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Blood,Guts and Vomit- The August Underground trilogy interview [2011-04-27]

The three August Underground movies (August Underground, Mordum and Penance) are one of the most extreme, brutal and no-holds-bard series of horror movies ever made. Each film is shot in the Cinema vérité manner, and is made to look like the visual diary/ snuff archives of a group of  twenty something US serial killers. All three films in the trilogy often chart highly in the top ten or top twenty of most extreme and sickening movies of all time. 2011 is the tenth anniversary of the first movie, and the first movies director and main actor Fred Vogel kindly agreed to give M[M] a spoken interview via the net. Fred also starred in the other two movies, and is also the president and key figure behind Toetag pictures which put out, produced and made all three movies.

August Underground questions

I believe you made the original AU movie at weekends- over what period of time was the films footage taken? And was there much footage filmed that wasn’t used in the end film?
Fred Well we shot the movie over the spring 2001 to pretty much the fall of 2001, and we used all of the footage. Some scenes we cut down for pacing, ect but pretty much what you see is what you get. We may have trimmed a minute or two a few scenes

m[m]You and your original partner Allen Peters in the movie wrote the script for AU- how much of the dialogue and situations were improvised & how much was set in stone with-in the script?
Fred We did have a script for the movie, but pretty much  how it would work is we’d break down the script and work around the scenes effect, then  I would improvise all of my dialogue while  hitting key points in the script.

m[m]Were there any certain serial killer cases that you took on board as an influence when writing the film?
Fred  I studied serial killers for about a year  prior to shooting the film, but  all the violence and scenes like that in the movie where taken from different serial killers, but not one killer  they where sort of a mixture of everyone from Casey to Bundy really.

m[m]As the film goes on your character seems to become more intense, angry & brutal- how difficult was it to get into this state  and where there any points when you were scared by your own rage?
Fred  It was hard for me to do that, as the director I had to make sure all the actress or actors where fine.  You know be Fred the director, then run up stairs work my self up to  be the character doing the scene, then make sure everything/everyone was ok.  I’d actually sit in my car prior to doing the scenes and listening to early Chicago- like the Terry Kath( original guitarist and founding member of the US  rock ban) stuff, really guitar driven Chicago stuff. Just to get myself in a very peaceful vibe in my head, then I’d go down stairs and let it rage for my character, but I was never scared of my own rage.

m[m]when editing the movie did you add in any extra sound details? I mention this as there’s a particular unsettling and foreshadowing call of flying geese just as you character goes to help the old lady with her shopping?
Fred  There was no extra sound added to the film, we played around with a few different things, but we really liked the way the sound was naturally.

m[m]Towards the end of August underground  there appears the only really music in the movie- it’s a sort a mixture of synthesizer and beats. What’s the origin of this music and why did you decide to place it in the film?
Fred  One of my students at the time Richard Donohue, who is now aspiring film maker himself, was a really great Hip-hop guy and he donated that track so I could use it in the scene.

m[m]A few members of your family appear in AU (your brother, cousin and grandma)- have all your family seen the whole of AU? And if so what was there impression of it?
Fred  My brother Steve and my cousin Stacey saw the movie, but my Grandma will never see the movie. They were super supportive and really came through for me when it was needed. I could’nt really have asked for better family members to kill in my first movie.

m[m]At what point in the post production of AU did Allen Peters leave the production? And has he shown any interest in the project since the films  become more of a cult title?
Fred   It was pretty when we started sending out the film for review that Allen left the movie, and once people wanted to avardaivids from the actors to make sure we were’nt really hurting/ killing the actors- he started to freak-out.  Allen was also married and had a child at the time, I think he felt he had a lot more to lose if the world came crashing down on us.  We both knew we were going to get in trouble for the content of the movie, but he didn’t want go for the long run, and I respected and understood him walking away. Unfortunately we haven’t spoken in ten years, I’ve tried to contact him, but he’s sort fell of the planet.  But I really wish he would come forward as I think a lot fans would like to hear his perspective on August Underground, as he was an important and big part of  the movie- he was the camera man  and my right hand man for the movie. But I respected his wishers for not wanting to be involved.


Mordum questions

m[m]How did you come to meet both Michael Todd Schneider and Cristie Whiles
(your murderous buddies in Mordum)? And how soon was it decided you’d start working together?
Fred  I went to art institute with Michael Schneider, and when August Underground was making it’s way from around our local cult video store incredible strange video here is Pittsburgh, Michael got hold of a copy and watched it. At the time he ‘d just finished making a movie “ a tribute to Sanity”, Michael contact me and told how much he dug the first August Underground movie, so we got chatting and decided to work together on a project. Through that process I brought in Jerami Cruise - who I also went to the art institute with, and I brought him in as our head effects guy. 

