Tim Ritter is a legend in the world of independent film. In the 80’s and 90’s his films filled the shelves of horror sections in every video store. If you walked the horror isles you saw the box art and if you were like me you made it a mission to watch his films. Tim is a pioneer in independent horror and it was an honor to be able to pick his brain about his inspirations, the Truth or Dare series, and what he has in store for fans in the future. Read on for the interview and if you have yet to experience a Tim Ritter film rectify that immediately.
Terror Time: Tim your films have inspired countless filmmakers over the years. When you were growing up what filmmakers inspired you to get behind the camera?
Tim Ritter: Spielberg with JAWS, DUEL, and RAIDERS come to mind, George Lucas with STAR WARS, and of course as I got older—John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George Romero, and Wes Craven especially. Add in a dash of H.G. Lewis and John Waters, and there we have it!
TT: That’s a great group of filmmakers to have as inspiration. When you were starting out as a director you truly broke new ground in the genre with the content and no filter style you gave viewers. With that of course came people who labeled it as smut or vile. Was there ever a point where you were tired of fighting the fight for your art?
TR: Oh yeah, fighting for your art has many ups and downs, just like making the movies. I’ve thrown the towel in, waved the white flag, many times…only to pick up where I left off a few days or weeks later. It’s not quite as bad today unless you’re making something obviously over-the-top with intent to offend, which of course is easy to do in this very politically correct world. But sure, slasher and horror movies have always been looked down upon, and when you shoot these things on video- people label you a pornographer, or ‘lower than a pornographer,’ whatever that means. I say, that’s fine- we’ll go with whatever you want to label me, it’s all in someone’s perspective, I suppose. One person’s trash is another’s treasure! And of course, seriously, if you don’t like a certain kind of movie, well…avoid it! That’s the best message you can send- don’t buy it, don’t support it, don’t rent it—and surely, don’t bring attention to it with protests and stuff like that! It’s just going to make people want to see it. Fortunately, I haven’t dealt with that type of situation in a long time. It’s strange, the brick and mortar stores that are left now pretty much carrying anything and everything, and of course, on the Internet, you can pretty much sell any type of content yourself or through specialty distributors.
TT: On the topic of brick and mortar video stores some of the best genre films and filmmakers came out of the VHS boom. Why do you think the studios didn’t give you and your contemporaries a shot during the 90’s which is when studio horror desperately needed new ideas and a fresh perspective?
TR: I guess our voices weren’t loud enough and distribution of our movies was too sparse. Also, being a regional moviemaker back then…in states other than New York or California…made it REALLY difficult to get noticed at all, you almost had zero credibility being a “hometown” moviemaker anywhere- like in the Midwest or Florida. I think the only folks that had a taste of Hollywood- like J.R. Bookwalter- moved to California to make that transition. But most of us were too broke to move anywhere, struggling to get our next movies going with our own money in most cases! I blame it all on George Romero- we all saw what he did from Pittsburgh and what Raimi did in Tennessee and thought we could follow suite…but…odds are against it, and you have to have an exceptional movie and be really lucky, being at the right time and place!
TT: Such a great point on Romero. You could say that the Truth or Dare series is like Romero’s Dead series. Did you think that the series of films would have this long lasting appeal? And to what do you attribute the films ability to gain new fans each year?
