screen and make it bigger and smaller. The breast lasers I hand animated and superimposed into Margaret’s breasts. Some of the explosions were miniatures I hand-detonated, like the microwave (which was actually a box for staples). The car explosions were stock footage.
The vagina world was a laundry basket I superimposed Margaret into via green screen. When she walks up into the vagina, the vagina is actually the neck gash prosthetic from earlier in the film. I turned it sideways and pulled on the back of it with a string so it looked like it was pulsing, and then I had Sofe Cote walk up a ladder we draped in green against a green screen so it looked like she was walking into the other world.
What was your favorite scene to shoot? Do you have any particularly funny/weird stories from filming?
My favorite scene to shoot was perhaps the big dance scene, and Ophelia rain’s dance scene was pretty fun cause it was very stress free and Ophelia is super fun and easygoing. Here’s a story: when we shot the boxing match scene I was so stressed. At the time I was very broke and couldn’t get a location to shoot in, so I had spent the entire day before begging different places all over NYC to let me shoot there. Shwick Market (a flea market in Brooklyn) finally let me shoot in the back of the store, so that was my location. The day of shooting I woke up at 7 in the morning very sick. I had pink eye, the flu, and a massive fever. I wasn’t going to let this stop me even though I was shivering in the middle of July. So I showed up on set wearing dark glasses and the huge coat you actually see me wearing in the movie. We shot the whole scene even though I could barely see because my eyes were so watery. When I rip off my glasses and you see I have demon eyes, that wasn’t a special effect; my eyes were really like that. We just upped the contrast so you could see it better.
Another story is the dream sequence for Margaret took the longest of any other scene. When Margaret is laying on the rocks, she had to lay there for about an hour and it was raining in February. When she is in this strange white gallery world in the dream sequence, that was spur of the moment. That gallery just let us come in and shoot for about 10 minutes, so that’s the footage we got. We did the same thing for my movie Wakers.
One of my favorite scenes is when Margaret cuts Caleb’s throat. What did you use for the blood? What about the green vomit later on?
The blood for the scene where Margaret slits Caleb’s throat was a home made mixture of corn starch, red food coloring and maybe strawberry milk and some other bullshit. To be honest, I’ll never make my own fake blood again. I buy it from Halloween stores now.
The green vomit I learned from none other than my boss and mentor Lloyd Kaufman, who uses it for his meltdowns in his films. It’s green food coloring, water, and Alka Seltzer, but I accidentally bought aspirin and one of the kids told me “This isn’t Alka Seltzer, it’s aspirin!” after I’d already shot a few and was wondering why it wasn’t bubbling. So I had to run out and get Alka Seltzer, and at the time I was so broke I could only afford a little bit, and we had to break it into sections.
The scenes with the child actors are awesome because the kids look so much like their adult counterparts and they’re stellar actors. Was that a nice coincidence or did it take some searching?
The kids looking like the older kids is a coincidence. The girl playing Margaret as a child is my sister Summer, who also is my production assistant on every film I do. The two girls Sodia and Magdeline are played by Justine and Jane Lavare, who are the daughters of legendary art film actress Daryl LaVare. To be honest, I think they’re the only girls that young I know, they’re all friends. The girls are really good actresses too.
When May West enters the home with the crowing rooster, is the conversation between Mr. Information and the two women improvised? It felt extremely natural.
Yes the conversation is totally improvised, yes. And by the way that is not really two women, that is Reverend Jen my godmother, and I used special effects to make it look like there are two of her.
What were some of your favorite special effects to work with that weren’t already mentioned?
My favorite special effects were probably the laser effects and creating the Prism which was actually built out of plastic dollar store plates. Again at the time I was so broke, my friends had to pay for the plates. I filmed the Prism against a black sheet and I double exposed it over the live action footage. Oh, and I loved doing the puppet effects and stop motion! The giant robot was made from tinfoil, and I did a similar effect to superimpose it that I did with the Prism. I filmed it against black and wore black socks over my hands, then manipulated the arms and legs with my hands (but you can’t see the hands because it’s black on black).
What are you currently working on?
I have a movie coming up that’s a mega parody super film called RE AGITATOR: BRIDE OF THE PARODY starring Aurelio Voltaire, Alan Merrill, Amanda Flowers Jurgen, Azazel Munster, Yolpie Kaiser, Mickala McFarlane, Max Husten, and featuring Schooly D, Lloyd Kaufman, and Purple Pam! I also have released the film AMITYVILLE VANISHING POINT to Video On Demand and WEREWOLF BITCHES FROM OUTER SPACE, a movie I co directed with Nick Zedd and Reverend Jen that features Janeane Garofalo and Dave Hill, is coming to VOD soon and is now screening.
I also distribute a film called “HIGHSPEED FLAMINGO”.
I also have many music videos coming out, and I will be filming a documentary about True Groove Records in Texas this March, which will feature James Chance!
Sär is a writer and music enthusiast born and raised in the Portland, OR area. They have been an avid listener of goth, postpunk and deathrock since 2003 and their ultimate goal is to introduce as many people to as many of these amazing bands as possible.
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