A Conversation with Bruce Wemple, Director of ‘Dawn of the Beast’

It goes to show the dedication the artists have to the medium, big and small. Bruce and his team developed a full-length picture during a pandemic all the while embracing horror's early roots and practical effects.

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Dawn of the Beast

Despite a global pandemic going on, directors are still finding safe and ethical ways to make their pictures. We sat down with Bruce Wemple to discuss his latest campy creature feature Dawn of the Beast. It goes to show the dedication the artists have to the medium, big and small.

Bruce and his team developed a full-length picture during a pandemic all the while embracing horror’s early roots and practical effects. Dawn of the Beast is a definite step away from the intense horror we’ve been getting from the industry lately but perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Enjoy our conversation.

An Interview With Bruce Wemple

Dawn of the Beast Bruce Wemple Horror Interview
Dawn of the Beast (2021)

I wanted to start off by saying I got a chance to see the movie and it was fantastic! I thought it was a lot of fun. 

Bruce Wemple: Oh, thanks! Thanks. Yeah. It’s a very different animal than Monstrous was.  It was a really good time making it though. We did Monstrous and then we did the retreat after Monstrous which is the Wendigo movie. And so this was like, you have a Bigfoot versus Wendigo thing where obviously those other two movies were more about how the monsters affected the characters and it was very, it was almost like dramas, you know?

They were very character-based. And this one, we were kind of like, okay, screw it. Let’s just do it all out. Kind of a monster Gore Fest, classic, you know, seventies, eighties drive-in popcorn flick for everyone. So that was kind of the mentality going into Dawn of the Beast.

I love that. And that was actually partly my first question. Because obviously Monstrous was a bigfoot film and then the retreat was the Wendigo film and then this one’s like a Kong vs. Godzilla style, battle of the two. So where did this one come from? Where did the idea for this one come from and how did you get involved with it?

Bruce Wemple: Yeah, it wasn’t really part of the plan. We did Monstrous a couple of years ago. It didn’t get released until 2020, but it had been done for a while. It’d been sitting on a shelf being shopped around. After Monstrous we got the green light to do the retreat, the Wendigo movie. They were always intended to be separate, but they’re both like Adirondack monsters or at least Northeastern Algonquin, you know that part of the United States and Canada.

So that worked out. So we did both those movies but obviously like for Monstrous, the main interest was the relationship between the two main characters and there was more of like a murder mystery with bigfoot being the reason that they’re kept inside this house and, you know, Bigfoot being a plot device, but not being the central character.

Then The Retreat was kind of a similar thing where It became more of a psychological horror movie with the Wendigo spirit haunting this guy and it was partially that, partially a survival movie and just a whole bunch of themes we wanted to explore. And then once we were done with those, we were kind of examining what we had done already and like, what was interesting.

We talked to the distributor and we were like, we kind of had this idea of like, what if we just put all that kind of stuff aside? And just try to have as much fun as we could possibly have with a movie that had both monsters in it. So that was like the name of the game going in.

So I started getting to work on developing a story and Anna was working on the script and it kind of came together really quickly. But my philosophy for the whole thing was like, let’s not take ourselves too seriously. We’ve done that for the last two films. Let’s just try to like, make this truly just like a fun romp, popcorn, just, you know, that lean into some of those cliches and some of those tropes. Celebrate those kinds of movies we love, you know? Your Evil Deads and your Japanese horror films and just kind of mush them all into one entertaining flick. That was kind of the vibe we were going for.

I love that. That’s awesome. Yeah. When I was watching it, I got a very eighties horror, kind of Evil Dead vibe from it and it was a lot of fun to watch. 

Bruce Wemple: Oh yeah that was totally it. Me and the crew had, like, we would watch a bunch of movies on set that had inspired us or any big horror films that we were a fan of over the past, you know, 30 years or even, even some more recent movies and just were pulling from all those and just trying to be like, okay, how do we make; especially once the movie gets going after the setup, how do we make each scene as memorable as possible with what we have at hand?

When we got going with it, we were like we can have a possession, like a Wendigo possession, and we can lean into like other sort of demon and Exorcist tropes there with that. And then we can have these, you know, Wendigo Zombie creatures and then still have Bigfoot in there. And then we could also have an even weirder sort of thriller going on with the Bigfoot Hunter who kidnaps Lilly in the movie. And so it was really just, again, not taking ourselves too seriously and just trying to make each scene as entertaining as possible.