TR: No, I didn’t think the TRUTH OR DARE series would last into 2016, 2017 here like it has! I’m amazed. There’s enough people that like it so it does seem to keep going somehow! I intended to stop at the third movie, SCREAMING FOR SANITY- TRUTH OR DARE 3, in 1997 or so…Thought we kind of wrapped it up! But then interest in the original, and the series, re-emerged when the original movie was on Netflix when they first started, and people started asking me when another one was going to happen. So I started thinking about it and DEADLY DARES-TRUTH OR DARE 4 happened. It was more a spin on the old ones, kind of asking myself, “If I was just starting out and had very little money and this “truth or dare” concept, how could I do it today?” And the idea of playing the game on the Internet seemed very natural, so that’s where I headed with it…This was back in 2008 or so when I wrote it, and we filmed it in 2010, released it in 2012…So a long process! Now we’re to the 5th entry, which I’m making with Scott Tepperman and Jim O’Rear, Scott initiated this one- he loves the series and wanted to be a bad guy in one! So he spearheaded this one and there’s more moviemakers that want to join the party at some point…we’ll see what happens! So between all the fans and the moviemakers who love these movies, hard to see them dying off or stopping anytime soon. I’m not sure why people LIKE the movies…I guess they have relatable themes and it’s fun to watch the crazed reactions of jilted lovers in these things! Will they put on a copper mask and go on a…KILLING SPREE?!?! A lot of people grew up with the original movie, it was a huge renter in the VHS days. So I’ve heard all kinds of great memories that people have when they first saw it- daring friends to watch it, playing it at sleepovers, that kind of thing. So there’s a sense of nostalgia with it some 30 years later, and people want to see more in the same vein! Which is very cool- I really appreciate that! Even at this small level, you have to be very lucky to get that kind of underground following…
TT: Absolutely. My friend and I put the VHS in a Bambi clam shell and rented it that way from the Turtles in town. No way in hell the guy at the counter was going to let us rent it straight up. As you mentioned earlier Florida was no man’s land back when you were starting out but now with yourself, Stephen Biro, Marcus Koch, Jim VanBebber and many others shining in the independent scene is there an increase in interest from locals wanting to get into the genre game?
TR: Awesome, good story! I know Florida is a hot bed for DTV horror right now, but I’m not there- I left in 1998, moved up to Kentucky! So I usually film my stuff here, for the most part. Or somewhere in the Midwest. We flew Joel Wynkoop to Illinois when we were filming his scenes for TRUTH OR DARE 5, and Scott Tepperman shot more with him in Florida. But Tampa and that area seem to have a thriving scene and I’m told there’s a lot of cool people down there that are wanting to get into movies, and many cool folks working down there like the people you mentioned, including Sean Donahue and Joel Wynkoop and so many more! Amazing! And H.G. Lewis is still down there, making movies here and there.
TT: Wow I had no idea you had migrated. Speaking of H.G. Lewis it was a shock to me when I found out how it was more of a business decision for him in regards to horror as opposed to a love for the genre. Do you feel that is the way genre films are trending these days? More of a business decision than love?
TR: Yeah, H.G. Lewis pretty much did all his movies for the money and is admittedly not a die hard fan of horror movies. As a matter of fact, he criticized my movie KILLING SPREE pretty harshly on a radio show we did together back in the ’90’s. [This show is on the extras of the newly released KILLING SPREE BLU RAY.] I think some of the middle tier horror movies and upper end studio ones are made for profit only as a business module, but I’d say the lower budgeted stuff and micro scene work—the majority of it—is done by passionate fans like myself who just want to contribute to the genre. Some may do it because they know horror gets some kind of attention or following no matter what and you can sell copies at all the conventions that are everywhere, but I’d say the majority are like me—pretty much making “fan movies” for lack of a better term. Movies made by fans that just can’t help but want to contribute something to the genre with the technology available and the money they can raise.
TT: As a filmmaker do you have a dream project that you haven’t been able to get made yet that you have to get made?
TR: I’d still love to adapt my novel THE HAMMER WILL FALL into a movie with a proper budget. It started out as a script, shopped it around for years, novelized it and got it published, and I still would love to see that happen somehow. I did just recently buy back the rights to the novel, so…I might be working on that again!
TT: That would be amazing to see. Tim where can people go to find out what you’re working on and buy your films?
TR: Either my Facebook Page or www.timritter.com
TT: Great. Thank you so much for chatting with me and I can’t wait to see the next installment of Truth or Dare and the other goodness you have in the works.
TR: Thanks for all, let me know how I can assist any time!