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For most everyone (alive, that is), death is something that
looms far off on the horizon. And although it’s an unavoidable reality, the
perception of it differs widely from person to person. In the documentary THE LIFE OF DEATH, filmmaker Kevin J. Lindenmuth (pictured) explores how death is perceived by an
eclectic group of individuals who work in the media and how it influences (or
not) how they go about their lives and work. The interviewees include
FANGORIA’s own Tony Timpone, author Jack Ketchum, actresses Caroline Munro and
Debbie Rochon, Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, director Scooter McCrae, Synapse Films
topper Don May Jr. and others.
Lindenmuth has worked in the film/video business for over 25
years. Most of his professional life was spent working in New York City in all
major aspects of video production; he’s also a published author and an
independent filmmaker, his most popular genre title being the vampire/serial
killer movie ADDICTED TO MURDER. For the past 10 years, he’s primarily been a
documentary director/producer, with many broadcasting nationally on PBS. In
addition to the aforementioned people, his LIFE OF DEATH interview subjects
include spiritual journalist David Crumm, author/artist Bob Fingerman, author
Keith R.A. DeCandido, special FX artist Tom Sullivan and ADDICTED
star/professional tarot-card reader Sasha Graham, all sharing their thoughts
on, well, life and death.
FANGORIA: What motivated you to make THE LIFE OF DEATH?
KEVIN J. LINDENMUTH: This feature is meant to bridge my
horror filmmaking and PBS documentary work. In the 1990s, I wrote and directed
a whole slew of low-budget horror and sci-fi movies, notably VAMPIRES AND OTHER
STEREOTYPES and ADDICTED TO MURDER, which was widely distributed through
Blockbuster in ’96. But by 2000 there wasn’t a viable market anymore, so I
switched gears in order to make an income. This turned out to be documentaries,
which is the complete opposite—from content to how they are shot and edited—of
doing narrative features. The majority of the past ones were health-related, on
food allergies, multiple sclerosis, etc.
But then I got the itch to do something different, maybe
another feature. So I mulled that idea over, but I just didn’t have the budget
available to do any of my scripts justice. Then I thought, “If I do only one
more documentary, what would it be about?” And because of the previous health
ones, I thought, “Death.” I’ve also probably hit the halfway mark in my life,
and believe me, you look at things slightly differently at 45 than you did at
25. While the previous documentaries were made specifically with PBS in mind,
this was not, so I didn’t have to worry about content or tone specific to that
venue. I could do anything I wanted.
FANG: Why did you choose people who work in the media as the
interviewees? And how were they selected?
LINDENMUTH: In addition to the whole independent
director/producer thing, I’m also a writer, having written for quite a few
genre mags, including FANGORIA. And since one of my main interests is horror,
both film and fiction, I’ve been introduced to a lot of those folks. I knew
what I wanted my documentary to be about—the perception of death in our modern
society—and I thought I needed a connecting hook. And since horror films are
often connected with death, I thought that was a natural way to go. I knew
Scooter McCrae, Debbie Rochon, Tony Timpone, Sasha Graham and Don May from when
I lived in New York City. I was introduced to Caroline Munro years ago through
a mutual friend. And I’ve been a fan of the writings of Jack Ketchum, Keith
DeCandido and Bob Fingerman for a long time. I simply contacted them, and they
were interested in the project. I saw Tom Sullivan act in Mike Watt’s SPLATTER
MOVIE and thought he was great in that—plus he did the effects for EVIL DEAD—so
that also worked out.
But not everyone is horror-related. I knew that Art Regner,
a Michigan broadcaster I’ve known since my college days, had an intense story
about the death of his sister. And David Crumm, who wrote for the Detroit Free
Press for 20 years as their spiritual columnist, had interviewed me for that
paper years ago. The one thing that connects them all is that they work in the
FANG: Which of the interviewees did you find most
LINDENMUTH: I like all of them, for different reasons, since
they each bring something specific to the program. Don, for example, is sort of
the “Everyman.” Scooter always comes off so wise. Lloyd is off-kilter. Bob
brings up a lot of great points. I don’t have a favorite, actually. They all
mix very well together with their different—and similar—viewpoints.
FANG: What was the reasoning behind having tarot-card reader
Sasha Graham as one of the subjects?
LINDENMUTH: That was pretty much luck. Years ago, Sasha had
acted in quite a few of my movies, such as ADDICTED TO MURDER as the vampire
Angie. Then she got into tarot, and at least to me, the one image that comes up
with that is the Death card. I thought that was a good point of conversation.
She’s also a mother, which adds a different perspective.