Fred Michael knew Christie Whiles and brought her over to see August Underground, and I walked in and she freaked-out as she thought she might walked in on her on demise.  Christie an artists and she later became the art director of Toe tag, designing all the poster and dvd artwork


m[m]I believe Mordum started off life as a  Necrophagia video-And how long did it take for the project to progress into a full film form?
Fred  Yes it did started off life as a Necrophagia music video. As soon as I gave Rue morgue a copy of the original August Underground movie; the editor/ owner Rod Gudino passed the movie onto Killjoy(Necrophagia’s vocalist and central member) as he knew he liked sick and depraved movies.  So Killjoy contacted me and I sent him a copy of August underground, and at that time he was finishing up the album “The Devine Art of Torture”. I went  meet with him, and  he wanted to do an august underground type snuff movie with us breaking into his house and murdering him. As we we’re shooting more and more scenes for this video we realized it might be in our best interests to turn what we were doing into a sequel to August underground, because August underground was starting to gain a lot of popularity from the Rue Morgue issues that had come out. As the movie started to grow, we knew what we had to make it into and it would be of benefit to us all, with this new thing we were starting Toe Tag pictures. A lot of people think I was the sole director/ writer behind the movie, but it was very much a collaborative between all of us.

m[m]What was the title of the  Necrophagia song which you original started making the music video for, which became Mordum?
Fred  Oh god it’s been a long time, I know it’s on the Harvest Ritual album, but the name just escapes me.

m[m]How many people were involved in the writing of the Mordum script- how much of the dialogue and situations were improvised & how much was set in stone with-in the script?
Fred  August Undergrounds Mordum was probably the most chaotic of all of the  AU movies- there was no script really. You know we’d come up with ideas or Jerami would come up with special effects that we could do, and then we would shoot them. I remember for instance the Vomit scene in the basement;  I got a call that night saying that we’re going to shoot a scene of our buddies tattoo pallor. Cristie found a girl or two girls she could throw up on….so it was kind of like that we’d totally gorilla go out and shoot, so yes  there was no  script and all of that was improvised.


m[m]Mordum features a lot of very grim and almost squat like buildings and rooms, these really add to the films  deranged, chaotic and unhinged atmosphere- how did you find these and how much set dressing had to be  done to them?
Fred  Well that’s the beautiful thing about Pittsburgh that’s lots of old and decrepit buildings. We actually shot inside cristie basement where she was living at the time in this old mansion, the crate scene where the guy cuts of his dick was shot there, some of the basement stuff in the beginning of the film was also shot there.  The vomit and stomach fuck scene  where shot in the basement of our friends tattoo pallor. We also shot scenes at Jerami’s house, so we’re very lucky in Pittsburgh to have these characteristic buildings  in perfect places for us to shoot.

m[m]Mordum features some great camera work and camera set-ups that look chaotic, unsettling yet highly effective and macabre arty- for example when your filming through a plate of decay food, as your character cuts a pair of jeans off a victim. How long did it take to plan such set-ups and get them right?
Fred  Well that location was Jerami’s  house, he must have some kentucky fried chicken a couple of nights before, so we pulled it out of the trash bin  all covered in maggots. So I thought it be and awesome idea if we put the plate of food in front of the camera, so this disgusting food and maggots would be in the foreground as your watching. I thought it would give something really sick visually for the eye. All of  that stuff was pretty much done in one take really

m[m]Mordum features some of the most depraved and unsettling scenes ever put on to film- where there any particular scene you were unsure about filming?  And where there any scenes set-ups you left out of the film as you felt they were going too far?
Fred  Thank you and no. definitely with the ending scene with the little girl in the bath tub was very powerful, I remember when we were done shooting that scene  going back over to Jeramis’ to rewatch the footage, and I started to well-up and was ready to cry because I knew that we’d done something special.  And that was either we’d filmed the most disturbing scene ever captured in a movie, or we where going to jail!