Dawn of the Beast Bruce Wemple Movie Interview
Dawn of the Beast (2021)

Yeah, that’s awesome. I mean, that’s a lot of what movies are all about right? Having fun and just making what you want to make.

Bruce Wemple: Exactly. And I think there are times to take yourself very seriously when you’re making a movie. And like when you’re trying to convey something and you’re trying to address, you know, things you care deeply about.

And then there’s times, you know, you just want to see bigfoot throw a Wendigo into a tree. And, you know, that’s just about spectacle a little more at that point. I mean, it was obviously a very low budget, so it was as much of a spectacle as we could do, but we tried to lean into what we had at hand, the practical effects, all that stuff and really trying to just get the most out of what we had.

Do you have any tips or tricks that you’d like to pass on to future filmmakers who might want to dabble in creature and monster films on a lower budget? 

Bruce Wemple: It’s a very careful balance and you’re always riding that line on showing just enough. And it all depends on, you know, you gotta kind of get your tone down and you gotta figure out what the movie is you’re making. Are you making something that you want to keep a mystery?  There are times when you can have this monster and if you show too much of it, it becomes less mysterious. Your brain kind of gets more scared of what it can’t see and it having limited visibility. But then again, maybe the tone is not supposed to be that serious and scary, and it’s just entertaining.

 But to be honest for this one there were so many practical effects done and it was our effects guy, Jared Balog, who just knocked it out of the park and he had so much work to do. Him and his guy, Sean Malawi. They were on set and there were obviously three different monsters they were kind of going in between so, I mean, that would be a tip would be just to have someone that good on your team, but, yeah.

It’s really just about making sure everyone’s making the same movie. You just want to make sure that between, you know, the actors, the makeup and just how you’re shooting it, how you’re lighting it. It’s all leaning towards the same tone in the same movie. 

Speaking of practical effects, I know you said that for Monstrous you designed the Bigfoot costume and had a lot of, uh, a hand in that, how much did you lend to that area?

Bruce Wemple: The Bigfoot we definitely wanted to revamp for this one. Because in Monstrous, very specifically, you don’t see it super clearly until the end. And this one we wanted to kind of put it on display a little more. So Jared got to work on a face mold and started sending me pictures and showing me what he had in mind and we’d go back and forth. Then he landed at, you know, kind of what’s in the movie with the red eyes and the fangs and the face looking awesome. And he made that cowl.

Then we used bits and pieces from the suit for Monstrous, it was kinda like a muscle suit that like would go under, and then we kind of glued the fur that was kind of weird fur that we had dyed and matted it up to make look like, you know, just like it had been in the woods for a while. Then the feet were from Monstrous. So yeah, it was a mismatch of stuff, but I thought it came together really well. But it was definitely something coming off of Monstrous that was probably 80 to 90% new from Monstrous.

What were some of the challenges you had to go through while filming during the pandemic? 

Bruce Wemple: It’s tough. It’s tough. We had to, you know, obviously, we had to follow the protocols. Besides being financially a bigger expense. At first, there was a bit of anxiety about it because now I think there’s more productions going on and there’s more of a system, but especially at the time; because we tried it over the summer, everyone was still getting their brain around it and what exactly we needed to do to be safe. We were taking every precaution we could, but for most people, this was the first project they were doing during the pandemic.

I think what was kind of lucky was that aside from the precautions, the cast, and crew, we all had our own space and our own rooms and we were out in the middle of nowhere staying at this place. So there was a bit of a feeling like we were kind of away from the pandemic for a little while cause we were just kind of in our own little community. And there was no service and we kind of weren’t watching the news for the shoot.

And so there was a little bit of an escapist feeling by the end. And then you come back and you’re like, Oh yeah, This awful thing is going on. But at least for that time, it was kind of nice to not have to think about it so much other than, you know, obviously being safe onset and following those procedures.

We obviously did as much as we could and there were no problems. But, I think now I’ve been on a couple more sets after and people have gotten a little more used to the system and a little more comfortable with the system. We originally were supposed to shoot it even before that, and then we pushed, and we were waiting and seeing kind of like, okay, what do we need to do to make sure we’re doing this the right way? Then it was August 2020 where we had figured out what we needed to have in place to do it.