FANG: Why have two “scream queens,” Debbie Rochon and
Caroline Munro, in the film, and how would you describe/compare/contrast the
LINDENMUTH: Well, I’ve seen Caroline in movies since I was 7, with
the DR. PHIBES flicks, and she definitely had a presence in the ’70s and ’80s.
Believe it or not, I love AT THE EARTH’S CORE! She’s worked with everyone from
Vincent Price to Christopher Lee. I had never seen her in anything like a
documentary, so I thought that would be unique to see her in this type of
Debbie appeared in a few of my movies in the ’90s—and in
addition to acting, she’s a journalist and radio host, so she’s much more than
a “scream queen.” She’s articulate and can really get a point across.
FANG: The interviewees are very frank and candid, and some
share extremely personal stories. How do you earn a person’s trust so they feel
comfortable talking about touchy and/or painful subject matter?
LINDENMUTH: With this documentary, I basically had a list of
10 questions I wanted to form the program around, so after I contacted all
those involved, I sent them the questions beforehand. As I said, I know most of
these people personally, so they already had that trust. I think the ones I
wasn’t expecting were Tom Sullivan—I didn’t know his wife drowned!—and Tony
Timpone, who’s usually so unemotional in interviews. The most challenging was
getting Lloyd to be somewhat serious.
FANG: There’s a segment concerning death and horror films.
What are your views on why horror films are made, why people watch them and
what audiences get out of seeing people die on screen?
LINDENMUTH: My view is that death in movies and death in
real life are two completely different things, mostly because of the emotional
component. When I’m watching a SAW movie, I’m watching a special effect. When I
have pet die on me, it’s a loss.
Horror films, to me, are fun. Death is just sort of
incidental in them—it’s the payoff. People watch them because it’s a
thrill—it’s a sort of experience they wouldn’t have in their normal life. They
see death, but it’s safe. And I suppose there’s a kind of catharsis about it,
especially if there’s an asshole character who deserves a violent end.
FANG: What movie(s) about or involving death have had the
biggest impact on you?
LINDENMUTH: There’s a period film called JUDE, with Kate
Winslet and Christopher Eccleston, that has one of the most disturbing death
scenes I’ve seen. Makes me cringe. And, of course, Spock’s death in STAR TREK
II: THE WRATH OF KHAN and Kong being shot off the Empire State Building in
Peter Jackson’s KING KONG.
FANG: Jack Ketchum doesn’t believe in the afterlife, and
says in THE LIFE OF DEATH that what counts is what we do when we’re here on
Earth. How do you feel about his response?
LINDENMUTH: Well, that’s true. I think most people would
agree with, “What counts is what we do when we’re alive.” Everything else is
just guesswork and opinion.
FANG: How surprised were you to hear Tony’s response to the
question, “How do you want to die”? He replies that when he was younger, he
wanted to die in a car crash and a fiery explosion!
LINDENMUTH: That didn’t surprise me. In fact, I’ve wanted to
put Tony in an exploding car on several occasions. Just kidding.
FANG: Tony also talks about Forrest J Ackerman’s living
wake. What are your thoughts on his unusual decision? Is that something you
would feel awkward dealing with?
LINDENMUTH: I thought that was an interesting way to go
about it, because it makes absolute sense. I’ve been to many, many old-age
homes where the residents can’t move, can’t talk and are basically being held
hostage and not able to do anything about it themselves. So, if someone is that
age and can make a decision about their quality of life, they should be able to
I wouldn’t feel awkward dealing with that at all. I’ve had
lots of friends die the past 20 years, and have dealt with a lot of
uncomfortable health situations. And I’ve put a few dogs to sleep in my arms.
It doesn’t faze me at all. I know what to expect.
FANG: How did making this film affect you, in terms of your
feelings about mortality, death and how people handle and accept the fact that
we’re all going to die?
LINDENMUTH: It basically reconfirmed everything I’ve already
believed, or not. Remember, there’s a few hours of interviews per person that were
shot, and maybe 10-15 minutes used of each one in the documentary. So I very
much decided what to use and not use to get the responses I wanted. But people
in general can’t deal with death at all—I think most believe it simply won’t
happen to them.
FANG: How would you like to die?
LINDENMUTH: I would rather it be quick than something slow
and lingering. But I wouldn’t want to get run over by a Zamboni.
FANG: You end the film with people’s thoughts on leaving a
legacy. What legacy, if any, do you want to leave?
LINDENMUTH: I honestly don’t give that very much thought.
Sure, it would be great if these programs and books I’ve done are around for a
long while, but I’ve basically done all of these things for myself. I think
that after I’m dead, I won’t care so much what happens to any of my work.
You can go to Lindenmuth’s website for more on the filmmaker and THE LIFE OF DEATH.
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