m[m]There were two cuts of the Mordum- the one released by Toetag and what’s called the maggot cut- how different are theses from each other?  and are there any plans to release the Maggot cut in the August underground series box set which is due out summer 2011?
Fred  Pretty much the deal with the Mordum maggot cut is that Michael is a proficient editor, and Michael edited the original cut of the movie.  But Toetag was not happy with the cut that Michael was putting together, so as this was going on it was causing tension between all of us. Michael saw the movie one way, and of course I saw the movie another way, and Jerami, Cristie and Killjoy saw the movie another way. And we decided this was a Toetag movie and not a Michael Schneider movie, and since I’m the owner of the August Underground name and I was not happy with that cut of the movie  we went onto shot so additional scenes, and put out August Undergrounds Mordum through Toe Tag  the way it was meant to have been done.
Michael has continued to put out  his cut of the movie, but pretty much is almost the same movie…it has a lot of the same footage in there, it just has a lot more footage of him. And the true cut of the movie is the Toetag version. Will it be released in the August Underground boxset?….I don’t think so, I’m not sure


Penance questions

m[m]How long after the completion of mordum did you decide you wanted to do a third film in the series?
Fred  I knew I wanted to make a third in the series, right after Mordum really. Because I wasn’t total happy with Mordum because I didn’t have the full creative control that I wanted to have like I had on the first movie. You know Mordum is a perfect sequel to August underground, because it is so chaotic…it’s a true sequel it’s got more gore, it’s more intense. But I think one of the things it lacked was some of the realism of the first August Underground movie had, but it also had  elements  which I enjoyed like the Cristies’ female killer and some of those situations. I actually wrote a script where it was gong to be like half a normal movie and half like the traditional August Underground snuff movie., because as a film maker I wanted to show people I was more than the guy who just made snuff movies.
At the time we had just gone into production on the Redsin Tower,  so  instead of making August undergrounds Penance the half normal movie/ half snuff movie, we decided to film it all in the Cinema vérité form of the first two.


m[m]Penance has a lot more gory disembowelling and effect led moments than the first two movies- did this mean it took longer to film and set-up than the AU and Mordum?- as I know you like to unfold you scenes in real time.
Fred Well by the August Underground Penance came around we were definitely better at the craft and make thing look very realistic. We were all in a very good state of mind, we knew we were making the best august Underground movie we could make, we had a bit more money this time around compared with the first two movies, we had new cameras, ect…so it made things a lot easier for us. And it all went a lot smoother, everything was done more proficient on the third movie.

m[m]Penance has a lot starker, bleaker and depressive feel about it with both your and Cristie Whiles characters physical and mentally decline - had you always planed the film to be like this from the outset & had you always planed it to be the last in the  AU series?
Fred  Yes it was planed to be the last, and yes I’d always planed it to show the characters decline. I never planed on making a squeal to August Underground, as Mordum just developed from the music video idea but it became this thing to push this new thing Toe tag. And August Underground Penance came about with me sort of wanting to put the closing chapter in the book of the august Underground series, I did want it to end the way it had ended in Mordum.

Genreal questions

m[m]Can you tell us a bit more about what to expect from the three film AU box set that’s due out in the summer?
Fred  I’m very excited about the box set, August underground reaching it’s tenth anniversary- so we got a lot of fun things happing like screenings, competitions ect. But I don’t like to give anything, so I going to keep my mouth shut about that one

m[m]will you be doing anything else or release anything else to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the original August Underground movie?
Fred  August underground movies are about the fans, so for the past two years I’ve asked fans to submit their own films influenced by August Underground, tattoos and artwork…so they’ll be a lot of that on the box set.

m[m]do you think you’d ever do another August Underground movie? As  Penance  does leave it open the possibility of another movie.
Fred I’m never going say never, but I think for the present Penance is the last August underground movie.

m[m]Looking back over all three films- is there anything you’d like to change about any of them?
Fred Well of course are changers you’d like to make in hindsight, but you know I look at all of my films like paintings and once your done with them your done with them. You do what you have to make the best production, you know we had very little money making theses movies. If I had more money   maybe I wouldn’t be so creative, so it’s a double edge. So  looking back I think we’ve what made, and I think we made the most disturbing films to ever come out of America.

m[m]What have you and the toetag team got planned for over the next 12 months?
Fred  Right now we’re working on the August Underground boxset, The Redsin Tower Special edition. Plus tow new projects: Murder Collection Vol 2 and Latex autopsy.
I might also have something else up my sleeve for you guys, but time will tell.


Thanks so much to Fred for taking time out from his busy schedule to answer my questions. All the images are used with kind permission & are strictly (c) Toetag Pictures.  To find out more about the August underground trilogy & ToeTag movies in genreal drop into their site here

Roger Batty
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