We were wondering you know, the movie was pretty much ready to shoot and stuff and we were planning on May or June and then obviously that didn’t happen. And then we’re like, okay, well in July maybe, and then we’re like, okay, August. August was when other indie productions were kind of figuring out what they needed to do to be safe so there was already somewhat of a precedent set for how to do it and they were doing it to some success. So at that point we got the green light to go ahead. 

So I haven’t yet gotten to see “The Retreat”. However, as far as this film goes, it’s kind of different from Monstrous, which is mostly a straight creature flick. In this film with the Wendigo, you kinda got to dive a little more into this supernatural, demon possession realm of horror for a little bit. How did you enjoy toying with that?

Bruce Wemple: Oh, that’s my favorite part. And yeah, I would say if you watch the retreat, I think that’s a different thing to either Monstrous or Dawn of the Beast. The retreat, it was basically two guys go backpacking and one ends up stranded alone. And he encounters the Wendigo and he’s trying to maintain his own level of sanity while also trying to survive on the mountains in the snow. It’s basically a survival movie combined with a supernatural, with a little bit of creature feature and it’s, it’s super fun, but it definitely leans more on the psychological, other serious side.

When you’re in it so much for something like The retreat or something like Monstrous you start discussing the lore and you get very serious about the lore. And then when you do go into something like Dawn to the beast, you take a step backward and kind of like read aloud what the lore actually is and your head; and there’s many, there are so many things about it because it’s supernatural and, and you can either choose to treat it, you know, in certain ways of like, okay, we’re going to take this as serious as possible, or we’re gonna, you know, we gonna own the campiness of it.

So in this case with how we treated the Wendigo was a super creepy, Grim Reaper-type possession thing that we just wanted to only really lean into what was truly scary about it. So for me, the most effective thing is the simplest stuff. Having those two tiny, glowing eyes in the distance and the darkness where you can’t really see what’s out there.

You know, it’s funny, you have like all these big creatures and these expensive designs in there, but the two glowing eyes and kind of a bit of antlers looking at you from the trees, ended up being scarier than all of that. Just because of what your brain does with that, how they fill in the gaps.

Beyond that, getting to do a possession storyline in there where you know, we were throwing back to the Exorcist or, you know, like I was saying, like those Japanese horror flicks where you get the bone-cracking and, you know, the actress gets to really lean into struggling with this possession. Then you get the makeup in there and eventually we land at like, almost like a deadite sort of thing from evil dead. So yeah, I mean, we were just having a blast, honestly, it was just, it was, you know, we were, we were. Just doing, I think whatever we thought would be the most fun to do, honestly. 

She creeped the hell out of everyone on set. When she was in the last week, there were stages to that makeup as she would get. worse and worse in that possession but when she was in that last stage, Ariella Mastroianni, she just was having way too good of a time, and with those teeth and the eyes and stuff everyone was like, Oh God, like she’s every time she laughed, it was horrifying.

Dawn of the Beast Director Movie Interview
Dawn of the Beast (2021)

So going forward, are there any other monsters or creatures that you’d like to make films about? 

Bruce Wemple: Yeah, so we did wrap up another production this past, I think we shot in like January, February. It doesn’t really even have a name yet. 

Can’t really talk about it too much, but it’s like more of a rom-com, but with like a kind of a demon kind of undertone to it. You know, it’s not leaving an undertone, but you know, there’s like a demon possession sort of character in there. And then I’m diving into a new shoot. It’s like a time travel

action movie,

So it’s not even a creature feature but that’s like going all the way back to my first couple of movies. Because I think that’s like my other passion of the genre of movies is creature features and time travel movies. Maybe one day I’ll get to do them both in the same movie.

So that’s when diving into, but you know, I think, I think down the line I think I’ve always wanted to do a werewolf movie. I think that that’s one of the ones that I think there’s so much. It’s been done so many times, but it’s kinda like those other, um, like a vampire if you know, but like there’s other ways to approach it, which I think can be super fun.

Check Out Bruce Wemple and Dawn of the Beast

We’d like to thank Bruce for his time today. Dawn of the Beast is now available on YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV

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