Interview: Michael Ling of Edward Lee’s the Bighead
In Michael Ling’s adaptation of Edward Lee’s gory-as-hell novel The Bighead, he channels the gritty, uncompromising exploitation horror films of the ‘70s. He’s made a short film version of the story, which acts as a sampler of the unrelenting violence he has in store for the full-length feature, for which he and his crew are actively seeking funding. Full of gruesome kills, horrifying rape, and rednecks galore, Edward Lee’s the Bighead is a bloody throwback to the golden days of horror.
How do you feel about horror cinema today?
I think the horror genre in America is pretty half-assed. I can’t think of the last good American horror movie I saw. There are a bunch of great foreign horror films. French, Asian—they’re making some great, extreme horror movies. Tonally, those films touch on things US companies wouldn’t. Inside is a French movie about a pregnant girl who is terrorized in her home by a psychotic lady. It goes places you can’t even imagine, like “Holy shit! This is being done?” Of course it is, because it’s not a US movie. High Tension is amazing, though the twist at the end is ‘meh’. A Serbian Film and Human Centipede aren’t perfect, but at least they’re trying new things.
Is The Big Head representative of where you would like American horror cinema to get back to?
I love ‘70s exploitation movies. I would love to see more of those get made, because they’re great ways for young filmmakers to make cheap, easy movies, too. You don’t need special effects, you don’t need huge sets. You just need a good story and characters, and you’re off and running.
Talk a bit about your cast. Orson Chaplin is great as the redneck rapist.
We knew that would be a hard role to cast because he’d have to be creepy, but also a bit likable and almost charming. If you’re one-note in that role, he becomes just a creepy psycho. You wouldn’t have that connection to the character. Orson nailed it from his first audition. He was scaring folks on-set, but off-set, he’s a super nice guy. He works retail at a kids store (laughs).
The rape scenes are pretty intense…
We show a lot in those scenes, but we don’t show ultra-close-ups or anything. You get the idea. You get how evil and sick Orson is. Ashley Totin was great to work with, open to getting beat up and thrown around. She got in a car wreck the week before shooting and broke her nose and wrist. She said “Don’t hit my nose, and don’t touch my left wrist.” Of course, on the first take when Orson throws her on the car, he grabs the wrong wrist and she screams. It was definitely a real scream (laughs).
What makes Bighead special when compared to other movie monsters?
Mark Villalobos from Monster FX kicked ass for us on a low budget and went above and beyond. Bighead is half alien, half redneck. He has a huge backstory. An alien came down to earth, raped a woman, and she had twins. One was normal, the other was Bighead. I think it gives him a different edge. It’s not your typical story. It’s sci-fi, it’s horror, it’s a redneck thriller, it’s exploitation. It’s a unique blend of genres.
What makes a good horror movie?
You have to be intense. For some reason, the studios [in the US] just don’t want that level of intensity. They want the first half hour to be a set up of fluffy, one-note characters, and then start killing them off. They like the endings to wrap up nicely too. Ils, a French movie which The Strangers totally ripped off, is a simple story about a couple in the woods attacked by random people. **SPOILERS** In the US version, the couple confronts the attackers, fight them off, and it just kinda ends. In the French version, the killers are 14-year-old kids who kill the couple for fun and go back to their high school. It’s a creepier because there’s no moral to the story—it’s just a bunch of fucked up kids killing a couple.